Who’s in the Cockpit? (Part 3)

posted by Administrator on 05/17/2023 in Blog Posts  | Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,
By: Tom Cramer


In our earlier discussions concerning the modern C-Suite, we discussed in Part One the evolution of the leadership roles of senior corporate executives. We looked at several of the key functional areas of leadership in Part Two.

Adapting Your C-Suite to Reality
We fully understand that many of you read those articles shaking your heads a bit, thinking how wonderful it would be to have a full team of professionals helping you fly your plane. It is a simple fact that for smaller and middle-sized businesses, the senior leadership is often swapping out hats to fill a multitude of roles. Nonetheless, it is essential you have a clear understanding of what those roles require, whether you are filling them, or other individuals are tasked with the responsibilities.

In Part Three, we turn our discussion back to the Pilot and Co-Pilot – the CEO and COO. If we unpack these two roles in more detail, we see three key areas of relationships to examine:

1. How the two executives interact with each other
2. How they interact with other leadership
3. And how they jointly and separately interact with the rest of the company’s team and

Of course, today there is a fourth area of interest, that of interacting with outsiders in the marketplace, including the media, investors, vendors/suppliers, and customers. However, that is a big enough topic for a future discussion.

In our opening article, we referenced a Harvard Business Review article that identified people skills and leadership as common requirements for senior C-level executives. We also saw in the second article a clear delineation between the CEO as the lead on strategic issues and the COO carrying the ball for execution and implementation.

The metaphor of a ball is apt because it is essential that the CEO have a crisp and effective handoff of the developed goals and strategies to the COO. We saw that in modern cockpit management the autocratic pilot is not an acceptable model. It has been identified as a central source of airplane accidents as planes became more sophisticated. So it is with the CEO today. Her COO must not be afraid to speak up or ask questions, and he must ensure that the expectations are clearly defined.

Eliminating the Silo
While those efficient communications at the top are essential, it is equally vital for the “factory floor to the C-level” channel work as a useful pipeline. In even the most progressive organizations, it is inherent that line operators stop their communications at the COO level, and seldom interact with the top decision-maker.

For those decisions to be effective, the COO must actively seek to collect, discern, and “read” the objective and subjective indicators for the company. A dashboard of well-designed metrics is essential, but the job goes beyond that. The CEO will be focused on “looking out of the window” to read trends, competitive actions, and other dynamics. If he receives the right information about the internal systems and operations, he can better merge those sets of data into better decision-making.

Defining the Focus
Since only the largest of businesses are going to have the blessing (and curse?) of a full suit with all tasks properly delegated, you must, as CEO, carefully walk through each functional area with your COO and come to agreement with who is responsible for what. The chart below found at The Innovation Framework is an excellent starting point for most businesses:

CEO COO Responsibilities Matrix
In the Trenches
When you go from flying high in the cockpit to fighting out each day in the trenches, the relationship between the CEO and COO will be a major factor in success or a sad contributor to friction and defeat. While this is not a marriage with equal roles, it is a marriage in the sense it takes hard work and honest communication to make the one-plus-one team equal three.