The Ever-Expanding Role of Operations

Organizations differ in their approaches to operational leadership. No longer are insurance COOs solely focused on underwriting, claims, billing and keeping the lights on. They have evolved into thought partners with wide-ranging responsibilities and an ever-growing backlog of strategic projects. This expanded role proves challenging as a balance between strategic initiatives and focus on the core business is required.


Depending on where an organization sits in their lifecycle, we may see COOs taking a more active role in Technology. Typically, given the strategic nature of technology for larger carriers, we see the CIO reporting into the CEO. However, with many companies looking at modernization of technology AND process, this may be a good opportunity to place IT under the purview of the COO. Internal product, data quality, data governance, architecture, and analytics and reporting may all fall under operations. While rarely an expert on technology architecture, the COO is well-positioned to ensure synergy and proper change management across the organization. Critical questions a COO may ask themself include:

  • Am I appropriately balancing resources between internal technology needs and external market demands?
  • Is my organization structured in a way that supports the core business and the strategic roadmap?
  • Do I have the right talent in place to lead the multiple organizations under my responsibility? Are these leaders helping me scale my capacity?
  • Have I adequately assessed my outsourcing approach?

Customer Focus

The sales organization, and even underwriters, send customer feedback through operational channels. Turnaround time, service quality, competitive dynamics, product recommendations, and overall experience commentary typically route through operations at some point. Customers demand ease-of-doing-business but also want a customized approach. Operations must be the aggregator and disseminator of this customer feedback AND add value as it passes through their hands.

  • Who are my customers? Am I positioning distribution partners as customers as well? (hint: you should be!)
  • Am I devoting the appropriate level of resources to support shifts in customer demands? To action reputable requests and recommendations?
  • Are we effectively routing competitive and product feedback through appropriate channels? Am I adding operational context to feedback before passing it on? (Ex. “See the below great idea that fits our priorities. Unfortunately we will not have the talent capacity to begin assessing and roadmapping until Q1.”)
  • Am I working with cross-functional teams to plan for customer-focused initiatives that we are not ready to execute now?

Workforce Dynamics

Beyond requiring a core team of trustworthy lieutenants to shepherd all levels of initiatives, the COO is concerned with overall workforce management. Recruitment costs are rising and retention is paramount. An underwriter, for instance, may have a training period of a couple months for complex commercial products before appropriate knowledge is gained and underwriting authority is granted. Expensive technology professionals are stereotyped as company-hoppers, always looking for the next opportunity. Multi-generational workforces demand tailored managerial approaches to maintain engagement and job satisfaction. Lastly, skills and compensation must be aligned. Only hiring rockstars is expensive. Hiring an expert far before a project kicks off is a waste.

  • Am I providing the right experiences and growth trajectory for associates to stay?
  • Are we effectively benchmarking skill and compensation levels? Am I truly willing to pay for the best of the best in every role? Do I need the best?
  • Is my talent pool wide enough to attract the level of talent required? May it be held back by strict local-only requirements?
  • How is my talent strategy aligning with the company’s strategic vision? Are we planning ahead to have the right skills to support strategic initiatives at the appropriate time?

The above responsibilities are clearly non-exhaustive examples of areas occupying operational leaders’ headspaces beyond traditional OKRs and efficiency. With the lion’s share of an organization reporting to the COO, countless folks are lobbying for time. Strong communication with senior leader counterparts, and throughout the organization, may alleviate the struggle of balancing so many growing ‘priorities’ and help the operations organization remain focused on executing current plans.

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