As businesses and the workforce evolve, we are seeing new roles emerge in response to these growing demands. Organizations have recognized these gaps and expanded their C-suite positions, despite the challenges presented by COVID-19. An article on LinkedIn reveals that by the end of 2020, the C-suite already spanned 58 positions. Organizations are focused on growth with c-suite roles such as the Chief Customer Officer or the Chief Revenue Officer. CEO of VaynerMedia, Gary Vaynerchuk had placed his Chief Heart Officer, Claude Silver, as the second most important person in the company. This sentiment on the importance of people and talent is echoed as roles like the Chief People Officer and the Chief Diversity Officer become commonplace in companies.

Though not a C-suite position, we have watched as the role of Chief of Staff (CoS) become increasingly prominent with successful businesses we have worked with, matching the expansion of C-suite positions and complexities of the workspace. CEOs have to handle their main responsibilities while putting out fires and dealing with everything else that vies for their attention throughout the day.

A good CoS helps navigate those pitfalls by unlocking more time for the CEO, giving clear access to the right information, and providing the direction of focus to make better decisions. LinkedIn posted a job description about the role, covering the bases in broad strokes. With these variables, however, we should narrow it further.

In Dan Ciampa’s Harvard Business Review article, he goes into greater detail, breaking down how Patrick Aylward, a VP, and CoS of Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey describes his five different roles as a CoS:

  • An air traffic controller – guiding the CEO and the senior team through processes and decisions
  • An integrator – breaking silos to make work streams transparent, and easy for the CEO to process
  • A communicator – making sure what the CEO and leadership team communicates across to the broader organization is palatable and doesn’t get lost in translation
  • A truth-teller and an honest broker – to bring together different, but often conflicting perspectives together for the leadership to make an informed decision
  • A confidant – speaking without an organizational agenda when required
A good CoS cuts this chart in half for their leaders

Despite the value that a CoS can add, they might not be the right fit for an organization. In some cases, the organization could be too small, and the role of the CoS is an ad-hoc role assumed by different members of the team. In other cases, some leaders want to avoid the optics of having an entourage.

The nature of the job is predicated on a close working relationship with the CEO. To be an effective right hand to the CEO, the CoS complements the gaps in the working style of their CEOs and helps them navigate the specific challenges inherent to every organization. This results in the scope of work, and different levels of responsibilities for the CoS.

At the first level, some CEOs need a CoS to be more organized throughout the day and help prioritize their tasks for the day, focusing on the efficiency of existing processes. For the second level, the CoS takes on more responsibilities moving from prioritizing tasks to managing projects, leading small teams with current strategies, and having the leeway to make some changes. At the third level, CoS can be tasked with leading entire departments, are brought in to help CEOs affect change in organizational culture, and are in close contact with the CEO and board members.

With the transient scope and exposure that a CoS covers, companies have a choice to hire them internally or externally.

For internal hires, companies can look at the CoS role as a bridge to groom middle management for the next level. Direct connection to the CEO and different leadership positions will make the future transition smoother. CoS hired internally will be familiar with the company’s nuances, and take on the role with little to no disruption. Companies with the bandwidth in human resources, and are confident in their processes can lean towards a first, or second-level CoS internally.

CoS hired externally have their advantages. As an external party, they can navigate the company without the social, and political tape that internal staff would have. An externally hired CoS would also have an unbiased, bird’s eye view of the company. The hiring process can be tailored to specific skills and experiences. This is especially helpful if the organization wishes to make bigger changes in processes and culture. Companies should look for a second, or third-level CoS externally.

Ideally, the CoS should be seen as a catalyst that enhances effective practices in an organization. A skilled CoS at work will be the conduit for leaders to perform at their best, and as businesses get familiar with the role, the CoS could become an indispensable part of the team.

Dennis Poh is the Chief Executive Officer of Legatcy, a Singapore-based business consulting firm. He is also Singapore’s regional director for The Chief of Staff Association (CSA).

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