The role of the modern COO – a report from the Chief Operating Officer Summit 2019

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The role of the modern COO – a report from the Chief Operating Officer Summit 2019
6 min.

Technology, effectiveness, change management, automation and robotization – these and many other themes were discussed by the speakers at the COO Summit 2019 organized in Warsaw.

Competences of the modern COO

What is the role of today’s COOs? The conclusion drawn from the conference is not surprising: there are just as many organizations as there are roles, scopes of duties and responsibilities of operational managers. The conference was opened by a discussion panel with the participation of Monika Starecka (Chief Operations Officer, Board Member, EY Polska), Piotr Sędziak (Organizational Director, Proxy, ABC Data S.A.), Marcin Stańko (Operations Director, Member of the Board, Pepco Poland) and Jerzy Wróblewski (Operations Director, TFP Sp. z o.o.).

While presenting their role in the organization, from the responsibility for logistics, the supply chain, project management to cost minimization, the speakers emphasized the strategic dimension of the COO position in the company. Marcin Stańko, in charge of international development and expansion (Pepco chain roll-outs into new markets), pointed out that the profile of the modern COO goes beyond the common understanding of the scope of this position. The COO is not only responsible for ensuring the daily operation of the company, but also for investments and visual merchandising – the duties of the COO are therefore partly related to the nature of the work of the sales director.

“COO is the company's flywheel” (Marcin Stańko, COO Pepco Poland).

The cooperation between the company’s COO and CEO in the area of strategy building, and not only its implementation, is of key importance. By co-creating plans for the future and developing a strategy for where the company wants to be in the future, the COO constitutes one of the most important persons in the organization.

What other duties are COOs in charge of? Jerzy Wróblewski (TFP) emphasized that the COO is also responsible for logistics, settlements and quality control, which form a substantial part of the supply chain. The work of the COO is a combination of current and strategic operations. Monika Starecka (EY) also stressed the broad scope of the COO’s responsibilities, which include not only overseeing the company’s finances, HR, marketing, IT, purchases, administration and legal department, but also building a bridge between the organization’s current functioning and its long-term strategy.

In what direction will the role of the COO evolve?

The panellists observed that the role of the COO is to monitor the business environment: track new technologies, the HR market, estimate the costs of adaptation to legal changes – and these aspects of their work will not change. Bearing in mind that the world is constantly speeding up, the COO must be aware of what is happening in the company’s “neighborhood”. This means facing the persistent uncertainty of another day – observing the activities of competitors, while keeping your hand on the pulse of technological change. In this daily “crucible”, the most important are teams – the key persons who think alike and look in the same direction. This builds and strengthens the company, ensuring good results regardless of changes in the environment.

Technological race

As Jerzy Wróblewski pointed out, artificial intelligence (AI) in production automation is a future we cannot escape. Even today we can find algorithms in manufacturing machines that simultaneously control several hundred parameters of the device and manage the people working on its various parts. What is to be done, when and by whom is dictated to people by… a machine. The implementation of such and similar innovations in production is essential for building a competitive advantage. The trend of automation will therefore be continued and a COO in the manufacturing industry cannot ignore it.

Optimization and robotization of processes

Marcin Stańko quoted examples of optimization in the retail world, noting that in times of increasingly difficult labour markets, everyone is striving for improvements and stricter cost control. Retailers are therefore looking for automation mainly in three areas. The first one is customer service, e.g. by introducing self-service cash registers, handheld scanners for customers and other solutions that radically simplify paying for goods (after choosing a product, the customer leaves the store without queuing, the payment process taking place in the background) and improve the customer experience. The second area concerns supply chain optimization – as warehouse space is expensive, more and more automatic sorters and robots can be seen optimizing its use. The last area is the continuous optimization of processes with the use of (e.g. ERP-class) backoffice systems and solutions for the implementation of processes executed outside the systems. In such a case, the growing technological debt of companies is often a challenge.

“Robotization is most welcome in many organizations” (Monika Starecka, EY).

Monika Starecka also raised the issue of the ubiquitous pressure to reduce costs, saying that in many organizations robotization is very welcome, for example as a panacea for the growing staffing problems on the market.

As emphasized by Marek Stańko, processes are vitally important in every large company and they should be constantly verified. In order to make them effective, it is essential to build strong teams around them, and standardize and optimize the processes that will help to gain the support of the people “in the field”. Engagement is easier to achieve when the team have confidence in their leaders, the ideas presented to the team are feasible and the KPIs are realistic.

“Automation does not mean that we will eliminate people, but their role is going to change. Aspects such as communication and teamwork will be very important” (Jerzy Wróblewski, TFP).

What would the participants in the debate wish for each other?

First of all, they would wish the COO the freedom to implement strategies and the opportunity to further their creative work. The COO binds the organization’s different departments and activities, and this should not change.  What COOs (and probably not only them ;)) would welcome is… an extension of the day. They also wish that IT would not slow down business and that companies could keep up with the COOs’ ideas for rationalization.

“We invest in automation and IT”(Jerzy Ciesek, DHL Parcel Poland Sp. z o.o.).

Presentations at the conference

At this year’s Chief Operating Officer Summit 2019 the following lectures were delivered:

  • “The legal aspects of the work of the Chief Operating Officer” – Prof. Tomasz Siemiątkowski (attorney, Głuchowski Siemiątkowski Zawara law firm, head of the Department of Economic Law at the Warsaw School of Economics (SGH).
  • “Effective change management – where to begin and how to achieve an effective change” Łukasz D. Nowak (Head of Project & Portfolio Management Department, Bank BGŻ BNP Paribas S.A.).
  • “How can we tell that we have achieved our goals?” – Grzegorz König (Chief Operating Officer, Rhenus Data Office Poland).
  • “Supervision of projects” – Marek Rechciński (Office Director, Bad Loans Department, Bank Pekao S.A.).
  • “The robust personal brand of the leader. From the reputation of a “command-and-control” manager to a confidence manager in business” – Joanna Malinowska-Parzydło (Executive Partner, Younicorn Sp. z o.o.).

Joanna Malinowska-Parzydło (Younicorn Sp. z o.o.)

  • “Recruitment of employees, shaping the career path of the current staff, employee retention, management of Y and Z generation employees” – Izabela Galilejczyk-Kłoda (HR Business Partners Manager, DHL Parcel Sp. z o.o.) and Jerzy Ciesek (Parcel Hubs Director, DHL Parcel Polska Sp. z o.o.).

Izabela Galilejczyk-Kłoda and Jerzy Ciesek (DHL Parcel Polska Sp. z o.o.)

  • Why is there an Operations Director in the NGO? Szlachetna Paczka case study” – Joanna Sadzik (President of the Board of the Wiosna association, the organizer of the Szlachetna Paczka annual charity campaign).

Joanna Sadzik (Wiosna association).

  • Zbigniew Zduleczny (Chief Operating Officer, LG Electronics Poland): “Soft skills – communicativeness, assertiveness, empathy”.

Zbigniew Zduleczny (LG Electronics Polska).

  • Agnieszka Matłoka (Manager for Strategic Partnerships, Alior Bank S.A.): “Strategic, tactical and operational partnerships – 5×3, i.e. 5 business arguments, 5 steps and 5 principles of effective partnership management”.

Agnieszka Matłoka (Alior Bank S.A.).

  • Piotr Sędziak (ABC Data) ”Tools available to contemporary COOs”.
  • Jarosław Kołodziejski (Frigo Logistics Sp. z o.o.). “How modern technologies help to optimize processes in organizations”.

Conference: it is worth coming next year ?

The greatest strength of the event was the presence of business practitioners only.

I believe that the greatest advantage of the event was the presence of business practitioners only, who shared their experience (both of successes and failures) with the audience and showed how diverse and demanding COO’s work can be. Different views on the same challenges and clashing thoughts of leaders with different tempers made each presentation interesting and inspiring. I think that most of the participants in the conference organized by Puls Biznesu would agree that it was an exceptionally successful event, providing a unique opportunity to ask questions to experienced COOs and mutual exchange of experiences. I can wholeheartedly recommend the next edition of COO Summit and encourage you to participate in it!