Company Transformation and the COO's Role in Organisational Change

Our COO Peter Bottomley shares his insights on the demands and expectations of those in operational leadership.

April 17, 2024


Reflecting on my journey with WeConnect Energy over the past 13 years, I have witnessed firsthand the transformative power of effective leadership and strategic operational design, and its impact when steering a company through periods of significant change and growth.

My transformation from an entry-level graduate to COO has been a journey of learning and adaptation, strengthening a deep-seated belief in the potential of our team and our company mission. Resonating firmly with company values has proved vital to my own development. The critical importance of alignment between personal and company values in a successful leadership capacity has never been more apparent than it is in today’s modern workplace.  

I have also developed a strong appreciation for operational excellence, and more importantly, recognising the value and potential of every individual in our team. The ethos of WeConnect Energy, connecting the best talent with industry, is one that has always resonated resoundingly with me and been clear in my mind throughout our own internal recruitment drives.

In this blog post, I am keen to share some of my insights on the views, demands and expectations of those in operational leadership.  

Leading by Example

In my view, the role of a modern COO has become a lot more complex than one might think – especially in a SME.  

Simply overseeing “day-to-day operations” is no longer enough. More and more, I am seeing the remit of a COO extend, to the stage that we are not only drawn into but often responsible for a variety of areas of the organisation (business transformation, change management, strategy, planning, growth, business development, client relationships, delivery, general management, technology, and everything in between).  

With this in mind, I can appreciate Deloitte’s statement that there is no standard definition for a COO – but the variation and importance of the role in the overall leadership and direction of an organisation must be recognised.

I know what you might be thinking - “other people should be performing those roles”. However, in a SME, the role of a COO is all-encompassing and at times non-negotiable – and we love it.  

I often think about the differences between CEOs, COOs and CFOs. Particularly, the traits of each. For many organisations, the CEO is the entrepreneur, the ambassador, or the big thinker. The COO is something different. Grounded, realistic, firm yet pragmatic are words that spring to mind when I think of COOs that I have recently interacted with. COOs tend to be the ones that pedal faster and harder, calm and composed in their relatively familiar surroundings and terrain.

In a business sense, COOs tend to deal with a lot of firefighting – especially in an unpredictable industry or environment. When you combine the recruitment industry and the energy sector, unpredictable is certainly a word that resonates.

The ability to multi-task and deal with pressure (often not your own) is critical, as is the necessity to maintain a high level of consistency – both in terms of reliability and performance. You are often the “go-to” person for various arms and legs of the business.

Leading by example should come natural.  

Enhancing Operational Efficiency

Operational efficiency is a personal goal for me and something I am always focused on. In fact, re-mapping our company's sales and recruitment operating procedures is one of my top priorities this year. Efficiency is more than just cutting costs or streamlining processes; it's about enhancing the value we bring to every stakeholder, at every touchpoint. Whether it's through improving our internal workflows or deepening our engagements with clients and candidates, we are always seeking improvements. This philosophy aligns with the principles of lean management, which emphasise creating more value with less work, as highlighted by Womack and Jones in their seminal work, 'Lean Thinking'.

Learning: Takeaways from Scale Up 2.0 

One of the most recent milestones in my professional development was participating in Scale Up Scotland’s Scale Up 2.0 programme in 2023. The opportunity to engage with fellow COOs and to share challenges and solutions was immensely beneficial. The organisations involved – all with Scottish based HQs - were of a similar size and at a similar stage in their respective scale up journey.

It was a forum that not only broadened my horizons but also reinforced the importance of team collaboration and stakeholder engagement in transformation. The insights gained and the connections made have been invaluable, providing fresh perspectives on leadership and operational strategy, as well as the necessity to embrace change and the uncomfortable path. After all, success is a lot harder than failure – and the road to success is not comfortable.  

It was a particularly powerful reminder of the importance of continuous learning and networking in personal and organisational growth, and in an almost strange way, I was also relieved to hear that my peers were facing very similar (if not identical) challenges, universal dilemmas, and business pain points.  

We had a tremendous opportunity to listen to Mark Logan, the former COO of Skyscanner (one of Scotland’s most celebrated scale up stories), and now Chief Entrepreneur to the Scottish Government. A revered national success story, Skyscanner was sold to the Chinese company Ctrip, now, for £1.4bn in 2016. Listening to Mark’s journey, particularly the operating challenges within in a growing business, was fascinating. The importance of investing in individual competence, reinventing capabilities, and being prepared to initiate significant change to restore agency were all key takeaways from our session. Furthermore, for a relatively new COO – or a professional seeking to develop into such a role – there was a clear reminder and reality check that what works for you now, will work against you later.  

This is particularly relevant when we talk about an increasing size and scale of mandate.  

I have also recently learnt the importance of sharing your own learnings. On the back of Scale Up, I have also had the unique opportunity to become a mentor for another COO, which is a real privilege and highly rewarding. Taking yourself out of your own business once a month or quarter can have a huge impact on refreshing your own mindset.

Concluding Remarks

Looking back, the journey from graduate to COO has been both challenging and rewarding. It has been a journey of personal growth, professional development, and, above all, a deepening commitment to the values and vision of WeConnect Energy. Integrity, pride, teamwork and a results-driven mentality have always been the foundation of how we operate, from the company’s conception to date. As we move forward, I am excited about the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead. With a dedicated (and continuously growing) team, a clear strategy, and a commitment to innovation and excellence, I am confident that we can continue to drive positive change within the wider energy sector.

As for the world of operational leadership, it is somewhat true that only the paranoid survive

However, I would also counter with a more grounded, realistic and pragmatic quote to help spread calm within the chaos.

“You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time”. - John Lydgate

It doesn’t stop us trying though!

Suggested Further Reading:

If you want to gain any further insights into the topics I have discussed in this blog, I recommend visiting the following websites: 

To discuss your senior recruitment, consultancy, or executive search requirements in the Energy sector, please contact Peter directly:

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