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When and How To Hire an Interim COO
In many organizations, the chief operating officer is one of the most important executives in the c suite. He or she serves as the head of the business’s operations and, in many cases, acts as a second-in-command and surrogate for the chief executive officer.
The significance of the COO means that some organizations can’t get by without one. Therefore, at certain times, such as during team transitions, deciding to hire an interim COO is essential. Other organizations are just reaching the point of needing a chief operating officer. In this case, an interim operations head may also be helpful.
What Does a Chief Operating Officer Do?
The chief operating officer is the c-level executive in charge of the daily operations of the organization. Depending on the size and diversity of the business, this can be a very strategically focused position or a more day-to-day-focused position.
This can include analyzing and refining operations. It can also include working to improve organizational communication and efficiency. In some cases, a COO may head up high-importance projects that require the involvement of a top executive. For other organizations, the head of operations may principally act as backup and a partner to the CEO.
It is perhaps the most variably defined member of the c-suite. In many cases, the role of the COO is to help the CEO achieve success for the organization. In other words, the exact purpose of the operations chief depends on what the top executive needs.
This relationship can make keeping the top operations job filled a high priority for the organization. Having the role vacant, especially unexpectedly, can become a critical concern for the CEO and board of directors.
What Is an Interim COO?
An interim COO is essentially just a short-term operations executive. He or she may hold the role for a preset period of time or may hold it until a permanent chief operating officer is named. There are two main types of interim COOs:
Regardless of whether the individual is an existing member of the team or an external hire, the interim COO will typically function in the same way that a permanent one would. In some circumstances, this may be in primarily an oversight role, keeping the ship on course until a permanent candidate is found. In other cases, the interim COO may be specifically tasked with changing things up.
In short, much like a full-time operations chief, the role of the interim executive is very much dependent on the current needs of the organization and c-suite team. Thus, exactly what an interim COO does will depend on how and why the prior executive left, or in some cases why the position was created.
Reasons To Hire an Interim COO
Hiring an interim executive may seem like a distraction from finding a permanent candidate. However, there are many excellent reasons to hire someone in a temporary operations role:
Of course, interim executives aren’t just about bridging the gap. Sometimes you need to hire someone to help manage a transition. Other times, you may be creating the chief operating officer position for the first time and want a trial run. Here are some other reasons to hire an interim COO:
Sometimes bringing on a temporary executive is the right choice for your business. It can help you ensure continuing success and/or manage a period of transition more effectively. Better yet, it prevents you from having to rush to find a successor or go without someone heading up your operations.
When Should You Hire an Interim COO?
Clearly, there are strong reasons to hire an interim COO. However, you may still be wondering when the right time is. Typically, companies hire interim executives after a c-suite member leaves and before his or her successor is hired; however, there are some other circumstances as well.
For a COO Transition: The simplest circumstance for hiring an interim COO is in between two permanent executives’ tenures. Sometimes people retire or quit without a clear succession plan or with one that can’t be implemented immediately. It takes time to find a worthy successor and having an interim chief operating officer can help keep things steady.
When a Turnaround Is Needed: If your company’s operations are in poor shape, it may be necessary to make a leadership change. In these cases, an interim COO may be helpful. Sometimes, an outside consultant with experience in operations improvement can be preferable to an internal or permanent executive.
During a Growth Period: Sometimes organizations, especially relatively new ones, find themselves on the precipice of a period of major growth. Perhaps you have landed a new deal for international distribution or earned a major contract. In these instances, it can be prudent to bring on board new leadership that is skilled in handling larger operations.
In all these circumstances, deciding to hire an interim COO instead of waiting for a permanent successor or offloading responsibilities to other managers can be an impactful decision. Doing so can bring stability and competence to your organization’s operations team during a period of uncertainty.
The Advantages of Short-Term and Partial Executives
An interim executive can be a useful addition to your team in many cases. Clearly, there are plenty of situations when hiring one is the right decision, and there are many good reasons to do so. However, it may seem like a permanent COO would offer all the same advantages. This isn’t quite true:
Some temporary COOs also offer partial executive services. When you need some help with your operations but aren’t ready for a full-time leader, this can be very helpful. It has many of the advantages of an interim COO but functions as a part-time team member.
Considerations When You Hire an Interim COO
When you hire a temporary executive, it is important to set clear goals for the position. Specifically, know what that timeframe of the job is and what you hope to achieve. Having clear objectives will help you to ensure the process is successful.
The candidate’s qualifications are also a consideration. He or she must possess many of the same skills as a permanent COO. However, there may be less pressure to find an exact fit as the role is temporary.
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