The year was 2017. My startup was growing very, very quickly and we suddenly had customers, offices, and team members all over the world.
Despite an amazing exec team and a super talented EA, I was struggling to keep up.
There just weren’t enough hours in the day; it almost felt like I needed to be in multiple places at the same time. I needed eyes in the back of my head so I could head off bottle necks and friction points around the org as everything got bigger at the same time. And above all, I needed more throughput; I was the only one with full, cross departmental visibility; we needed my eyes on more stuff.
One of my Board Members suggested that I hire a Chief of Staff; someone who had a similar level of access to information as I did, and who could serve as a proxy and a backstop for all the things coming at me. Someone who could focus on the “bottom half of my to do list.”
For those of you are are not familiar with the role, it has a long history. It apparently started thousands of years ago in the military, as a way to make sure that the troops had what they needed, then made its way to politics, and finally to corporations.
So what does a Chief of Staff do? Here is how ChatGPT defines the core responsibilities of a corporate Chief of Staff:
I ended up heeding my Board’s advice and hiring a Chief of Staff.
My choice was an internal hire; someone who had been with us since the early days, and also had consulting experience at Bain; somebody who could make directionally correct decisions with incomplete information, somebody who could think on their feet, and someone who had existing relationships with our exec staff.
I, and my company, saw immediate ROI. It was extremely helpful to have an adaptable, swiss army knife talent to throw at hard problems that didn’t obviously fall on anyone else's plate; stuff like fundraising, M&A, growth hacks, and pricing.
I also got tremendous value out of his ability to represent me at external and internal meetings that I could not attend.
But the single most important thing that our CoS did for us was to help me hold the company accountable; we believed strongly in “do what you say you are going to do,” which for us, translated into extracting action items from our meetings and Slack conversations, documenting them, and following up.
So whether you work at a rapidly scaling startup, or a company that has been around for a while, I would strongly suggest considering a Chief of Staff. An effective Chief of Staff will help your entire company run more efficiently.
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