Monday, July 14, 2008

The COO – The Conductor of the Business Orchestra

As the Director of the San Ramon, California Chapter of the Chief Operating Officer Business Forum, I have the opportunity to work with a number of COOs from a wide variety of industries. In addition to sharing best practices and helping with business acceleration, we work to help define the role of the COO in organizations. The CEO role is well known and many have written about it, including me in my “CEO Tips I Wish I had When I Started” series. But the COO role is different. It is complex and often varies depending upon the CEO’s particular strengths.

There is a lighthearted analogy that may be appropriate - an orchestra conductor. Musical theater and particularly the big Broadway musicals are multifaceted just like a business. The story and the score are written, comparable to a strategic plan. Many different functions are involved, generally under the leadership of the producer and the director. They co-ordinate everything right up until show time, similar to the executive team. And there is a product to sell for revenue and profitability.

Show time and the conductor takes over. This is comparable to how the COO takes over as businesses reach the market and everything comes together. The performers, the business units if you will, the production team for lighting and sound and stage movement, the product supply, and even the ushers, the customer service people, are under his direction. He starts the show by a tap of his baton to focus everyone’s attention. He then brings everyone to action and the show starts. He determines the volume of the music. The right level sets the tone of the score most effectively. If it is too loud, it will drown out the performers and their roles will be lost. If it is too soft, the melodies are lost and the “imperfections” in the casts’ voices can be uncovered. He sets the tempo to facilitate the delivery of the songs in the score. His fine hand on the controls with his baton can build up the performers on stage and make them stars. If he fails, he can destroy not only the show, but the singers as well. Careers are in his hand.

How is this similar to the COO? The COO is charged with the operation of the company. It is their responsibility to make certain that the execution of the plan is done with excellence and that all of the functions work in harmony, just like the orchestra. Certainly, all of the functions and senior executives have their roles just as the actors and actresses do in the stage production, but they must be co-ordinated well. The results of the conductor’s work can be seen in the box office receipts and the results of the COO’s work can be seen on the bottom line profitability of the company.

How important is the conductor to the production in the eyes of the cast? Here is what happens at the end of every performance. After the performers have taken their bows and received the accolades from the audience, the lead performers steps forward. They direct the cast’s and audience’s attention to the orchestra pit and to the orchestra director. Then the cast applauds the conductor. They recognize his critical importance to their success and the success of the show. The audience leaves the theater often singing or humming parts of the score and continuing the tribute to the conductor.

The orchestra conductor is a critical factor in the success of the musical business. The COO is a critical factor in the success of a business. One may very well say that there is much more that a COO does to make a company successful and that is true. However, it serves as a good analogy for the critical role of the COO.

So applause, applause.

John Maver
Maver Management Group
(925) 648-7561
Maver Management

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