COOs are now front-line risk managers

Their top priorities include resilience planning and ESG risk mitigation

Since COVID-19, one of COOs main jobs has become risk managers.

Chief operating officers don’t have it easy. Like chief executives, COOs are responsible for defining the organization’s vision and objectives, including its approach to resilience and risk management. In many cases, the COO is also responsible for implementing resilience plans across the organization.

According to a new study from ServiceNow and ESI ThoughtLab, the pandemic has only increased the demands on this role. We surveyed 1,080 senior executives in five sectors across 13 countries. More than three-quarters of COOs say they’re responsible for coordinating risk management across functions, with about a third driving this effort.

More than 90% of COOs in the survey reported they also manage environmental, social, and governance (ESG) risks. Nowadays these risks include disruptions associated with climate change, pandemics, and large-scale social movements challenging racial and gender inequality. At the same time, only 40% of COOs say they are leading these efforts. Furthermore, 86% reported they are responsible for building resilient ecosystems of partners and vendors. Another 77% are responsible for adopting tools to mitigate supply chain risks.

Since COVID-19, one of COOs main jobs has become risk managers.

The pandemic shifted COOs’ focus

As the pandemic spread and organizations shifted from in-person to remote work, many COOs had to figure out how to boost resilience and mitigate risk on the fly. Resilience, which is an organization’s ability to survive shocks, is crucial for weathering disruptions like the COVID-19 crisis. Like other C-level execs, COOs came to understand how exogenous shocks can put the business itself at risk.

Since COVID-19, one of COOs main jobs has become risk managers.

Looking ahead, COOs are thinking more closely about their own resiliency plans and how to anticipate risks and prepare for future shocks. To do that, more than 90% of COOs say they are focused on improving communications in their organizations. Just as large a majority are focused on building a resilience-focused culture.

Part of resilience is strengthening the supply chains that deliver essential tools, parts, resources, and products to and from companies. COOs are learning from the pandemic’s profound disruption to supply chains. Going forward, they aim to build a more robust ecosystem of partners and vendors that can operate reliably and safely, even during fast-moving global crises.

[Read also: The return on business resilience]

COOs prioritize practical steps to build business resilience

As organizations learn from the events of the past year, COOs are investing in practical steps for boosting resilience. They value tech-based solutions such as digitizing customer experiences; conducting resilience audits, and recruiting personnel who are focused on bolstering resilience throughout the organization.

Since COVID-19, one of COOs main jobs has become risk managers.

Seeing the dividends and the challenges, too

Compared to other top execs, COOs expect greater dividends from increased resilience. Since they’re responsible for so much of the company’s day-to-day operations, COOs have seen firsthand how powerful resilience-building measures can be. More than half surveyed believe that such measures will reduce the overall cost of running their business.

Likewise, nearly half think that investing in resilience will lead to greater customer satisfaction and better decision-making across the organization. This is unsurprising because, as the survey revealed, COOs are leading the push to digitize customer experience and streamline information-sharing.