The relationship between the chief of staff and CEO is key to maximizing efficiency and growing a business, but it takes time and deliberate effort to build a strong one. Spending some time in the front end–especially during those first 90 days that a CoS has been brought on–to build the relationship and find cadence is critical to creating a powerhouse team that expands the CEO’s impact.
Structure the role
If this is a new role, the chief of staff (CoS) may be building it from the ground up. The CoS should be clear on the job description and ask questions on anything that seems unclear. The CoS will be working very intimately with the CEO, often on sensitive projects, so make sure they understand boundaries from the get-go. Outline how the CoS plans to spend their time and ensure that aligns with the CEO’s vision. You may also want to check in with the senior leadership team to find out how they envision the CoS role as part of the larger organization. Having clear communication early on about boundaries and expectations will ensure you’re on the right track from the start.
If the role is already established at the organization, take the opportunity to meet with the former CoS to gain insight on workflow and how you will likely spend your time. Map out this information on paper, set some goals, and strategize how you will best fill the CoS role in your own way.
Getting to know you
The relationship between the CoS and the CEO is arguably the most important aspect of the role. It must be full of trust and mutual respect. You may be two peas in a pod, or you may have totally different, but complementary, personality styles. Regardless of how you match up as people, you have to be able to understand and communicate with each other consistently and effectively.
Spend time together in person. Ideally, the CoS would shadow the CEO often during the first 90 days, joining in on meetings, client lunches, special events, etc. Spent time together outside of the office, too. Become familiar with each other’s personal lives and interests.
Getting to know everyone
While the CoS will work side by side with their CEO, their role will also include working with the entire senior leadership team and the CEO’s direct reports. This group is critical for the CoS to get to know better, as they’ll have to influence them to do things without having the power of managing them directly. The CoS should spend a good amount of time getting to know each individual on the team and brainstorm how they can be an effective leverage point between them and the CEO. How can the CoS make their lives easier?
Schedule a listening tour
As the CoS grows into their new role in those first 90 days, take some time to go on a “listening tour.” Talk to everyone on the team individually, if possible, or at least a large number of people beyond just the leadership team. Find out what is working right now and what the pain points are for different people. Map out a vision for how you can continue to enhance what systems are already successful and where you can make any necessary changes.
Bringing on a chief of staff at an organization can be exhilarating and challenging, and the first 90 days are a critical period to establish the role and build the relationship with the CEO and their team. Remain flexible and evolve over time as the needs of the organization (and your role) change. Continue to revisit the role vision and goals regularly, and make adjustments as necessary. Once you’ve established strong relationships within the organization, built on trust, mutual respect and strong communication, you’ll be able to maximize the efficiency of the role within the organization.