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Perspectives

COOs and the pandemic: Finding the right balance as your role changes

COO Agenda

Today, we offer thoughts on how your COO role could change in the coming months and how resilience and agility can help you address the shifting priorities you’re likely to face.

Too often, the urgent crowds out the important.

                                                                                                                     - COO, >$500 billion corporation

In our previous blogs on COVID-19, we described the concept of operational resilience and introduced Deloitte’s Respond… Recover…Thrive framework (figure 1) for building resilience during and after the pandemic.

Figure 1: Deloitte’s Respond…Recover…Thrive framework

Today, we offer thoughts on how your COO role could change in the coming months and how resilience and agility can help you address the shifting priorities you’re likely to face.

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The COO’s changing role and priorities to build resilience

In recent years, many COOs have focused significant effort on being effective Strategists and Catalysts while still fulfilling their fundamental Operator responsibilities (figure 2). This meant maintaining business-as-usual (BAU) operations while driving new strategic innovations in operational efficiency, improving customer experience, and steering various transformation initiatives.

Figure 2: The four faces of the COO and how each delivers value to the enterprise

During the COVID-19 crisis and in its aftermath, many COOs are at least temporarily shifting some of that focus toward Steward priorities. The goal is both to protect the business and increase resilience to better withstand (and potentially even capitalize on) marketplace disruptions, fluctuations in business demand, and changes in business strategy.

We’ve identified more than 80 common priorities across our Four Faces framework. Table 1 highlights a subset of Steward-oriented priorities that we see moving to the forefront.

Table 1: Some of the key Steward priorities going forward

Addressing these priorities doesn’t mean other COO responsibilities will be less important. Many companies are still looking for sustainable growth (Strategist). Cost management is more important than ever (Operator). The pace of digital transformation, especially operational technologies, may even need to accelerate (Catalyst). The balancing act, then, may require you to pull back a little in some areas while focusing more attention in others for some period of time.

Part of what may change subtly, too, is when and how you interact with your operations leadership team, as well as the C-suite peers you work with on a regular basis. For example, providing your organization with the tools they need to be successful in coming months may require more focus on cybersecurity, so you may spend more time with the chief information security officer (CISO) for a while. Revamping business continuity planning may require more interaction with the chief risk officer (CRO) or whoever holds that responsibility.

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Time well spent requires agility

We frequently advise COOs on ways to manage their time, talent, and relationships most effectively to deliver on business priorities—typically in response to a new strategy, organizational change, and/or marketplace disruption. As our COO clients undertake this kind of introspection, a few important themes often emerge:

  • They develop a laser-like focus on what matters most, with greater emphasis on developing new capabilities over fixing what’s broken
  • The COO team changes, so it’s important to bring in the right talent, whether from inside or outside the organization, to deliver that change
  • There’s a reconsideration of who key stakeholders are and how to influence them regarding your priorities

Keep in mind, we’re not necessarily talking about wholesale change here. It may simply be fine-tuning. But it’s important to consider these issues as you prepare yourself, and your operations organization, for what could lay ahead in the coming months.

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Embrace the new role going forward

For most organizations, the story of the COVID-19 crisis isn’t fully written. Everyone is still responding to what’s urgent today while trying to figure out what the future might bring.

In this blog series, we’ve:

  • Defined operational resilience and outlined why it is so important to organizations both now and in the coming months and years
  • Described how COOs can build operational resilience across their organizations even as they deal with the effects of the pandemic and its aftermath
  • Established the difference between operational resilience as offense and business continuity planning and disaster response as defense, and why it’s so important to transition from one to the other with agility
  • Shared with you how all of these factors may mean changes to the COO’s role and what might be required of you going forward

We hope the ideas and considerations we’ve offered in this series have been helpful, and we look forward to sharing more as the story unfolds.

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