I’ve always had huge respect for the Chief of Staff role, and see it as mission critical, particularly for companies that are rapidly growing and / or at scale. You can read more about my personal experience with the role HERE.
The Chief of Staff is so unique within an org; she / he is typically someone with C-level access to information and business context, often with the ability to serve as a proxy to the CEO (or other exec), unburdened by direct reports, but / and with the daunting task of keeping dial moving, cross departmental projects moving forward.
My team at Ambient has been exploring what it would be like to develop purpose built, AI powered software for the Chief of Staff. Can we automate rote tasks like note taking and follow ups to free up time for the strategic, interpersonal stuff that only a human CoS can accomplish? Can we give them back 10-15 hours a week to focus on truly dial moving work? And if we helped the CoS be more productive, could that flow through to the entire org?
So we went out and spoke to ~100 Chiefs of Staff at fast growing or public companies.
Here are nine things we learned:
- The Chief of Staff role varies greatly from org to org, but with some consistent similarities - particularly on helping cross departmental initiatives move forward. Some Chiefs are true members of the executive team “I also run Finance for us,” and others exist primarily to enable a high profile, or otherwise overloaded principal “I do whatever it takes to help XX accomplish their goals.” But all share a similar passion; a desire to get stuff done and to keep things moving forward.
- The CoS’ stock is rising. In the age of hybrid work and many, many siloed SaaS systems, the role of Chief of Staff is surging in importance, as someone who can connect the dots across systems, teams, and geographies.
- The relationship between the Chief and the Principal is paramount. If that trust and respect isn’t there, even the most competent Chief can fail.
- While Chiefs don’t typically have a dedicated budget, they command the attention of folks who do. And as the queens and kings of the special, mission critical project that nobody else can own (a financing, an acquisition, a RIF), they typically get what they want.
- Chief multi taskers. Chiefs of Staff often have to run high profile meetings (ELT, Task Forces, etc.), while simultaneously taking notes, capturing action items, and then, post meeting, following up on action items. For a CoS, these meetings can be incredibly stressful; it’s hard to both run a meeting and capture perfect Next Steps.
- QBR’s, offsites, and task forces typically fall on the CoS as well. If there is a recurring theme, it’s the CoS as the dot connector - the one that is helping the org function as a single unit, as opposed to a handful of departmental silos (yes, this is the CEO’s job too).
- Tools Scout. Consistently, it is the Chief of Staff that is getting tasked by the CEO to be on the lookout for new productivity tools in the market, including AI tools. In fact, among the 100 or so we spoke to, more than a few were running AI Task forces, in charge of making sure their company was leaning into AI productivity gains and trying new tools.
- The career progression for a CoS is a bit murky; I heard of folks tracking towards COO or Founder roles, and folks that jumped into strategic IC roles like Growth or Product Management, and other CoS who backfill for executive staff members when they depart, or go on leave. But the CoS seems to be a true unicorn within an org; massive influence with no direct reports, with almost unlimited access to information and complete trust from the Principal.
- To date, there has been no purpose built software for the Chief of Staff (!)
This last bullet is shocking to me. Why is one of the highest leverage roles in the org running without purpose built tools?
Well, here at Ambient, we aim to change that, starting with the rote, but mission critical task of capturing precise Action Items, Project Owners, and Timelines at live meetings.
If you are a Chief of Staff, we want to talk to you to learn better how we can automate away the administrative parts of your role, in order to free up hours for you to move the dial on truly strategic projects. Feel free to reach out to me directly lawrence @ambient DOT us and I would love to show you what we are building at Ambient.