Understanding the role
A chief of staff is a strategic partner who relies on exceptional organizational and people skills to perform all manner of tasks that do not neatly fit into the purview of your existing executive leadership team or department heads.
- Managing your organization’s daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual meetings, communications, and processes to ensure they adapt to changes in the market and the organization.
- Preparing you for internal and external meetings with analysis and bios on key players in the room.
- Challenging the assumptions and numbers behind the scorecards and reports you use to make important decisions, and sometimes challenging your thinking behind closed doors.
- Managing special projects across departments, like new frameworks or business models, restructuring, or business reviews.
Max Levchin, CEO of financial services technology company Affirm, says “A CEO has three main responsibilities: 1) articulate the vision; 2) attract talent; and 3) ensure solvency. The truth is, much more lands on a CEO’s plate at any given minute and my chief of staff works to take as much as possible off my plate so I can focus on the highest level strategy and decisions that require my attention without neglecting the other important issues that foster growth.”
Look at three pivots to assess your business case
There are three “pivots” you can look at to decide if you need someone in this role.
- Organizational dynamics. A chief of staff can help where you have multiple, diverse lines of business; geographically dispersed teams; significant changes in leadership or organization structure; spinoffs; or well-intentioned internal activities that end up compounding complexity.
- Benefits that top and emerging leaders can reap from having the role, such as freeing you to focus on your highest and best use of time, enabling you to stay connected to reality on the ground, and increasing your ability to make and execute great decisions with your team and not just get unquestioning agreement from those around you.
- Your primary deliverables, like rhythm of the business, communications that are consistent in theme and messages, budgets and planning cycles, and special projects like the ones noted above.
Building the case and making changes
Carelessly crafted and executed, the chief of staff can be seen as a wedge between you and your organization, an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy, and a complete waste of resources. Looking at the three pivots in some detail can give you the context you need to build the business case and thoughtfully structure and execute the role.
Paul Adams, President and CEO of Sound Financial Group, promoted his executive assistant, Lea Wold, into the chief of staff role after realizing he was leaving some of her skills and value on the table. “As an EA, the vision for her role was ‘follow close and do as I do.’ Now, it is ‘be a key team member in organizing the firm’s human capital to achieve our firm’s outcomes.’ This includes, at times, disagreeing with me and challenging other senior team members in how that may best be achieved.”
Even if you never hire a chief of staff, the assessment of your business case for one can help you identify and address gaps in your current approach or team.