The Work of a Fractional COO: Behind the Scenes of Making Decisions

Many founders consider hiring a Chief Operating Officer (COO) when a company needs to grow and scale. Their role is to support the CEO and other leaders of the business in building strong operations. 

Not all companies need a full-time COO. In fact an experienced fractional COO can achieve the same results as a full-time COO by using process and technology to increase efficiency. I am talking from experience, after doing this work for 14 years.

In this article, I’ll take you behind the scenes of my work. I’ll show you how my actions focus on what brings the most value. You’ll see how I prioritize my work and ensure that what matters most gets done.

Many leaders want to see the steps that will take them to their desired result. Having a roadmap in front of their eyes gives them more control and empowers them to make the right decisions for their business. This is true for me too.

This is why I will share my process and frameworks with you. I want you to see how I get to generate results in my work. I strongly believe this will support you in making the right decision for your business, one geared towards growth.

A reliable process is more empowering than the promise of non-replicable great outcomes. 

Patterns in my Day-to-Day as a Fractional COO

As a fractional COO, a few patterns dominate my work. 

These include:

  • Setting myself up for a successful day 
  • Decision-making 
  • Building awesome teams 
  • Iterating on the process 
  • Increasing efficiency with technology 
  • Managing the unexpected

Setting Myself Up for a Successful Day

I put a lot of emphasis on daily planning. If you read any of my previous articles on time management you know this about me. Doing so guarantees completing the 20% of actions that lead to 80% of results. 

My workday starts with a blank page in my planner. On this page, I write my client’s current business goals and choose three daily priorities to work on during a pre-allocated time slot of 2-4 hours. These are the most important actions I can take to advance the goals.

Daily planning also means to go through a short checklist that answers the following questions:

  • What can I delegate, and to whom? What can I automate, and what tool will I use?
  • What do I need to follow up on, and with whom?
  • Are all my calls and meetings on the calendar?
  • Is the scorecard updated?

Let’s take them one by one and explain my thinking behind them!

  • What can I delegate, and to whom? What can I automate, and what tool will I use?
    Continuous efficiency improvement is key to generate more value with fewer resources. A small daily step in this direction goes a long way in a month. 
  • What do I need to follow up on, and with whom?
    Projects and deliverables depend on several people when you work with teams and partners. Proactively checking progress is part of my daily routine. Checking on the due date when a deliverable is done is already too late.
  • Are all my calls and meetings on the calendar?
    Meetings are the number one time-consuming activity that stands in the way of completing my work. I want to make sure I’m not surprised by a meeting mid-way through my deep work time. Scheduling most of my meetings the week before means I have predictability and I can hold space for doing goal-oriented work.
  • Is the scorecard updated?
    The scorecard or KPI dashboard is a simple structure where I report daily on the most important numbers for the business. I update it daily or weekly, to keep these numbers top of mind. It’s a healthy habit that builds ownership.

To sum up – setting myself up for a successful day as a fractional COO starts with intentionally creating a routine that sets the tone for the day ahead. By prioritizing efficiency and aligning tasks with goals, you too can maximize daily business  outcomes. 

Decision-Making Process

I spend a good amount of brainpower daily on making decisions.  This might look like a 5-minute thought process when viewed from the outside. The reality is that I’m data-driven, so my decisions must be backed by data and facts.

In a fast-paced environment, such as a tech company, the ability to make decisions with incomplete information is a must. This is also true in my work, where I often encounter situations where I have to make decisions quickly. Most times, without having complete information. 

To make informed decisions, I rely on a simplified process that I ran through thousands of times. In fact, I use this process daily, and it has become a routine in my work.  My decision-making process that consists of the following steps:

  • Identify the decision to be made
  • Gather all relevant data
  • Identify missing data’s impact on decision-making
  • Identify non-negotiables
  • Identify 2-3 alternatives
  • Find pros and cons for each alternative
  • Use your intuition and experience 
  • Take action 
  • Learn from the outcomes

Let’s take a closer look at each of these steps!

  1. Identify the decision to be made

Identifying the decision to be made is the first and crucial step in the decision-making process. Some decisions may be straightforward, such as taking on a new project or pursuing an opportunity. Others can be more complex and require a deeper understanding of the business and its goals.

In some cases, the decision to be made may not be immediately obvious and may require a closer look at the existing issues in the business. It is essential to work on the business, not just in the business, to do so. This means looking at the company’s big picture and long-term strategy. The purpose is to identify the blockers and to address them. 

This step sets the stage for the rest of the process. It also ensures that decision-makers are working towards a clear and well-defined objective.

2. Gather all relevant data

Once the decision to be made is identified, the next step is to gather all relevant data. However, focusing only on the critical information needed to justify the decision is essential.

It’s easy to get lost in too much data. Analyzing too much information can lead to decision paralysis. Therefore, I limit myself to 3-5 data points and ensure that each is essential in decision-making.

Choosing these data points involves looking at what aspects of the business will be impacted by the decision. This makes prioritizing the data that needs to be collected and analyzed easier.

3. Identify missing data’s impact on decision-making

Leaders and entrepreneurs rarely have all the data they need to make an informed decision. However, this does not mean that a decision should not be made.

But it does mean being comfortable with the lack of certainty is crucial. In fact, the value of decision-making is being able to operate with 20-30% unknown. 

Repeated decisions based on incomplete data help build this muscle. The key is to understand the impact of missing data on the final decision. Sometimes, essential information is missing, and I believe that this will have a negative impact on the decision. What I do is to look for other data points that can support me in the process.  

4. Identify non-negotiables

By non-negotiables, I mean the boundaries I will never cross when making a decision. These can be anything from ethical considerations to financial constraints. They play a crucial role in determining the parameters for decision-making.

Having non-negotiables clearly identified helps to set limits on what is acceptable. This is essential because most decisions will fall in the space of what is acceptable rather than ideal. By setting these boundaries, you can eliminate options that are not viable. It can streamline the decision-making process.

This makes non-negotiables even more important than the desired outcome.

5. Identify 2-3 alternatives

I strongly believe that this step helps to avoid unnecessary pressure and fosters a flexible mindset. 

But it’s important to note that these alternatives should be well-thought-out and within the acceptable range. In other words, they should not cross any non-negotiables, as that would make them irrelevant.

The process of finding alternatives requires creative energy and thinking outside the box. It’s crucial to consider multiple angles and perspectives when identifying alternatives. Doing so can help uncover innovative solutions and opportunities that may not have been considered before.

6. Find pros and cons for each alternative

I start by listing the pros and cons of each alternative. I don’t count all pros and cons equally. I weigh them based on their level of importance and relevance to the decision at hand. Some factors may have a more significant impact on the decision than others. By taking the time to carefully evaluate each option, I gain a clear understanding of what I stand to gain or lose with each choice.

This step is often revealing, and I can immediately identify the best option.  However, in cases where it’s less obvious, I move on to the next step of the process.

7. Use your intuition and experience 

Intuition and experience can play a vital role in decision-making. This is true, especially when pros and cons are inconclusive. When faced with a situation where the optimal decision is unclear, I rely on my intuition and past experiences.

Drawing from previous experience is particularly useful. I identify similar situations from the past, I analyze the decision made and the outcome that followed. This helps me avoid repeating past mistakes as well as capitalize on previously successful decisions.

Soft skills such as business intuition complement the data analysis. It is particularly useful in situations where the decision-making process is not straightforward.

8. Take action 

I cannot emphasize this enough: most decisions I make are based on incomplete information. And yet taking action is never delayed.

To delay action due to fear of making mistakes can lead to missed opportunities and stagnation. It is crucial to take the leap, decide, and be willing to fail. 

Mistakes may occur when you take action, but this is how we learn and grow as individuals and businesses. Remember, to decide and take action is a step forward, towards progress.

9. Learn from the outcomes

You probably know this by now: I look to learn something from everything I do. It is no different with decisions.

After I make a decision, taking time to reflect on the outcomes is a valuable step. It allows me to see what worked well and what could have been improved. By analyzing the outcomes, I can identify patterns and make changes for the future.

It’s also important to remember that outcomes are not just limited to immediate results. The longer-term outcomes of a decision can also be significant. For example, did the decision help or hinder the overall growth and success of the business?

Learning from outcomes isn’t just about avoiding mistakes. It’s about improving decision-making abilities. By analyzing the outcomes of decisions, I refine your decision-making process. I also become better equipped to handle future challenges.

In conclusion, decision-making is a crucial aspect of any business. As a Fractional COO, it is essential to have a well-defined decision-making process to ensure that the best outcomes are achieved.  As I see it, the ability to make sound decisions can be the difference between the success or failure of a business. 

In the next part of this series, we will continue to explore my daily work as a Fractional COO. I will share about how you can build awesome teams, iterate processes, increase efficiency with technology, and, last but not least – manage the unexpected! 

In case you have a problem to solve

Scroll to Top