By Duncan Piper
As a company grows, so too do the demands on the CEO and her time. Opportunities for growth can emerge at a moment’s notice and the need to scale often arrives at a blistering pace. Competing demands such as managing employees, attending meetings, communicating with customers, partners, and investors, and various other duties consume many hours each day — hours that the CEO needs to spend concentrating on driving the company’s strategic vision forward and capitalizing on potential growth.
The CEO adds senior employees to manage specific functional areas of the business, yet the disparate forces pulling on her time don’t diminish. Meetings get pushed back and become ineffective. Deadlines get missed. Department heads request approval for projects, but proposals lay untouched in unread emails. Despite the additional talent in the company, the CEO still can’t manage to address her top priorities with the time and undivided focus they deserve, nor can she give her employees the responsiveness they need to succeed in running their own departments. She starts to joke about finding ways to clone herself.
This story is not a unique one, as many Silicon Valley CEOs and Chief Executives at businesses of different sizes face this struggle. But, adding another department head isn’t the answer, nor is hiring an executive assistant.
Enter, Chief of Staff.
What a Chief of Staff does
The Chief of Staff (CoS) role varies to a great degree depending on where you look. At companies large and small, the CoS is often brought on to facilitate the CEO’s vision by acting on her behalf when she isn’t present, supporting her and her senior executives, and serving as the go-to person who helps ensure critical objectives across the company get accomplished. The job description tends to be rather open and ambiguous, but that freedom is intended to allow the CoS to adapt to the ever-changing needs of the growing company.
Implementing the vision of the CEO can range from weekly tasks to special projects, to representing her and her point of view in meetings. Individual responsibilities of a CoS can include creating decks for investors, planning and running leadership meetings, presenting to internal teams, conducting data analytics and reporting, and managing key recruiting priorities.
Ongoing responsibilities include making sure the CEO spends her time on high-priority items, keeping her accountable for commitments (while keeping her direct reports accountable for delivering results), and keeping her open to new ideas and proposals. The CoS must ensure the CEO and her executive team are always able to stay ahead of the curve.
The CoS acts as the CEO’s right hand. While one component of the CoS role is to manage the CEO’s priorities, plug any dangerous holes that appear, and act as the “oil for the machine,” the other side of the CoS’s job is to serve as a member of the executive team. The CoS is there to act as an objective sounding board for ideas from the leadership team, as well as to help develop and refine the overall strategy for the business.
Raines International spoke with a Chief of Staff at a private equity-owned company who said that her responsibilities run the gamut from leading strategic projects, to conducting reporting and analytics for her company’s investors, to serving as a strategic advisor to senior leadership.
“If we are pursuing an acquisition, for example,” the Chief of Staff explains, “I’ll help with the evaluation of how we would integrate that company and identify synergies. Then, I’ll lead the post-acquisition integration efforts acting as the program manager, driving initiatives and ensuring all the different pieces get done.” In addition to her focus on high-level strategy and decision-making, she also works in the trenches, executing projects and making sure even the smallest tasks get completed. “I’m working on the ground, too. From strategizing in the boardroom to conducting analysis on Excel, I drive projects to completion every step of the way.”
Benefits of having a Chief of Staff
Beyond providing another pair of eyes and ears on the ground and in the C-suite, the CoS often addresses issues that have a direct impact on the business but fall outside of the job descriptions of the rest of the team. For example, as a company scales and gaps between different areas of the business appear, it is typically up to the CoS to ensure they are quickly covered and that nothing falls through the cracks.
Additionally, the CoS can help the CEO determine what ideas will be feasible to implement given the current personnel, the workload, and company resources. This approach promotes practical decision-making and bolsters operational efficiency. The additional structure and accountability within the leadership team brought by the CoS is usually seen as a welcome addition, even in entrepreneurial circles. “It’s like an internal consulting role at times,” explains the Chief of Staff who spoke with Raines International. “I drive strategic initiatives around organizational design to help bring a structured process and thinking to help solve the problems my company is facing.”
The CoS can also offer feedback to other members of leadership and identify costs, risks, and any unforeseen obstacles. Referring to her previous management consulting experience, the Chief of Staff says, “I’ve seen and helped a lot of companies navigate difficult projects and change so I can help the executives here decide how to execute change. I can provide insight on change management, how to think about structuring their decisions, how to get others on board, identifying all strategic options, and how to evaluate those options.”
The very best modern-day CoS is the one who can establish trusting partnerships with senior leadership and remedy the headaches of an overstretched CEO. Whether it’s enhancing efficiency, promoting accountability, or simply being the go-to person who gets things done, an effective CoS can be the key to converting a CEO’s vision into results.