Hail to the Chiefs: Why Every Company at Scale Should have a Chief of Staff


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:

  • Strategic Planning: Chiefs of Staff are typically involved in the development and execution of the organization's strategic plans. They help set priorities, align resources, and ensure that strategic goals are being met.
  • Project Management: They may oversee critical projects and initiatives, ensuring that they are completed on time and within budget. This involves coordinating various teams and stakeholders.
  • Communication: Chiefs of Staff often play a role in managing communication both internally and externally. They may draft speeches, memos, and other important communications for the executive they work with. They also help ensure that the executive's message is consistent and effectively delivered.
  • Decision Support: Chiefs of Staff help executives make informed decisions by providing research, analysis, and data on various issues. They may also facilitate decision-making processes within the organization.
  • Interdepartmental Coordination: In larger organizations, Chiefs of Staff help coordinate activities between different departments or units to ensure alignment with the organization's goals.
  • Crisis Management: During times of crisis or emergencies, Chiefs of Staff often play a crucial role in managing the situation, mobilizing resources, and communicating with stakeholders.
  • Office Management: In some cases, Chiefs of Staff may also oversee the day-to-day operations of the executive's office, including managing schedules, appointments, and administrative staff.
  • Relationship Building: Building and maintaining relationships with key stakeholders, both internal and external, is often part of the Chief of Staff's responsibilities. This can include relationships with employees, board members, clients, partners, and government officials.
  • Strategic Initiatives: Chiefs of Staff may lead or participate in special projects or initiatives that are critical to the organization's success.

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.

Written by Lawrence Coburn, CEO and Co-Founder

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