Searching For The Right COO: 10 Things Small Businesses Should Know

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Expert Panel, Young Entrepreneur Council

YEC is an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most successful entrepreneurs 40 and younger.rom">YEC is an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most successful entrepreneurs 40 and younger.rom

Photos courtesy of the individual members

1. They Should Grow With The Company

Small businesses absolutely must delegate and get help in order to grow, yet taking that leap can be scary financially. In the beginning, when a small company can't necessarily pay a salary that's competitive with bigger companies, consider setting up a structure that allows the COO to be paid based on their performance. Start with a modest base pay and add in a growth delta, paying the COO based on a percentage of year-over-year growth. They will feel more involved and invested from day one and this will help align values. Make sure to use accurate projections and do careful planning and research. - Rachel BeiderPRESS Modern Massage

2. Look Within Your Company First

Experienced COOs can certainly contribute to a business given established industry processes. However, the semantics of the role revolve around operations, adhering to internal processes and juggling between the priorities within various departments. Growing and nurturing a COO early on within the company is a great alternative: A cross-disciplinary hire with leadership qualities with several years of experience on the job who is already aware of everything an external COO should learn in the first six to nine months. Slowly building the job profile for a certain individual will gradually translate to a manager or an administrative hero wearing the COO hat in your organization. - Mario PeshevDevriX

3. Focus On The Long Haul

For a COO, you want someone who's in it for the long haul, who knows the company, who knows the product and most importantly who knows the team. Our COO started as a graphic designer. He continued to do good work and to show that he cared, not just for his job, but for the company and the people as a whole. For me, that speaks more volumes than a powerful resume. Look around. Maybe there's someone on your team who is showing the qualities you're looking for. If you have to hire from outside, look for people who have been at their business for a while. You want someone who will stick around and get to know you and your company. -Jessica GonzalezInCharged

4. Look Outside Your Industry

When looking to hire a COO for your company, it's pretty natural to look for a candidate that has direct experience in your particular industry, but if you do this, you risk limiting yourself and missing out on a COO who would be perfect for your company. An excellent COO has valuable experience and that experience is typically transferable across many industries. They should be able to come up with a strategy that works for your business by speaking with you and your team members and by including their outside expertise. Allow yourself to look at COOs from different backgrounds and you'll be able to widen the talent pool and find the best fit. - John TurnerSeedProd LLC

5. Make Sure They Fit Culturally

One of the most important things about a COO is how well they fit within your company culture. At one point our team was slightly over 20 people and we brought in a COO who had over 15 years of experience working with startups in a similar role where she had gotten amazing results. The only issue was that she came from a much more corporate background and ended up not getting along with the team at all. This led to resentment on both sides very quickly and our work suffered greatly. In a role as important as this, culture fit matters just as much as skills and experience. - Karl KangurAbove House

6. Make Sure They Fit With Your Vision

The main role of a COO is to lead the execution of the organizational strategy established by the leadership team. These responsibilities can include managing critical projects, overseeing the day-to-day operations, managing organizational change and carrying out the vision of the CEO. During the planning stages, it is imperative to put that vision in writing and confirm the COO not only understands it, but wholeheartedly aligns with it. If the COO ends up conflicted or unclear about the vision, he or she will not be effective over the long term. In essence, their job is ultimately to make the CEO and the organization successful. That being said, plan to find a candidate who is willing to share the limelight or even just being satisfied with operating behind the scenes completely. - Susan RebnerCyleron, Inc.

7. Set A Trial Basis

COO, like any C-suite position, is a big deal and the hiring process shouldn't be taken likely. I'd recommend implementing some kind of trial period. See if you can hire them as a consultant for at least a month to see what working with them on a daily basis is like. Taking on a COO role is a huge endeavor on their part as well. Having a trial period may be equally as enlightening for them as they get to see how the company currently operates. Starting off as a consultant makes it easier to part ways if it doesn't seem to be working out and you don't have to worry about the optics of a brand new COO leaving the company. - Jared BrownHubstaff Talent

8. Plan Out What The Job Will Be

Like any job, hiring an executive requires a fully laden vision, in which all the steps are planned out in advance like a project that you manage from start to finish. It's important to have a truly detailed job description, one that is used publicly on the job boards, but then also one that you maintain internally. You may even write up this job description and then update it perhaps even years prior to hiring a chief operating officer. One of the most important decisions is whether to hire internally or externally, when promoting within, you ideally want a person who is already performing the job function of a chief operating officer, as this gives you greater flexibility to hire another person for this role in the future without causing havoc within your own company. - Cody McLainSupportNinja

9. Ask References The Right Questions

Hiring a COO should be a process no different from hiring another employee in that you should take every step you would for a different position being hired in the company. Take advantage of the references on your candidates' resumes and reach out to them asking them questions that matter most to you and your mission. It's important not to leave out behavioral questions that tell you how they work with others, handle conflict and deal with stress, so you know what to expect and if that aligns with your hiring goals. References may talk up the candidate, but most of the time it's easy to tell when this is happening. - Chris ChristoffMonsterInsights

10. Take Your Time

Your COO will be your second in command. It's vital that you have an understanding of this person, their work ethic, past work experience and more. Take your time and conduct multiple interviews with several people so you can get to know each of them before deciding on a good fit. I've found that after about three interviews I can tell if someone is right for the job. Make sure you take the time to get to know the person who is directly underneath you in the business hierarchy. If you're not careful, you could find that hiring a COO hurt your company instead of helping. - Syed BalkhiWPBeginner

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Hiring a chief operating officer is a huge moment and one that requires a lot of thought and planning, particularly for small businesses: A good COO can work wonders for a company, while a misstep in hiring can cost you time, as well as generate a great deal of frustration for everyone involved.

As you prepare to start your search, you need to be sure you know where to look for your COO, as well as what kinds of traits your organization needs. Is it better to hire from within, for instance, or perform a job search elsewhere? If you're looking externally, should you look only within your industry or only at people who already have all the credentials you want? And how important is the culture fit?

To find out more, we've asked members of the YEC experts about what smaller firms should remember during the planning stages, or actual execution, of a search for a COO. Here is what they said:

Photos courtesy of the individual members

1. They Should Grow With The Company

Small businesses absolutely must delegate and get help in order to grow, yet taking that leap can be scary financially. In the beginning, when a small company can't necessarily pay a salary that's competitive with bigger companies, consider setting up a structure that allows the COO to be paid based on their performance. Start with a modest base pay and add in a growth delta, paying the COO based on a percentage of year-over-year growth. They will feel more involved and invested from day one and this will help align values. Make sure to use accurate projections and do careful planning and research. - Rachel BeiderPRESS Modern Massage

2. Look Within Your Company First

Experienced COOs can certainly contribute to a business given established industry processes. However, the semantics of the role revolve around operations, adhering to internal processes and juggling between the priorities within various departments. Growing and nurturing a COO early on within the company is a great alternative: A cross-disciplinary hire with leadership qualities with several years of experience on the job who is already aware of everything an external COO should learn in the first six to nine months. Slowly building the job profile for a certain individual will gradually translate to a manager or an administrative hero wearing the COO hat in your organization. - Mario PeshevDevriX

3. Focus On The Long Haul

For a COO, you want someone who's in it for the long haul, who knows the company, who knows the product and most importantly who knows the team. Our COO started as a graphic designer. He continued to do good work and to show that he cared, not just for his job, but for the company and the people as a whole. For me, that speaks more volumes than a powerful resume. Look around. Maybe there's someone on your team who is showing the qualities you're looking for. If you have to hire from outside, look for people who have been at their business for a while. You want someone who will stick around and get to know you and your company. -Jessica GonzalezInCharged

4. Look Outside Your Industry

When looking to hire a COO for your company, it's pretty natural to look for a candidate that has direct experience in your particular industry, but if you do this, you risk limiting yourself and missing out on a COO who would be perfect for your company. An excellent COO has valuable experience and that experience is typically transferable across many industries. They should be able to come up with a strategy that works for your business by speaking with you and your team members and by including their outside expertise. Allow yourself to look at COOs from different backgrounds and you'll be able to widen the talent pool and find the best fit. - John TurnerSeedProd LLC

5. Make Sure They Fit Culturally

One of the most important things about a COO is how well they fit within your company culture. At one point our team was slightly over 20 people and we brought in a COO who had over 15 years of experience working with startups in a similar role where she had gotten amazing results. The only issue was that she came from a much more corporate background and ended up not getting along with the team at all. This led to resentment on both sides very quickly and our work suffered greatly. In a role as important as this, culture fit matters just as much as skills and experience. - Karl KangurAbove House

6. Make Sure They Fit With Your Vision

The main role of a COO is to lead the execution of the organizational strategy established by the leadership team. These responsibilities can include managing critical projects, overseeing the day-to-day operations, managing organizational change and carrying out the vision of the CEO. During the planning stages, it is imperative to put that vision in writing and confirm the COO not only understands it, but wholeheartedly aligns with it. If the COO ends up conflicted or unclear about the vision, he or she will not be effective over the long term. In essence, their job is ultimately to make the CEO and the organization successful. That being said, plan to find a candidate who is willing to share the limelight or even just being satisfied with operating behind the scenes completely. - Susan RebnerCyleron, Inc.

7. Set A Trial Basis

COO, like any C-suite position, is a big deal and the hiring process shouldn't be taken likely. I'd recommend implementing some kind of trial period. See if you can hire them as a consultant for at least a month to see what working with them on a daily basis is like. Taking on a COO role is a huge endeavor on their part as well. Having a trial period may be equally as enlightening for them as they get to see how the company currently operates. Starting off as a consultant makes it easier to part ways if it doesn't seem to be working out and you don't have to worry about the optics of a brand new COO leaving the company. - Jared BrownHubstaff Talent

8. Plan Out What The Job Will Be

Like any job, hiring an executive requires a fully laden vision, in which all the steps are planned out in advance like a project that you manage from start to finish. It's important to have a truly detailed job description, one that is used publicly on the job boards, but then also one that you maintain internally. You may even write up this job description and then update it perhaps even years prior to hiring a chief operating officer. One of the most important decisions is whether to hire internally or externally, when promoting within, you ideally want a person who is already performing the job function of a chief operating officer, as this gives you greater flexibility to hire another person for this role in the future without causing havoc within your own company. - Cody McLainSupportNinja

9. Ask References The Right Questions

Hiring a COO should be a process no different from hiring another employee in that you should take every step you would for a different position being hired in the company. Take advantage of the references on your candidates' resumes and reach out to them asking them questions that matter most to you and your mission. It's important not to leave out behavioral questions that tell you how they work with others, handle conflict and deal with stress, so you know what to expect and if that aligns with your hiring goals. References may talk up the candidate, but most of the time it's easy to tell when this is happening. - Chris ChristoffMonsterInsights

10. Take Your Time

Your COO will be your second in command. It's vital that you have an understanding of this person, their work ethic, past work experience and more. Take your time and conduct multiple interviews with several people so you can get to know each of them before deciding on a good fit. I've found that after about three interviews I can tell if someone is right for the job. Make sure you take the time to get to know the person who is directly underneath you in the business hierarchy. If you're not careful, you could find that hiring a COO hurt your company instead of helping. - Syed BalkhiWPBeginner

Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invitation-only, fee-based organization comprised of the world's most successful entrepreneurs 45 and younger. YEC members repre...">Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invitation-only, fee-based organization comprised of the world's most successful entrepreneurs 45 and younger. YEC members repre...