What Does a Chief Operations Officer Do? | GP 63

What Does a Chief Operations Officer Do?

Is your group practice expanding to the point where you may need to hire a Chief Operations Officer? What does a Chief Operations Officer do? What are the benefits of hiring a COO?

In this podcast episode, Alison Pidgeon speaks with Valerie McNicholl on her role as the COO for Move Forward Counseling.

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Meet Valerie McNicholl

Valerie McNicholl is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) and the Chief Operations Officer (COO) for Move Forward Counseling. She has almost 20 years of experience as a therapist, supervisor and manager of programs in community mental health and substance abuse treatment programs. In her role as COO Valerie does a variety of tasks, including hiring, clinical supervision, expansion planning, and quality improvement.


In This Podcast


  • What Valerie does as the COO
  • Move Forward Counseling structure
  • A deeper look into Valerie’s role
  • What to look for in a COO

What Valerie Does as the COO

As the COO, I do a wide variety of things from supervising the administrative side of things to HR-related tasks. The way we are currently organised is that we have two therapists who have supervisory experience, so I directly supervise them as well. I’ve taken over the running and organising of staff meetings. Also, I have the opportunity and time to look at opportunities for growth. I work on marketing and co-ordinating with community organisations and other providers. I’ve also spend some time looking over the regulatory standards and documentation / details that Alison doesn’t have time to do.

“I really see, especially as we’ve grown, the importance of having that stuff solid. Because things happen and people interpret stuff in different ways, so if you don’t have a solid foundation in terms of the policies and procedures, things can definitely start to get unwieldy.” – Alison

Valerie does also see a small caseload of clients. From a business perspective, it’s nice for Valerie to also be bringing in a small income and not just solely be in a leadership position that can drain a company’s budget. From Valerie’s perspective, it’s nice to still have the therapist experience. However, this is most likely to change in the future as the company grows and Valerie’s COO role expands.

Move Forward Counseling Structure

The current structure of the practice consists of two teams of therapists with a manager of each team and Valerie then managing the two managers. This way, instead of Valerie managing all 20 odd therapists, she only needs to manage two people who then manage the rest. This also allows the managers to have more time to spend on clinical supervision and grow in this area. Valerie can also guide the managers in this area.

A Deeper Look into Valerie’s Role

Valerie manages the initial phase of hiring people, i.e.: creating the listing, screening the applicants, and doing the first interview. This then cuts down the amount of people Alison needs to interview in the second interview, and ensures that the people who reach the second interview phase are good applicants. Alison still enjoys being a part of this process as it’s such an important aspect. She enjoys discussing the company culture with applicants and also making sure they are a good fit in that regard.

In terms of general HR issues in the office, Valerie is the one who communicates directly with the HR company. But, Alison and Valerie communicate a lot about these sort of issues and how they want to resolve them. Valerie can then take care of a lot of the details that Alison doesn’t have time for.

At the start of her job, Valerie developed a basic auditing tool to use for various charts etc. Moving forward, this is something she will be handing over to the two managers to use within their teams. Valerie is also working to create videos so that the onboarding process for therapists is more consistent and automated. Finally, Valerie is working, together with a committee, on incorporating diversity and inclusion into the practice.

What to Look for in a COO

You need someone who has the ability to take something and run with it without having a lot of questions or needing to be micro-managed. It also helps that I (Valerie) have a lot of experience in a lot of areas of group practice. Alison and my values and goals are in line with one another. However, our personalities and communication styles are different. This helps to have two different perspectives on things, while still on the same wave length.

Useful Links:

Meet Alison Pidgeon

A portrait of Alison Pidgeon is shown. She discusses ways to grow your group practice on this week's episode of Practice of the Practice. Alison is a serial entrepreneur with four businesses, one of which is a 15 clinician group practice. She’s also a mom to three boys, wife, coffee drinker, and loves to travel. She started her practice in 2015 and, four years later, has two locations. With a specialization in women’s issues, the practices have made a positive impact on the community by offering different types of specialties not being offered anywhere else in the area.

Alison has been working with Practice of the Practice since 2016. She has helped over 70 therapist entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses, through mastermind groups and individual consulting.

Thanks For Listening!

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