Partner Spotlight: Prime Chief of Staff

Written by vChief

June 27, 2018


Our partnership with Prime Chief of Staff is a two-way street: we share resources frequently, collaborate on articles, and refer clients back and forth. While our focus is on part-time, virtual chief of staff placements, Prime focuses on full-time placements, and so our partnership is mutually beneficial.

Prime Chief of Staff began in 2014, when CEO Catherine Berardi realized the need for specialized recruitment in hiring her own replacement for the chief of staff role at Ariel Investments in Chicago. Berardi, who initially got involved with Ariel during a college internship, realized the president of the company would have never hired her for the chief of staff role if she had simply seen her on paper. What brought her into the role was the specialized relationship she had built with the president, and her willingness to take on additional tasks so that she could learn more about the company.

Prime focuses on every dimension of the chief of staff role: placing, onboarding, developing and coaching. They work with both private sector and non-profit organizations of any size, from a handful of employees to 80,000.

For placement, Prime will consult with the leader initially, “to really understand what is driving this decision to get a chief of staff,” says Berardi. “For a chief of staff to be successful, you have to understand what challenges the company is facing.”

According to Berardi, there have been occasions where they find a company doesn’t need a chief of staff, usually because the leader or the founder wants too much control, and hiring someone for the role would be ineffective. Prime will not begin the search process until they are sure the role is necessary within the organization.

If it is determined a chief of staff role should be implemented within the company, Prime does their due diligence in gaining a holistic understanding of how the company is structured and operates, as well as the leadership styles of the person the potential chief of staff candidate will be working with.

“We’re aiming [at] a strong chemistry fit,” says Berardi. “Our search process is about understanding the functions or archetypes of the chief of staff role that will be required for that organization, and then find candidates that will best fulfill the roles that we’ve identified.”

Prime will also help guide the interview process and suggest questions that promote the establishment of trust and rapport. They also encourage the leader to spend as much time as possible with finalist candidates. While leaders are used to making quick decisions, this is one instance where they advise “pumping the brakes,” and allowing time to get to know candidates, both in and out of the office.

Once a candidate has been hired into the chief of staff role, Prime will also be there to help with the onboarding process. Berardi says that onboarding a chief of staff needs to be well thought out, so that the person doesn’t go into sink-or-swim mode, and Prime will take the time to establish a formal process. Ideally, companies will create an internal pipeline and hire from within, so that the person stepping into the chief of staff role is already familiar with the company goals and philosophies.

Once a chief of staff has been placed, Prime can continue to provide services to the company, but now they will be more geared towards the chief of staff directly, in the form of development and coaching. Berardi says she wishes she’d had coaching during her tenure as chief of staff.

“You’re the go-to for everyone else, you don’t really have a go-to for yourself,” she says, adding how important it is for the chief of staff to take time to focus on themselves from time to time.

Often, the chief of staff will have an idea of what they want help with, and Prime is ready with advice as well as their partner certified coaches, many of whom have either been in the chief of staff role before or who are familiar with the unique challenges of the role.

“I find coaching one of the most critical services we offer,” says Berardi. “We help integrate the chief of staff and make them productive over the tenure of their position.”

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