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Hiring a COO: Combatting the Integrator Blues


In Gino Whickman’s best-selling book Traction, he identifies two essential people on any company’s leadership team. The first is the visionary. This person tends to be the founding entrepreneur who looks ahead to the future and comes up with endless ideas. However, the visionary may also be easily distracted and overwhelmed, losing sight of necessary details. This is where the integrator comes in. This person is often in the COO position and is a great manager, creates order out of chaos and knows how to get things done.

Companies are typically built by the visionary but need to bring in an integrator to achieve maximum potential.

The integrator is the lieutenant.

If you’re the founder and CEO of a business, you’re likely used to doing everything. If you don’t do it, you imagine it won’t get done (and especially not correctly). However, no one can do everything at once, and there is only so much growth you can achieve when one person wears every hat.

Hiring an integrator/COO can free up the visionary to focus on big-picture strategy while their COO runs the minutiae of day-to-day operations. As your lieutenant, you come up with the vision and they come up with the when and how it will be achieved. Leaders don’t have to be heroes swooping in to put out every fire. In fact, hero-based operations tend to see less growth and often put the organization at a greater risk. If the CEO is the only person who can fix a problem, what will happen if they need to tend to a family emergency or take a trip? Hiring an integrator allows leaders to take off a few hats, fill in the gaps, and step back as someone else creates new systems to push the company forward.

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When is the right time?

Many business owners think hiring a COO can wait because they want to save money. You’re not saving anything by waiting; you’re probably losing tangible value the integrator could add to your business. Here are three questions leaders should consider:

1. Is the timing right? Hiring an integrator will require businesses to carve out a bit less profit as they add another executive salary to their accounts. This means businesses need to be prepared to take a short-term hit with the faith that the integrator can help your business grow and become more profitable in the long term.

2. Are you ready to forgo operational control? This is one of the hardest steps for business owners. If you bring someone in who you then proceed to micromanage, you will make their life miserable and defeat the purpose of hiring someone new in the first place.

3. Can you be a great leader of leaders? Many founders tend to be great at exhibiting a vision, but they often need to bring someone in who is a better “manager of managers.” If a leader is finding it challenging to corral their teams and manage day-to-day operations, it’s time to bring in an integrator. This allows the leader to play to their strengths while bringing in their trusted Number One to run operations and fill in their weaknesses.

Define expectations.

When ready to hire an integrator, write a robust job description that clearly defines the role and expectations. If the job description is unclear or the role isn’t well-defined, the integrator may inadvertently step on people’s toes or get frustrated, which can lead to conflict and discontent.

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Establish clear objectives attached to demarcated time-frames, outlining what you expect them to accomplish in the first 30, 60, 90, and 180 days. Ensure these expectations are attached to trackable metrics.

Most importantly, set realistic goals. If your organization has grown 10%-15% yearly, you cannot assume that one new hire will magically bring you to 50%. Consider what you can realistically expect from an integrator and ensure the goals are tied to final outcomes, like sales and profitability.

Find the right candidate.

Hiring internally can be useful. You’re elevating someone respected within the company and aligned with your culture, values, and goals. However, it can come with challenges.

To borrow from Marshall Goldsmith’s book, “What got you here won’t get you there.” If you have a team that has been with you for fifteen years or more, it will be tough to find an integrator among them who could rewrite the rules to achieve greater growth. Think of it this way: If all you ever have in your refrigerator is chicken, no matter how many new recipes you try, the final result on the dinner table will still be chicken. But what if one day you bring home fish? Hiring externally allows you to bring in a candidate with completely different experiences to create new systems and processes that can take you to the next stage of growth. This isn’t to say you should not consider internal candidates, but be careful not to assume they are the best or only option.

Once you’ve identified candidates, leaders should take steps to get buy-in from the team, ensuring each candidate is a fit. Bring them into the office to meet your team and observe their chemistry. Ask your team for their feedback, but also reserve the right to make the final decision. A team’s chemistry is crucial to its success, and if they cannot work well together, their success will be greatly thwarted. If the second-best candidate had better chemistry, hire the second-best. If the team does not work well together, everyone loses.

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Don’t kick the can down the road.

The truth is, if you’re thinking about hiring a COO/integrator, you probably already need one. Don’t kick the can down the road until you’re desperate for help. Now is the time to start making moves to bring on an integrator who can elevate your company and speed up your growth. The longer you wait, the further you will be from achieving your company’s maximum potential.

Published: 2023-06-16 14:10:04

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