The Chain of Command

The importance of good communication is deeply ingrained in modern management practice.  It is generally accepted that within a well-run business, information will flow smoothly in every direction – up, down and sideways.  But if this goal is so clearly in sight, why do many businesses suffer from bad communication dynamics?  What enables the free movement of knowledge and opinions across organizational boundaries in some companies, while others are plagued by a creepy mix of rampant rumors and information suppression?   In my experience, it has less to do with formal communication plans than with the underlying behavioral principles of the organization’s leaders.  This blog post concerns one high-impact area of conduct: navigating the chain of command.  

This issue is fraught for a number of reasons.  At a fundamental level, our standard hierarchical management structures create a paradox where communication is concerned.  On one hand, the chain of command is integral Continue reading ‘The Chain of Command’


Oops, That’s Me!

First there was Dilbert.  The Pointy-Haired Boss and Catbert brought bad managers out of the closet, and the characters resonated with millions.  Most of us are pretty sure that we personally worked with the individuals upon whom those characters were based. 

Since there’s clearly so much material to be mined, a whole sub-genre of business books on how to deal with bad managers has emerged.  The best among them can be quite helpful in providing a toolkit for surviving a reporting relationship to someone with a specific incompetence profile.  And these books are Continue reading ‘Oops, That’s Me!’

The Postmodern Staff Meeting

I have participated in a lot of different kinds of staff meetings over the years, ranging from a structure based on a formal McKinsey management model to an agenda that consisted exclusively of the senior person talking about himself.  Far and away the most common, however, has been the go-around-the-table model, in which each person reports on key activities in his or her function or business unit.  

This default roundtable structure seemed to work pretty well when the pace of business was slower, and when key managers all worked together at the Continue reading ‘The Postmodern Staff Meeting’

Metrics, Metrics, Everywhere

Seasoned operating executives will generally agree that a well-run business needs to have a set of metrics, above and beyond bare-bones financial results, that are used to guide decision-making and measure progress.  Without metrics we would be flying blind.  Unfortunately, operating metrics can also look like a panacea to the uninitiated, thereby lending themselves to fad-surfing.  When boards, investors, and far-removed executives are at a loss about how to improve business results, demanding that metrics be put in place has a certain simplistic appeal.  A metrics initiative can create the illusion of taking action, it sounds easy enough, and it might actually fix the business.  Plus, metrics can provide a means of avoiding the need to assess people and strategies via more time-consuming and uncomfortably subjective means. What’s not to love?  Continue reading ‘Metrics, Metrics, Everywhere’


A COO is often described as the person in the organization who makes the trains run on time.  This was also Mussolini’s claim to fame – and he was a Fascist.  Does this mean that a COO, or anyone else tasked with driving operational efficiency, is condemned to play the role of killjoy authoritarian if he or she is to be effective? 

Well, yes and no.  I do believe that efficient operations depend upon a disciplined approach: clear goal-setting, regular review, and good follow through.  Systems and processes can provide the framework, but the key to success is consistency of individual and collective behavior.  Someone has to be the focal point for Continue reading ‘Fascism’

I’m Late, I’m Late …

A time management tune-up in the leadership ranks is an easy first step in tightening up operational performance.  Simply starting meetings on time will free up some cycles for productive work, and it will help establish the framework of disciplined behavior and professional courtesy necessary to support an execution-focused culture. 

Maybe your company has a deep tradition of tardiness, or perhaps the team has just gotten a little sloppy.  Either way, this Continue reading ‘I’m Late, I’m Late …’

Ladies First

Formal business dinners with people you have just met, perhaps with a significant transaction at stake, can be awkward affairs.   Being the only woman at such an event never really phased me, but it took me a while to work out the added responsibility associated with ordering first.  The waiter is always going to address the question of “What can I get you to drink?” to a woman first.  It’s up to us to set the tone for beverage choice, and this can be fraught in contemporary America.  If I order sparkling water, will my guest feel awkward choosing a double martini?  Will I seem uptight, out of touch, or pregnant if I avoid alcoholic beverages?  Conversely, it might not be a good idea to work on a tumbler of Jack Daniels while the clients sip Diet Coke.  Continue reading ‘Ladies First’

About The COO Blog

During my 20+ years as a business leader, I have been dropped into complete operational chaos on a number of occasions – guided only by instructions to "fix this". No amount of training is sufficient to fully prepare one for the initial experience. But after baptism by fire, I found that subsequent operating challenges became less traumatic and distinct patterns started to emerge.

Over time, I have developed sound operational instincts and assembled a set of general-purpose management tools that can be adapted to various circumstances. Every situation is unique and certain lessons can only be learned the hard way, but some of my operational leadership expertise can be shared – and so I offer this blog.

~ Margaret Craig

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Copyright & Credits

© Copyright 2010 Margaret Craig Chick photo credit: Fir0002/Flagstaffotos, licensed under GFPL 1.2