Should Companies Have a "Chief Process Officer?"

19 Aug 2014

In any organization, who is in charge of improving the organization's processes? In the alphabet soup comprising the "C suite" (CEO, CFO, COO, CIO/CTO, CMO) the most obvious answer would be the COO (Chief Operating Officer), who according to Wikipedia, "is responsible for the daily operation of the company."

But according to an article published in Harvard Business Review:

Unlike other C-suite positions, which tend to be defined according to commonly designated responsibilities across most companies, the COO job tends to be defined in relation to the specific CEO with whom he/she works, given the close working relationship of these two individuals.[1] In many ways, the selection of a COO is similar to the selection of a Vice President of the United States: the role (including the power and responsibilities therein) can vary dramatically, depending on the style and needs of the President of the United States. Thus, the COO role is highly contingent and situational, as the role changes from company to company and even from CEO to successor CEO within the same company.[1]

So maybe it's not so obvious that a COO would lead the charge on process improvement and Unified Communications (defined by UCStrategies as "Communications integrated to optimize business processes"). But if the COO doesn't have this role, then who should? It really doesn't fit under the CFO (Chief Financial Officer) or CMO (Chief Marketing Officer). It could have a place under the CIO/CTO, if that office is tasked with using technology to create a strategic advantage for the organization. However, many in the CIO/CTO office are focused on the sometimes daunting task of keeping the infrastructure running and not on the strategic aspects of the technology.

So in many companies, no one is really thinking about process improvement. We can all point to examples of poor processes that frustrate customers, are needlessly repetitive, or are outright inefficient. Why do things still work that way?

Process improvement requires vision (the ability to see how things could be) and executive support (to get the funding and drive the behavioral changes necessary). Companies that are able to see how technology can be used to differentiate them from their competitors will enjoy an advantage that goes far beyond the benefits derived from features such as instant messaging or collaboration tools.

So maybe it's time to make an effort to examine the possibilities. What would the ideal process look like? And how do you get from here to there? Sounds like a job for a Chief Process Officer.

  1. "Miles," Stephen A.; "Bennett," Nathan (2006), "Second in Command: The Misunderstood Role of the Chief Operating Officer," Harvard Business Review 84(5): 70-79, retrieved 2011-09-24


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