How to make an ally of the COO

Workplace allies

COOs and CIOs are working increasingly closely together. This is partly due to the importance of IT in facilitating efficient operations across the business. And getting this right requires a strong relationship between COOs and CIOs. For CIOs, this means thinking carefully about the different types of value you can offer your COO.


Management guru Peter Drucker once said that, “there is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” This neatly underlines the issues that arise when operations and IT are not fully in sync. The CIO’s team may be doing their job diligently and efficiently but, if it doesn’t actually link in with the COO’s vision of how the company should be run, the effort can all too easily be for naught.

While their strategies may align on paper, CIOs need to focus on developing a good relationship with COOs. This will ensure that the COO’s operational vision is actually aligned with the nuts and bolts of the IT processes underpinning it.

Unfortunately, there aren’t many business leaders who are torn in more directions than the COO – typically the company’s Mr. Fix-it. This makes it vital for CIOs to get the foundational elements of the relationship in place beforehand. There’s plenty of value to be delivered, but your COO will be happier to chat if you can get the following in place first:

  • Deliver the basics
    In the event of IT failures and setbacks, the company will slow or even grind to a halt, and it is the COO who will have to pick up the pieces. All COOs want to be certain their CIOs can deliver the technology required to keep the business running – even if many of the basics have been outsourced to generate efficiencies. You’ll also need to have clear backup processes, such as disaster recovery plans.
  • Look to the future
    How can the company function more effectively? The COO will have their own vision for the future but, by focusing on how IT tools and new technologies can deliver operational improvements, the CIO can become a key partner in establishing that vision. Offer implementation strategies as well as theoretical advice, and always focus on the potential return on investment from new innovations.
  •  Understand processes
    The operational outcomes that IT can help to deliver have broadened considerably during this era of “big data” and analytics, but CIOs must nevertheless focus on how the tools they offer will operate across all the functions of the business.
  • Speak plain English
    Some COOs have a background in IT, others don’t. Either way, CIOs who are not able to express complicated ideas about technology in terms that are easily understood by their operational colleagues will lose influence. It’s not just the language that you use, but where you choose to place emphasis. COOs want to know what the IT engine can drive, not what’s under the bonnet.
  • Broaden your horizons
    IT was once purely functional but, today, it has the power to be transformative. COOs work across every part of the business, knitting the company together to deliver high-quality products and services as efficiently as possible. CIOs must recognize that they too have an opportunity to make an impact in all of these areas – and to help deliver the innovation of the future.

What is your experience working with COOs? Let us know in the comments how this business relationship has worked for you.


One thought on “How to make an ally of the COO

  1. The common “hymn” sheet should be the business case for both the CIO and COO and that is what corporate should define as success. So whilst the “functions” may have different visions within their silos, the business case and the benefits realisation model is common for them both and the senior executive (CEO in this case) is accountable for the successful delivery of benefits, and this neutralises the space for contestation between CIO and COO. It is a PRINCE2 project management principle of good practice that the business case should be continuously justified and controlled and that means all hands are focused on the potential benefits of the project with little room for the fun and games between CIO and COO. If an organisation does not have a strong project management culture that places responsibilities and accountabilities on roles rather than “people” it is bound to face that kind of alpha behaviour amongst its staff.

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