No pressure—it’s only your most important hire ever. How to get it right.
The process of hiring a chief operating officer has been written about a lot, but with all the information out there, we beg you not to blindly follow the herd.
Every entrepreneur interprets his or her wants and needs differently. Following someone else’s protocol for hiring a COO can go terribly wrong. Make sure you find the right person for your company.
First, Do You Need a COO?
It’s a simple question with a lot of different answers. Some of the most common situations that we encounter:
» You’re the visionary, but you may not know how to run a company well enough for growth, and the execution stuff bores you.
» You’re about to scale up, and the operational expertise you need to be successful isn’t in your wheelhouse or that of your team.
» You’re tired—that’s right, tired. At some point, the thrill of starting up is replaced with the day-in, day-out monotony of running the least favorite parts of your business. You’re craving the crack effect of building something new. You know who you are.
What Do You Need?
We often get calls from entrepreneurs who want help with placing a COO. We’ll ask them what COO means to them, and they’ll reply “someone to run my company.” That isn’t the wrong answer, but it isn’t enough of an answer.
» You might be tired, but be realistic about walking away from your business. Even if you’re toast, in reality you can’t walk away from it. You shouldn’t step back until you’re sure your COO hire is truly your business whisperer.
» What parts of the business do you want to continue to control? You probably have unique strengths, areas where you’re the go-to person for ideas. Those ideas could be the lifeblood of the business.
» What operational areas of the business are you terrible at or, worse, hate to do? Be honest. You’re hurting the business if you aren’t. You’re hiring this role to not only close the gap in your skills, but your ideal team also. And note the subtle way we use “ideal.” You need to know what skills each of your ideal leaders need to have to make sure you can get where you’re going. Don’t hire a COO who is strong in one area because you need them to cover for a weaker leader in another department. Take time to map it all out. A new COO is going to want to know exactly what his or her areas of responsibility are. Get help if you need, but make sure both of you are on the same page before you hire.
» Really get to know your candidates, talk to them frequently, and build rapport before hiring them. We often ask entrepreneurs if they would have proposed to their spouses after visiting over one or two coffee interviews. Why’s this different?
» Smart entrepreneurs make time to read about the traits of excellent hires—and we know you read. The book “Rocket Fuel” by Gino Wickman and Mark C. Winters is a great place to start.
How Not to Hire
When we talk to entrepreneurs about their past hires, I often hear things like “they seemed like a nice person” or “they had all the right experience”—but that isn’t enough.
» Don’t hire someone because you like them. It feels ridiculous writing this, but it’s true.
» Don’t skimp on the salary. Incentive compensation is always a good idea in these situations, but not at the expense of a below-market base salary. If you can’t afford market-range salaries, you’re not ready to hire this critical role.
» And this is huge: Don’t hire someone purely based on experience. Just because they were COO of the “Great Big XYZ Company” doesn’t mean they can do it for you. If you hire a seasoned corporate operations exec, make sure they speak the language of startup and scale-up, your personal language and the language of the culture you’re creating. If there’s one fail we see more often than not, it’s this—hiring corporate experience doesn’t work without fit. If you can’t figure it out, get help.
Bad hires are one of the biggest expenses a business faces, and a misfire at the COO level is one of the worst. Follow a few established protocols up front, and you’ll be headed for success in this new relationship.
» Spend time teaching your new COO your philosophies. Help them learn how the business operates in its current state, and share your goals and ideas for the future so both of you have the same goals, expectations, beliefs and values.
» Don’t micromanage. Making sure you’re there as a guiding and teaching hand is much different from undermining your new COO’s authority with the team.
» Don’t pack your things and leave. You two need one another to make this thing work. Invest yourself in this relationship. It’s important even if you’ve had enough.
The yin-and-yang relationship does exist, but you have to be intentional in executing a successful hire. If you get this hire right, maybe you can leave the boredom of business behind forever.