By Madeleine Niebauer, founder & CEO of vChief, a virtual chief of staff service, helping executives stay focused on what matters most.
While many may view the chief of staff role as a luxury only afforded to Fortune 500 CEOs and politicians, the position has become integral to many successful businesses over the years, including nonprofits and startups.
Let’s break down the elements of the chief of staff role to equip you with the information you need to decide whether hiring a chief of staff is the right move for you and your organization.
What Does A Chief Of Staff Do?
The answer depends on your organization and your needs. Ideally, a chief of staff will augment the skill set of the executive they are working with and function as a second set of eyes and ears. The chief of staff can also be tasked with building strong relationships throughout the organization, giving them a 30,000-foot view of your business. This allows your chief of staff to connect the dots, giving them the foresight to understand that a decision in one area could have a direct but unexpected impact in another area.
The most important quality in a chief of staff is the ability to be agile. There is no one job description for the chief of staff role, but there are a few examples of the responsibilities they may take on and enhance within your company.
Alignment With The CEO And Executive Leaders
Several tasks fall under this category. First, a chief of staff can collaborate with leaders to evaluate their personal strategic priorities, areas of focus and success metrics. Then, the chief of staff can protect the CEO’s schedule, making sure to line up projects or decisions at strategic times when the CEO’s input and influence are the most valuable.
Because they are familiar with a leader’s priorities, the chief of staff can handle communications the CEO doesn’t need to be involved in and can draft company newsletters, reports, pitch decks, speeches and presentations in the CEO’s voice. In addition, the chief of staff can take over all the prep and follow-up when it comes to events like meetings or company retreats, parsing out the key information and providing it to the CEO.
Strategic Planning And Project Management
A chief of staff can be deeply involved from a project management perspective. They often lead cross-organizational projects, pulling together different stakeholders to move initiatives forward. They can also research and measure company performance with competitors, and provide other forms of data analysis to evaluate your organization’s systems and streamline operations when necessary. They can create dashboards of key performance indicators and create a cadence for keeping leaders up to date. They can fill the role of project manager on annual strategic planning and implementation, working in alignment with the goals of the CEO and executive team.
Hiring Support And Managing The CEO’s Office Suite
The many administrative details involved in hiring are an inefficient use of a leader’s time. If you have a human resource department, the chief of staff can be their first point of contact. Tasks like drafting job posts, mapping the interview process and screening potential candidates can all be delegated to the chief of staff. They can even hire for and manage CEO support roles, like executive assistants and speechwriters.
Organizing Board Meetings And Event Planning
While the CEO is the face of board meetings, the chief of staff can fill in behind the scenes. There are a lot of administrative details to be handled: scheduling meetings, setting agendas and preparing materials (which could involve a whole subset of tasks like collecting data on financial updates or program outcomes and presenting that information in a digestible format for board members).
The chief of staff will often take over planning for leadership team meetings, retreats and conferences. They handle both the logistic and content elements. They can create the arc of the event, take feedback from team members for the agenda, set objectives and ensure objectives are met.
Is A Chief Of Staff Right For You Or Your Organization?
There are a few key indicators in the decision to hire a chief of staff and many of them come down to time and efficiency:
• There’s never enough time. If you find yourself missing deadlines or opportunities that could grow your business, a chief of staff could be invaluable because they would take unnecessary tasks off your plate, freeing you up to work on projects that truly align with your goals.
• Your performance isn’t where it should be. If your leadership team is struggling to achieve their goals and meet their success metrics, it may be time to bring in a chief of staff. Remember, this individual is working with the CEO’s goals serving as their guide, so they act as a cheerleader to help get the C-suite fired up and align their vision and priorities accordingly.
• Big plans are on the horizon. Any time an organization is about to go through a major shift, like implementing new strategic plans, it’s a good time to call in a chief of staff. As an organization works through high-level changes, unexpected circumstances may require added flexibility and agility. How does a leader shift strategies around investment, resources or business priorities amid these unexpected circumstances? That can be a challenge, but a savvy chief of staff can rise above the noise, motivating the team to forge ahead and creating the most seamless transition possible for the organization as a whole.
Leaders from all facets of business are realizing the value of bringing on a chief of staff to their organization. Having a strategic thought partner in your court promoting your vision while giving you crucial time back to invest in more valuable, impactful projects is a success story in the making.