Find your Next Chief of Staff
Confidant. Broker. Wrangler. Air traffic controller. However you define yours, having a Chief of Staff can break down silos, coordinate your internal teams and ensure your ideas become action – so you grow your company faster.
What could a Chief of Staff do for you?
- Support/lead strategic projects
- Coordinate internal teams
- Manage communication across teams/functions
- Ensure your ideas are executed
- Be an expert sounding board, adviser and guide
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Why do you need a Chief of Staff?
As the CEO of a fledgling company, your time is consumed by setting strategy, growing the business, building your top team and fundraising. Optimising the workflow, that is, ensuring that the functions of your business operate productively with each other, isn’t traditionally part of the CEO remit. Nor is ensuring your ideas make it off the drawing board or managing communication across your various business functions. They are all essential. But such roles aren’t typically in the job descriptions of any member of a startup top team.
Which is why startups serious about scaling need a Chief of Staff.
What does a Chief of Staff do in a company?
A Chief of Staff helps make a CEO more productive and more effective and can push their organisation to ever better performance. Unlike any other member of your top team, a CEO’s role can be to look beyond their own area to consider the needs of the wider enterprise.
Writing in Harvard Business Review one Chief of Staff defined the role as being “an air traffic controller for the leader and the senior team, an integrator connecting work streams that would otherwise remain siloed, a communicator linking the leadership team and the broader organization, an honest broker when the leader needs a wide-ranging view without turf considerations, and a confidant.”
Often, corporate chief of staff responsibilities can be summed up in two words: ‘cross functional’ – cross-functional working, cross-functional communication and cross-functional business processes.
Does every CEO need a CoS?
Not every organisation uses a Chief of Staff, but as Forbes noted, the CEOs of LinkedIn, Merck, Cisco, IMAX and many more have one. For many businesses, it’s only once they become familiar with the advantages at first hand that they see just how important the role can be.
If you’re not sure a Chief of Staff’s services are needed in your business, that’s probably because you haven’t tried it yet.
How do you know if a Chief of Staff is right for you?
Consider these questions:
- Do you struggle to find space in your calendar (and in your head) to consider your company’s next move? Is there only ever time to react?
- Do you make decisions only to find new information after the fact that may have helped you reach a quicker (or different) outcome?
- Do you feel unprepared for major decisions or important meetings?
- When unexpected problems occur, are they resolved too late to avoid damage?
- Do you find yourself spending time on issues that don’t warrant CEO attention?
- Do you ask members of your team to tackle a particular issue, then find yourself having to chase them up?
Each of the above issues revolve around the way tasks flow up and down your business. It’s not something most CEOs are aware of or have time for – and it’s why such issues arise.
A Chief of Staff plays a vital role in ensuring that cross-departmental collaboration is more effective and that information flows more easily through your organisation, so more gets done and less gets missed.
What effect does a Chief of Staff have on a CEO?
When CEOs work in tandem with a Chief of Staff, the effect can be transformative:
- They help you get more done
- They make it easier to delegate (because you know the CoS will follow up on the tasks you delegate)
- You have more time to think, which can prove particularly important for big decisions
- You don’t have to think alone – you have another expert opinion off whom you can bounce ideas
- You can focus on being a CEO confident that the day-to-day things are being covered
Is a Chief of Staff the same in every organisation?
No. At its most ‘basic’ level you could treat the role as a sort of Executive Assistant+. Here, the CoS might lead projects for you or others in the leadership team. They might also manage follow-ups and sit on relevant executive meetings. With a strong understanding of the business, they may manage relationships on behalf of the CEO, but they will not be involved in changing policy or advising you.
At the other extreme – and most commonly with Scaling Partners’ Chiefs of Staff – a CoS may sit at the centre of the flow of information to and from the CEO, managing their own comms or strategic implementation department. They may drive major strategic change, adding value to your vision. They will have a permanent seat on the executive committee, will lead or co-ordinate special projects, and will be advise the CEO, presenting an objective view of a wide range of complex issues and helping you evaluate risk.
Between those two end points lies a spectrum of influence and responsibility which you can dial up or down depending on your needs as a CEO.
Will you need to change the way you work?
Yes, because that’s really the point. A Chief of Staff is there to benefit you and the company and that can only happen if you relinquish control of the elements you hand to the CoS. Depending on their specific remit, you will also need to commit to sharing information with them and listening to the advice they offer.
Why choose Chief of Staff as a service?
You may feel a Chief of Staff’s services are needed in your organisation, but a late-stage startup won’t always have the resources to hire a one. With Chief of Staff as a service from Scaling Partners, that’s not a problem.
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What is the difference between Chief of Staff and COO?
It’s true that many of the responsibilities of the Chief of Staff can feel similar to those of the Chief Operating Officer (COO). Depending on how you define the roles – and particularly in startups – there’s lots of potential for overlap. They may both work with cross-functional teams. They may both take a role in internal communications planning.
The single biggest and simplest distinction is in purpose. Both serve the company, but a Chief of Staff does that by enabling the CEO. A COO’s prime purpose is not to serve the CEO but the board and the broader company. A COO is likely to be higher profile (a Chief of Staff is often more of a background figure). And whilst a COO will report to the CEO, their working day will often be largely independent of them, A Chief of Staff will work closely with the CEO every day.
Who does the chief of staff oversee?
On an organizational chart, the Chief of Staff will tend to sit in their own space. In terms of direct reports, they won’t typically oversee any staff, although in growing startups they may fill a reporting gap for a short period. The role is about protecting the CEO’s time, empowering others, and building bridges. In effect, from their work with cross-functional teams to influencing internal communications planning, they will oversee the flow of activity and the cross-pollination of functions rather than the 1-2-1 management of people.
What power does the chief of staff have?
The Chief of Staff is the right hand of the CEO. Within the organization they serve, they will typically be seen as an extension of the CEO. In reality, however, the question of ‘power’ is not one any Chief of Staff will spend much time contemplating. They are the organizers, problem solvers, and facilitators. The CoS is undoubtedly a powerful role in any organization, but it is always power directed to the single purpose of supporting the CEO.
What’s the difference between a Chief of Staff and an Executive Assistant (EA)?
A Chief of Staff is a C-suite member of the leadership team. They often have the autonomy to set and implement policy. They anticipate problems you as CEO can’t because they are simultaneously across the entire business and closer to the ‘coal face’. They act as a guardian for the CEO, ensuring you don’t fall into any elephant traps of your own making.
In contrast, the EA will typically manage the CEO’s schedule, ensuring only issues that demand the CEO’s time end up on the to-do list. Although their remit may expand to project management, they won’t have a wider policy role.