Top critical review
Confidence trumps competence
2 April 2019
The author is someone who has spent her career in Finance and other Head Office support roles, then took on the role of COO of a charity. She has decided that this single experience of the role in one very specific sector means that she is equipped to tell others how to be successful COOs. Unfortunately, the content of the book suggests she was wrong.
Only one of her 16 disciplines relates to operations itself and her scanty coverage and weak knowledge of this area is tellingly. Not surprisingly perhaps, she is stronger when talking about finance itself and, risk, legal and compliance (funnily enough areas that closely linked to finance and sometimes the responsibility of a CFO rather than COO).
The book is at times like a student project based on wikipedia searches and extracts from a few books, rather than extensive research or experience (which is what one should really be buying from a non-academic author). Her comments are sometimes naive and revealing of the experiences she has had. A particular favourite was where she refers to a US doctor who has made extensive use of checklists. When working for Barclays, they invited this doctor over to talk to them and based on his input they were able to introduce checklists into banking with considerable success. But checklists have been around for since the second world war and used widely in aviation and manufacturing since then. They were being used in the UK in many industries, including by some banks, long before they were adopted in healthcare. The doctor may have been Atul Gawande, probably the leading medical authority on checklists, but Gawande himself acknowledges that he learned checklists from their use in other sectors. Flying a doctor over from the US to teach something so basic and widely used as checklists suggests a certain naivety and having more corporate money than sense.
The book is revealing about COO roles in one way though. The COO role is the only one that could be given to someone with no background or experience in it. Almost no organisation would make someone CFO, CMO, CTO or even CPO / HR Director without any relevant experience in the field. But operations experience and understanding isn't seen as essential for a COO role, probably because so few CEOs have operational backgrounds. Operations aren't seen as that important; they're only the activities that deliver the organisations output for its customers. It's basic stuff, done by basic people. They just need a member of the Head Office 'officer class' to supervise them.
I must credit the author with confidence though. Few people would feel capable of writing a book on a field in which they've spent so little time and about which they know so little. This is a phenomenon often observed and commented on: in senior roles, confidence usually trumps competence.