Specialist Guide to Hiring a Chief Operating Officer

With precision hiring intelligence™ at the core and humans at the helm, to enable founders, CEO’s, boards, investors and technology leaders to build world-class teams.

In their seminal article Second in Command: The Misunderstood Role of the Chief Operating Officer, Nathan Bennett and Stephen Miles interviewed dozens of COOs and CEOs. These conversations helped them gain insights into the reasons and factors behind the success and failure of the COO role and its delicate relationship with the CEO.

A chief operating officer is a vital resource for the company and therefore it’s important to understand the qualities that make for a successful COO.

People with diverse backgrounds rise to the level of COO. It is this variability that makes the COO role difficult to analyse. It’s hard to identify a universal skill set for the position. In fact, the performance of the same COO might differ from company to company. Every COO has a unique set of strengths that may or may not be transferable to a particular distinct environment.

It is widely regarded that there are now 7 types of COO:

The executor – COO oversees the day-to-day operations of a company, freeing the CEO to focus on the strategic, long-term challenges. They are seen in industries that are operationally intensive, such as airlines and automotive

The change agent – The company will often name a change-agent COO to lead a specific strategic imperative such as turnaround or fast pace expansion. This person must have a degree of unquestioned authority similar to that of an executor COO.

The mentor – If the CEO is inexperienced, then the COO can act as a mentor and help them grow into the role.

The other half – When hiring, a company may bring in a COO to complement the CEO’s experience, style, and knowledge.

The partner – After a thorough assessment, companies can consider co-leadership. With the right COO partner, a CEO can excel.

The heir apparent – A COO position is often used to groom the next CEO. A COO may be a likely heir, but that doesn’t mean they’re guaranteed the top job due to performance or other succession issues.

The MVP – To retain key talent, the COO job is offered as a promotion or they are incentivised as successors to a leadership position of interest.

Five reasons why attracting the top candidates is important

Competency is a deep and enduring part of a person’s personality that predicts behaviour and performance. It’s more than qualifications, it’s about knowing whether the COO will be a good fit for the job. A competency-based assessment helps the company to select the top COO. A top COO will have the following competencies:

  1. Team Leadership [Competency] – The COO must lead the organisation through strategic, business and operational decisions. They reward and motivate employees to exceed performance and effectively use allocated resources. They are visionary, goal-oriented and articulate individual with sound judgment who has the ability to juggle conflicting demands and reach difficult decisions.
  2. Long term performance (Strategic Orientation [Competency]) –This is a very important competency particularly for the COO role. The COO position is a strategic, not tactical role. The COO ensures that the most comprehensive approach is being followed for creating quality, efficiency and stellar customer service in tactical teams.
  3. Profitability / ROI Ratio (Results Orientation [Competency]) – Hiring the right COO for your company can result in a huge ROI. It often pays for itself many times over. Using a specialist to help you find a qualified candidate will end up saving you time and money in the long run.
  4. Change Leadership [Competency]] – A COO may be required when the business faces a large-scale challenge. The magnitude of the challenge demands that the COO is perfectly aligned with the CEO. It’s usually because the COO needs to make big changes, or rapid changes to the company. In such situations, the change leadership aspect forms a core part of the COO role.
  5. Customer Impact [Competency] – The COO has a clear understanding of the current and evolving customer needs and issues. A seamless customer experience across touchpoints is essential. In industries where the competitive intensity is high, the COO creates a customer centric work culture. Numerous management consulting and academic sources have cited numerous scientific studies suggesting that hiring from top 20% helps companies achieve significantly higher customer satisfaction net promoter scores than their competitors.
How to make targeting the top candidates work for you?

There are some key things you need to consider when trying to attract the top CIO’s to your current recruitment process:

  • Your target strategy is important – Some of the key questions are: Which of the 7 types of COO are we targeting? Which sectors do we need to target? Which pool of target companies and candidates should we tap into? What are some lateral or aligned sector and/or company and/or candidate types we may not have considered yet?
  • Your data sources are important -The overwhelming volume of candidate data being produced is growing exponentially every day faster than ever. At the moment only 5% of all data is ever used. The next step is ensuring that are accessing the right data sources are critical to help you separate the signal from the noise.
  • Increasing the sample size of potential candidates for your roles – Once the right data sources are locked in you then need to make sure that you build your datasets of potential COO targets to represent the full universe of potential on-market (active) and off-market (passive) candidates. If you only have 30 to 50% of the total talent pool mapped then how do you even know if you are tapping into the top performers?
  • The right messaging channels is your superior access vehicle – Insights into the full universe of potential candidates is not enough.  Then right messaging channels are critical and provide a superior access vehicle much like a trojan horse, so it is probably best not to rely on a single LinkedIn ‘Recruiter’ InMail which is likely to get very low single digit response rates at this level. In 2021 – and beyond – optimal engagement occurs through the right messaging across a mix of Platform/Email/Mobile and of equal importance for response rates the sequencing and timing of these. As a marker if you are doing this right you should be getting a target candidate response rate of 70%+.
  • Assess leadership competencies in a standardised structured way – A competency is the executive’s knowledge, skill and ability to perform the task successfully in a defined environment. It helps in predicting the performance of the candidate in the COO role. The strategic intent will vary from company to company. This should reflect in the competencies. The COO role is continually evolving one. The required competencies might change in a short period of time. That is why its imperative for a company to assess the COO through structured interviews and reference checks on behaviour traits and competencies such as change leadership.
How do I get started?

There are three options:

  1. Do it yourself – you will need to consider the following: Who is in your network? Find potential candidates. Understand the supply and demand dynamic and learn where the available candidates are. Follow up leads, referrals and tidy up your Job Description.
  2. Use a traditional executive search firm – save your own time trading this for a pretty big commission or fee. When looking for a search firm make sure you consider the following: Use an search firm with a large network who can leverage their relationships to find you the best candidates first.
  3. Use scaleXT – since our launch 5 years ago we have now built the largest dataset map of operating COO’s in New Zealand and Australia (and expats globally) to serve company founders, CEOs, boards, investors and technology leaders by placing world-class operational leaders in leadership roles via innovative and compelling arrangements such as permanent, interim, and operational advisory leadership initiatives. We can deploy a shortlist of seasoned operational leaders within days, rather than weeks or months. If needed we cam also provide interim COO cover at very short notice.
Next steps …

Now you have a clearer understanding of the COO landscape across New Zealand and Australian and United Kingdom and afar … and have reflected back on the target you want your arrow to hit, including the role they’ll play in shaping your future. You’re now in a position to develop a plan, either by yourself or with an executive search professional or scaleXT.

We’d like your NEXT STEP to be with scaleXT so you would like to set up a deep dive 60 minute strategy session so you can explore how they can help you get what you want, quickly and effectively please let us know.


How does scaleXT work? Launched with precision hiring intelligence™ at the core powered by humans at the helm our AIR Platform™ enables founders, CEOs, boards, investors and technology leaders to build world-class teams.

Why should I care? Now you can tap into best-in-class technology to do a lot of the heavy lifting sourcing work so you can focus on more higher ROI activities like candidate experience, screening and on-boarding. Recruitment is on the cusp of becoming hi-tech industry in a similar way to what we have seen in other areas like sales and marketing automation with the new Salesforce.com AI product Einstein. Early adopters will gain an unfair advantage over their competition – plus you will most likely be able to leave the office at 5:00pm most days and have a better work life balance!

How fast is scaleXT? Typically you will get a high-quality Candidate Data MAP™ within 24 Hours and a shortlist Interested CV’s to your INBOX™ or ATS within days, rather than weeks or months.

What type of roles work best? The roles that make the biggest impact for company founders, CEOs, boards, investors and technology leaders are: Chief Information Officer, Chief Technology Officer, Chief Data Officer, Chief Artificial Intelligence Officer, Chief Transformation Officer, Chief Digital Officer, Chief Operating Officer, Chief Commercial Officer, Chief Revenue Officer and then building out the organisation chart across data leadership, architects, developers, data engineering, data science, data analytics, AI, Machine Learning, NLP hires – amongst others.

How do you get Interested CV’s to your INBOX™ or ATS within days, rather than weeks or months? We use a proprietary algorithm called Enigma that processes Natural Language using Deep Learning Neural Networks – which has processed millions of candidate profiles in millions of real world job scenarios – that it is able to replicate the way that the human brain works to improve decision making at a scale previously not possible. Once the matching engine identifies precise matches our platform has personalised interactions with the right candidate through the right channel at the right time. From here our dedicated team of humans at the helm at scaleXT take it from there to increase the precision matching even further still!

What channels does scaleXT use to interact with candidates? scaleXT interacts with candidates through 3 channels (i.e. Platform/Email/Mobile) and will use the channel(s) in which candidates are most likely to be engaged on – as well as using data science to allow right sequence of interactions and right follow-up prompts occur at the right time.

Are humans involved? Yes this is critical. We have a high touch Customer Success Manager overseeing each recruitment process so there is a blend of best-in-class technology and machine learning at the core with humans at the helm. This allows us to automate a huge amount of the heavy lifting part of the sourcing recruitment process so that you can put more human touch into the areas that really matter!

Is there a guarantee for your Candidate Data MAP™ and Interested CV’s to your INBOX™? Yes. If you are not fully satisfied there is a full 100% money back guarantee.

If I join scaleXT, what kind of time commitment am I looking at? We recommend that you only come to scaleXT for urgent critical hires that need to be done at high speed. You will still need to time box appropriate slots of time to move the candidates quickly through the recruitment process.

How do I join the scaleXT Launch programme? Typically joining is by invitation only or through a referral from one of our members. Our next intake for our Launch programme will be in October 2023. Once you have applied to be accepted on the Launch programme and are accepted you will be able to activate job requirements immediately.

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