COO vs. Implementer


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In this article:

  1. What is a chief operating officer?
  2. Chief operating officers’ roles differ in different-sized companies
    • The executor
    • The agent of change
    • The mentor
    • The complement
    • The heir
    • The jewel
  3. What is an implementer?
  4. COOs and implementers are not necessarily the same thing

The online business world of entrepreneurs is full of different terms and those terms often mean different things to the people that use them. Titles are no different – in fact, they’re some of the most confusing!

A great example would be how people use the titles chief operating officer (COO) and implementer interchangeably when they don’t actually mean the same thing. They’re two very different positions, and while the COO can do the work of an implementer, it’s certainly not in the job scope they agreed to when they signed on. 

What is a chief operating officer?

It’s actually quite difficult to pinpoint what a COO is and what they do. Larger companies tend to call their director of operations a COO, which gets confusing. Although the title may be up for debate, the role itself is usually an executive one. In fact, it’s often one of the highest-ranking roles in an organization, most times being the second-in-command after the chairperson and CEO. 

In general, the role can be loosely defined as being responsible for the daily operation of the company and its office. Other duties for the role vary greatly, though. The position can even be changed (or eliminated altogether) as a company’s needs change throughout down or upsizing. For example in a smaller company, the director of operations might oversee business procedures as a company expands their sales, product distribution, and customer service departments, but they might eventually be eliminated if that expansion effort ends. 

What is certain however, is that the COO will work closely with the chief executive officer (CEO). The CEO will usually determine which duties the COO handles and sometimes COOs even take over when CEOs resign. 

Whether they’re called a director of operations or a COO, the role demands that the person hired for it has a wide range of skills. They often have to review financial statements, improve profitability, maximize employee efficiency, and direct budget planning and allocation. Sometimes they even oversee workplace policies and procedures. 

It’s essential that they have excellent foresight, patience, logic, critical thinking, problem-solving, and people skills, just to name a few. 

Chief operating officers’ roles differ in different-sized companies

No two COOs are alike, but they can be grouped into a few different overarching types. What type of COO someone is often largely depends on the size of the company they are in, what that company stands for, what its goals are, and how those goals are being accomplished. 

Here are some types of COOs and the different-sized companies that they may be found in. Some COOs are even a combination of these types. 

The executor

Oftentimes, the COO is responsible for delivering day-to-day and quarter-to-quarter results while the CEO focuses on long-term strategies and decisions. SMEs sometimes don’t have COOs because they don’t need them; either the founder/owner/CEO shoulders this difficult task alone or they share it with all of the workers under them. 

The executor COO can be found in large companies (5-10 million employees or even 10+ million) that are in operationally intensive industries like the automotive or airline industries or in organizations whose industries are hypercompetitive and dynamic, like high-tech firms. 

The agent of change

Some COOs are hired to make a specific and significant change. This type of COO can usually be found in medium-to-large businesses (employees number anywhere from 2-10 million) and have the task of leading a specific strategic imperative.

This could be a planned rapid expansion, a major organizational change, a turnaround, or even a merger. The magnitude of this challenge means that the agent of change comes with an air and degree of unquestioned authority because it’s believed that they know exactly what to do in order to make this change a successful one.  

The mentor

Sometimes CEOs (who may or may not also be the founder) are young and inexperienced. An entrepreneurial venture that’s experiencing rapid growth can need the guidance of someone with wisdom, experience, and an established network. Enter the mentor.

This type of COO can most often be found in SMEs (2 million employees and below), usually there to do just what is needed of them – mentor. They are usually older in age and have accomplished all they want to in their careers, now content to help someone else achieve their dreams. 

The complement

COOs can be hired as nothing other than an excellent match for the CEOs style, tendencies, or knowledge base. This can be in the sense that they’re similar, or in the sense that they are opposites that balance each other out. 

Either way, the COO and CEO work amazingly together and bounce off each other in such a way that makes magic happen at the company. This type of COO often doesn’t have any drive to become CEO, but that’s not to say they won’t. 

The complement can be found in businesses of any size, but are mostly present in medium-to-large organizations. 

The heir

When a CEO is gone, the COO is often the first to be looked at as a replacement. There are many cases in which a COO’s primary reason of establishment is to be a trial CEO, to be tested and judged on whether they would make a good CEO.

While being the heir apparent isn’t a guarantee of someone’s future as a CEO, it certainly places a lot more pressure and scrutiny on a COO. 

The heir is most often found in medium-to-large businesses. 

The jewel

In certain cases, a company offers the role of COO to a person simply to keep them in the company because they’re simply too precious to lose (especially to competitors!). This mostly happens in large companies, but it happens in medium ones too. 

What is an implementer?

Implementers get things done. They turn the ideas and concepts of their team into practical actions and plans. They are disciplined people who tend to work systematically, efficiently, and in a well-organized manner. 

Unlike COOs, this isn’t an executive role. There isn’t any glory or rank necessarily associated with the role and it doesn’t tend to be closely linked with the CEO. Instead, this role focuses on being the powerful hands-on counterpart of a team that plans and creates ideas. 

Think of the person that quietly and systematically tackles all of the tasks in a team. The one that just ploughs on through the scheduling, recordkeeping, reporting, checking in with other teams and roles, just to get the job done. That is a prime example of an implementer. 

Implementers don’t usually have the spotlight on them as they tend to shine most (ironically) when they put their head down and work. Creative types who tend to dream up a dozen ideas an hour but lack the focus and determination to follow-through on them would be nothing without implementers, who turn those ideas into reality. 

Skills needed for this role include independence, efficiency, discipline, attention to detail, patience, focus, and dedication. 

COOs and implementers are not necessarily the same thing

While both roles are demanding and center around making things happen, they are definitely separate and very different. 

A COO can also be an implementer, but an implementer cannot necessarily be a COO. 

First and foremost it’s important to realize that a COO functions at the top level of a company. They go between many different departments and staff to realize their goals. They have next to no one to answer to and often make tough decisions on their own authority. 

Implementers work at a much lower level, and there’s nothing wrong with that. They take input from team members and turn them into real-life creations. They take information from many different sources and realize those goals, like a COO does but in the opposite direction.
Unlike COOs, implementers have a lot of higher-ups to answer to. 

COOs can come from a variety of different backgrounds and rise to prominence in their workplaces. While implementers can too, they tend to have very different personalities. COOs have to have excellent people skills as they communicate with so many different people and groups to accomplish a number of tasks that vary in nature. 

Implementers on the other hand are usually a lot more withdrawn and introverted. They aren’t big on great amounts of socializing and aren’t often the best at navigating shifting social situations. Where COOs talk and delegate, implementers listen and absorb. 

With all of that in mind, it’s easy to see how a COO could easily handle being an implementer (even if it’s not in their agreed-upon job scope) but an implementer may struggle to be a COO. 

A great business, especially an entrepreneurial one, benefits greatly from having both a COO and an implementer (maybe even multiple implementers as it grows). 

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