The Chief of Staff: What You Need to Know About This Emerging Role
Working at the Speed of Now
“My job is to help define our top priorities, and to make sure everyone understands what they are. Especially in our environment, people move fast and we can get unintentionally silo’d. I manage communication and collaboration—ensuring that the right connections are being made across the organization where they matter most. ” —Lisa Hovey, Chief of Staff, Vacasa
Does this sound like your company: Everything moving at the speed of now and lots of excitement about the work at hand, but the communications, strategic direction and priorities remain unclear as people go do their own thing?
We’ve been there and we get it, but there’s no need to bemoan this state of affairs. Instead let’s figure out how to address these concerns. Let’s also talk about the emerging role of Chief of Staff and how they can help.
What is a Chief of Staff?
We know, Chief of Staff, you’re thinking about gray suits who serve at the pleasure of Presidents and members of Congress, who skulk around behind the scenes, massaging relationships and making things happen on the sly.
But we aren’t talking about your parents' Chief of Staff.
“The Chief of Staff needs to develop the cross-functional connective tissue in an organization by aligning people to strategy and getting the organization to work in harmony. Without this, successfully scaling a business is nearly impossible.” —Tom Broderick, VP of Strategy and Chief of Staff, Commvault
The Chief of Staff role has been evolving in Tech and C-Suites everywhere for some time. It varies across corporations based on their complexity and needs, but the Chief of Staff is usually:
An individual supporting the CEO at a strategic, operational, and tactical level. He or she fits into the cracks and crevices not covered by division leaders.
Some of a Chief of Staff’s responsibilities might overlap with that of other executives, but with no attachment to a specific department, he or she is more nimble in crossing functions to facilitate communication and create alignment. To understand the relevance of the role and how quickly it’s growing, a simple search of LinkedIn for “Chief of Staff” jobs generates over 15,000 results. Indeed.com returns an additional 10,000. And one element they all contain: Help with growing and scaling a business.
What are the duties of a Chief of Staff?
The Chief of Staff fills a highly strategic niche, identifying goals and ensuring they’re delivered. He or she aligns the company’s departments and divisions in support of the strategic plan and tracks progress towards goals. The Chief of Staff wears many hats as they help the CEO get things done, from building communication between employees to driving key initiatives.
"My focus shifts depending on what our top priorities are. I support big pushes like the Series C funding round we recently closed, leading the business diligence process of working with investors and key stakeholders. I work closely with our leadership to create content for our all-hands meetings and change management for large initiatives. And I manage our Brand Strategy team. My responsibilities center on managing key priorities and initiatives, to make sure everything’s tracking." —Hovey, Chief of Staff, Vacasa
While the assigned duties for Chiefs of Staff remain fluid, according to Forbes, there is some agreement about what these duties generally look like:
Serving as the primary communicator between the CEO and other staff, clients or key partners and stakeholders, including facilitating communications between the colleagues or employees who report to the CEO.
Articulating the CEO’s wants, needs, concerns, ideas in an effective and efficient way.
Attending meetings and calls that the CEO cannot participate in.
Helping the CEO identify priorities.
Writing first drafts of all communications.
Taking notes during the meetings and ensuring the action items identified are executed.
Acting as the CEO’s sounding board on new ideas and initiatives.
Additional areas of responsibility that the Forbes article does not mention, but which we hear a lot about, include preparing for Board Meetings, gathering metrics and creating presentation decks.
There is also the focus on strategy. Most of us who work in organizations have encountered a gap moving from crafting a strategy to executing it. This happens for any number of reasons, but can be exacerbated by the distance from the executive team to the individual staff members. The more layers in the org chart, the bigger the gap.
A Chief of Staff can help bridge this gap.
And a goal management framework can help a Chief of Staff do so by creating transparency and ensuring that each department, team and individual knows what their primary goals are and how they align to top level objectives.
“To turn our strategy into action and create alignment across the entire organization, we utilize the OKR methodology. I manage the process of translating our strategic plan into goals, and making sure that each department is aligned with where we need to make the biggest impact.” says Hovey, Vacasa's Chief of Staff.
What tools do chiefs of staff need to succeed?
Many Chiefs of Staff and other high-ranking executive positions rely on shared documents such as presentations and Excel spreadsheets to track their initiatives and progress towards goals. But as we all know, these documents can become lost in the maze of shared file directories, they don’t connect with another nor do they paint the whole picture.
Ultimately, without a single, focused, system for tracking goals, strategy-setting and transparency are a challenge. And so to build strategic alignment at scale, many Chiefs of Staff turn to dedicated software solutions.
“Initially, we were managing OKRs using a shared Google document. Koan has been key to shifting OKRs from a forgotten spreadsheet to a methodology infused into the organization. We are a global company in high-growth mode -- alignment on the outcomes we are trying to drive together is critical.” says Vacasa's Hovey.
Please note, that we are not above shamelessly plugging our platform, because we know how good it is. But what’s more important here, is to encourage you to adopt a leadership platform that helps you integrate and aggregate responsibilities, goals, initiatives, responsibilities and communication, and the flow of each from end-to-end.
Because without having a single place to manage the company’s goals, the Chief of Staff—and the CEO—lacks the data needed to make solid business decisions.
How Koan helps Chiefs of Staff
Okay, maybe we’ll make one minor plug.
Koan provides Chiefs of Staff with a platform to manage company-wide objectives and key results, along with leadership tools that help promote best practices. Koan also helps a Chief of Staff collaborate with stakeholders to build strategic alignment across the entire company. There’s no more switching from spreadsheet to KPI dashboard to email, because Koan brings everything together in a simple dashboard. As a Chief of Staff, Koan helps you understand the company, build strategic alignment, and work more efficiently together.
All of which leads to more consistent and predictable goal achievement.