What is a Chief of Staff, and what do they do?
Over the past decade, I have seen a gradual pick up in the number of Chief of Staff (COS) roles supporting CEOs within the tech industry. In the past three years, this number has picked up dramatically and I am seeing a trend that CEOs sometimes hire a COS before they even hire their assistant.
I often get asked for advice about how to get the most out of your COS. Let’s start by defining the role.
So, what are the types of Chief of Staff Roles? There are two types of COS roles:
1. The Management Consultant
This is more like a business operations (biz ops) role, someone who specializes in management consulting, has an MBA, or is looking to get their MBA. They have a 1-2 year shelf life in the role. They dig into organizational inefficiencies to help provide data to support business decisions.
- The COS takes on special projects that are high priority for the success of the business that the rest of the executive team doesn’t have time for. They act as the center of gravity, pulling all the pieces together from various teams to execute on the project.
- Example: Company Z needs a new revenue channel to boost earnings from 100M to 120M by the end of this year. COS takes this and starts to route through different channels in the Sales, Business Development, and Marketing orgs to pull together a few hypothetical models that could work. Once the direction is chosen, the COS might help to assemble the team and launch the new revenue strategy alongside the head of sales, until the head of sales can take it over.
2. The CEO’s “Right Hand”
The majority of my experience, and what I have seen be most successful in an organization, is this type of Chief of Staff role. I am calling it the CEO’s Right Hand, because the COS is completely integrated into the CEOs priorities to help them succeed.
At a high level, they are leaned on to make sure everything that comes through the CEO’s office gets done the right way. They ensure people are being taken care of and that company goals are met. This role is far more satisfying then the first.
What does the Right Hand Chief of Staff do?
If you are a CEO reading this and wondering what you need to be successful, look no further. You need a Right Hand Chief of Staff that will help you succeed.
This role covers three main areas:
Area 1: The CEO’s Success
Focusing on the following:
- Priority setting
- Delivering on goals
- Time management
- Communication with the Executive team & overall company
Area 2: The Team’s Success
- Take on strategic projects for the team, as needed. The key here is the project shouldn’t take the COS too far away from their daily tasks that support the CEO’s success (area 1). The COS should still be accessible. Often times, this means no direct reporting…only facilitator-type work.
- Support communication up the stack to the CEO, and help team members prepare and understand what the CEO wants to know, including prep for meetings, and one-on-one meetings.
- Ensure the team is working well together. Mitigate office politics and create a transparent environment.
Area 3: Company Culture
This last area can be flexible and more adaptive to your environment. However, due to the nature of being very close to information at the top, the COS can be vital in understanding where the disconnects exist. It is really important to facilitate messaging from individual contributor to the CEO. This can help in a number of ways, such as encouraging (or repairing!) a healthy balance of communications, work and fun within a company culture. Specific activities include:
- Putting an ear to the ground to understand where things are falling through the cracks. The COS needs to be proactive in understanding the issues and seeking to facilitate a solution.
- Assisting in communicating to the company, through steering the messaging based on what people need.
- Fostering a healthy culture through the right amount of communication, gatherings and team building.
- Relationship preservation with key original employees who may not get as much face time with the CEO.
The Chief of Staff role is such a vital part of any organization.
Don’t just take it from me. There is proof in nearly every successful organization. In fact, I enjoyed reading about Julia DeWahl’s experience and recommendations about the role, and encourage you to check out her recent post on Medium. Julia was the COS at Opendoor when the company grew from 200 to 800 employees in a year! And, this is just the tip of the iceberg. If you want support, training or coaching, join the mafia via the link below.