Becoming a successful Chief of Staff to CEO

When your company moves from a family stage(10 + employees) to village(100 to 1000+ employees) to city stage(10,000+), you start strengthening your processes of enabling better communication and collaboration between “organization and its customers”, “among senior leadership team” and “managers & team members”.

A Chiefs of Staff (COS) main responsibility is to work closely with the CEO to implement a framework that enables this communication and collaboration; so that CEO can then focus more on the growth agenda. At its core, the Chief of Staff responsibility includes:

  • Get execution done on various strategic initiatives & objectives. A strategic initiative is a critical project that will impact the future growth of the company.
  • Help the CEO to be more productive by making sure that weekly, monthly and quarterly reviews & planning exercises are conducted on-time.
  • Substitute CEO in a critical meeting

The chief of staff role is catching up the popularity among many growing organizations after being commonly practiced in the military, governments and fortune 500 organizations.

A Chief of Staff (COS) role is different from the executive assistant role. A CEO needs someone who can look into the business and company performance horizontally along with him.

Job Responsibilities of a Chiefs of staff

  1. Help the CEO & leadership team in identifying the right initiatives & objectives to work on.
  2. Help the CEO & leadership team remain focused and complete the identified initiatives & objectives.
  3. Amplify and improve CEO communication

What a Chief of Staff should NOT do

  1. Book air tickets for CEO
  2. Manage CEO calendar

What type of people you can hire for Chiefs of staff role

  1. An ex- entrepreneur who has failed to scale. If the person is from your industry and matches your values and principles, don’t think twice in hiring the person right away. OR
  2. An experienced executive who has been in the role of COO.OR
  3. A 7 to 15 year experienced manager with commendable leadership & planning qualities.

When you need a Chief of staff

Typically, you need a chief of staff when your team is getting bigger every month and its harder to align people with the company agenda. Here are some signs when you need a chief of staff:

  1. You are adding 10 to 100 team members every month.
  2. Your leadership team is growing.
  3. As a CEO, you are spending a considerable amount of energy in thinking and keeping your leadership team and beyond on the same page.
  4. You are burnt out as CEO as there are too many things on your plate.
  5. As CEO, your decision making is getting slower every day. And you feel that everyone is focused on their department performance, but no one is looking for the horizontal performance of the company.

The first 180 days agenda of your Chief of Staff

Once you have hired your Chief of Staff, its time to build the relationship and provide the required training. Here is the agenda for the first 180 days:

  1. Give him the required business overview.
  2. Clearly communicate the CoS role to the entire organization.
  3. Arrange 1-On-1 meetings with all the people in the leadership team and high potential managers.
  4. Make sure the Chief of Staff is there in monthly and quarterly business reviews.
  5. Help the Chief-of-Staff build the relationship with the leadership team and required credibility internally and externally before CoS starts representing you.
  6. Post 90 days allow CoS to represent you in monthly and quarterly meetings.
  7. Take your new Chief of Staff to series of lunch, dinner, and drinks.
  8. After 24 to 36 months, move your CoS to a new leadership role, hire a new CoS and making the old one train the new one.

Few important links for your further read 

https://www.forbes.com/sites/bonniemarcus/2018/01/04/are-you-ready-to-become-chief-of-staff/#5892571c698a

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20141027004513-13106360-what-does-a-chief-of-staff-do/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/meet-the-new-chief-of-staff/2016/06/24/c82b614c-3348-11e6-95c0-2a6873031302_story.html

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/rise-corporate-chief-staff-blair-nichols/

https://medium.com/cos-tech-forum/part-1-the-role-of-a-corporate-chief-of-staff-8db0142318f1

Communicate your Intent for Culture Change

We started qilo with the purpose of –  “How we can help the organizations perform better, every day”.  If the market conditions are good, demand for your product/service is there, but your company is not able to perform better and increase the market share, your work culture might be the core problem, that needs to be fixed.

With organization culture, we mean – a culture where people look forward to coming at work every day- even on Mondays, a culture where employee put company performance as a top priority and a culture where every employee can feel and behave like a CEO.

Fixing the culture cannot be achieved in a day or a month or a quarter. It will take years if you have messed it up already. And changing the culture, starts with addressing 3 basic pillars

  1. Intent: The intent of change comes from the CEO. If the intent to change is not there, nobody can do anything.
  2. Communication: When the intent is there, the next step for the CEO is to constantly communicate the intent of the change in the form of stories.
  3. Technology:  The third pillar is to utilize the technology to implement the change at scale.

We were getting nostalgic when we watched the below video today. And we are proud that we are still sticking to our core purpose and helping our customers in implementing the culture change at scale.

Why Most Organizations Failing to Getting Work Done Faster

What is stopping the CEOs, Functional Heads and managers to get work done faster? And why CEO’s are constantly frustrated that people in the various teams are not collaborating but sitting in silos; resulting in the slow movement of work and business outcomes?

It’s all because of the operating system(a.k.a the way work gets done in the company). The company Work Operating System(WOS) is pending for update for a long time. The legacy organization can become more smart, ready for the new era and more dynamic by improving or even overhaul your current Operating System.

Here are the top 5 ways you can re-inventing your Work Operating System(a.k.a the way work gets done in the company):

  1. Give more autonomy to people to define the plans and KPIs they should be chasing. Your job as a team head is to give directions and make people learn how to define the actual “business-impacting” metrics and action plans. And to review the same every week/month. So make sure that teams are “loosely coupled but tightly aligned.”
  2. Adopt Agile principles in the way you execute your annual operating plan and strategic initiatives. Move agile beyond IT function, and implement it in your sales, marketing, HR and operations.
  3. Replace internal emails with tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams. The average employee checks their email 36 times an hour and receives 304 emails a week. Emails are now used by people to showcase how busy they are and lead to more bureaucratic culture.
  4. Set the cadence of business reviews across the company, not just at top level. And run the meetings in the data-driven way by implementing frameworks like OKR.
  5. The average manager spends up to 210 hours preparing for and doing annual appraisals, a process that makes employees spectators in their development. Ditch your annual appraisal process and implement the new-age agile PMS where goals are set every quarter and feedback and coaching session between employee and manager are done more frequently.

How Amazon define Metrics and achieve higher outcomes

Any company where teams are not able to define robust metrics, move very slow on the learning and growth. In most of the companies, the metrics defined and tracked at team levels are not relevant at all.

But there are companies who are able to define the relevant and robust metrics at the team level, and Amazon is one of them. At Amazon, metrics are defined and established before every initiative and objective is taken up. The progress on those metrics are measured on a real-time basis. Every initiative is a genuine scientific experiment focused on whether it will deliver value to the customer or not. As the metrics are tracked and monitored on a real-time basis, the company knows exactly what is happening on a daily basis.

There are many aspects that needed to be addressed to define enable your teams to define proper metrics within every team. The first is to understand the type of metrics:

4 type of metrics

  1. “Feel Good Metrics” – These are defined when enough influential people within the company believe that defining and tracking these metrics will have some benefits. The definition of the metrics are vague. In the worst-case- these metrics are promoting the interest of the specific group within the company.
  2. “Internal Focused Metrics” – There are metrics which are specific, better than “Feel Good Metrics”, and in no-way related to impact on improving customer experience, revenue and profit of the company(means improving something external), but focused on improving something internal.
  3. “External Focused Metrics” – More focused on improving the external things such as NPS, Revenue and Profit. But its impact on supporting the overall growth of the company is still not that relevant.
  4. “The Impactful Metrics” – These are metrics which truly impact your revenue and profits by improving the customer experience or changing the customer behavior in an expected way. They will truly delight the customer- examples such as availability of the item, speed of delivery, absence of returns and complaints, re-purchases of the product and related products.

Amazon tracks the execution on the fourth metrics – “The Impactful Metrics”. But why most of the companies fail to define and measure the “The Impactful Metrics”. The simple reason is defining and measuring the progress of execution on these metrics on a real-time basis is hard. But winning organizations understand this, and in every early in their stage of evolution, set the guidelines to define them.

Here are the 5 steps that Amazon takes to define and measure the progress under the “The Impactful Metrics”

  1. Obsession with customer value and not stakeholder value – This results in defining the right kind of metrics that enhance customer experience and value.
  2. The discipline of not starting execution on any project/initiative, without defining the metric to measure success. Sometimes the leaders and manager spend their days and weekend on what could be the right metrics before they jump onto executing the project/initiative.
  3. Work is done in small teams working in short cycles
  4. Reviews are around the “The Impactful Metrics”
  5. Linking compensation with achievement of “The Impactful Metrics” . Especially the executive compensation at Amazon is aligned with the core value and principle of “Obsession With Customer Value, Not Shareholder Value”.

Based on the read of John Rossman Think Like Amazon

Key Learnings

  1. Create the culture of defining metrics within every team before they take up the execution.
  2. Keep your teams small to achieve speed in your execution.
  3. Measure the progress on your “Impactful Metrics “ on a real-time basis.

Strategy execution is not a rocket science

It’s true, Strategy execution is not rocket science. The problem is that consulting companies who want to own the keyword “strategy”; wants to show this as a big complex thing in this world that they can bill their clients with millions of dollars by putting the army of consultants.

In a nutshell, Strategy its about “where you will earn money from” and “how you will earn it” in present and future. Your strategy largely depends on the stage of your company. As Ried Hoffman puts in, every company goes through the following stages:
1) Family 2) Tribe (3) Village (4) City (5) Nation

When you are family or at the tribe stage, your strategy is to
(a) Validate that your product or service has demand in the market
(b) Generate revenue to survive OR raise the money from bank/VC to survive for the next 12 to 24 months.
(c) Try to find the repeatable sales & operational model for your product/service

When you are at the village stage, your strategy is to
(a) Create a repeatable model to do sales and service your customer
(b) Keep doing it faster and better

And when you are at the later stage of company growth, ie at “City” stage or “Nation” stage, your strategy is not just to generate the cash from existing product/service, its also about creating new products/services adjustment to your existing market OR to creating new products/services that will diversify your business.

But, is there a guarantee that your strategy will help you to become the market leader. No, because it also depends on the market/economic cycle and conditions. But if your execution cycle matches with the market/economic cycle(means your timing is right), your company will be the part of the those few success stories.

To deliver your strategy at any particular stage, you have a model with 4 standard steps:
1) You identify your vision(the big-arrow) for 12 months(when you are at “Family”, “Tribe” or “Village” state) or next 36 months vision(when you are at “City” or “Nation” state)
2) Once you define your vision, you identify the 3 to 5 major company-level goals(also called focus areas or strategic objectives) that will help you to achieve our vision(the big-arrow)
3) The 3rd step is to identify the major project/programs/objectives that will help you to achieve either of our company-level goals. And define metrics & milestones that will help us to achieve those project/programs/objectives.
4) And the 4th and last step is to follow the review cadence(process) to make sure that work gets done on the defined milestones under the defined project/programs/objectives.

In most of the companies today I talk to or work with at qilo, the above stated 4 simple steps are not followed or followed partially. Coming from the software development background, where today software is delivered in Agile fashion; its a surprise for me. If a small to complex piece of software can be delivered nowadays with high predictability; what stops companies from delivering their annual or 3-year strategy in the agile fashion?

I see 3 major reasons for it:

1. The CEO, Strategy Head/PMO/Chief of Staff is unaware that there could be a better way to deliver the 12 months or 36-month strategy.
2. The CEO, Strategy Head/PMO/Chief of Staff knows there is a better way, but reluctant to try and do the required change management.
3. The CEO, Strategy Head/PMO/Chief of Staff knows there is a better way, but don’t know the exact know-how.

In case of option 2 & 3, companies either hire an independent consultant or hire a big consulting firm to help them. Today with the help of technology backed solution, companies can deliver their strategy on a year-on-year basis without much external help. The only thing which is required is the willingness to change and try – because “if you will not change, nothing will change”.

The future of goal-setting

The current process of yearly goal-setting practice in most of the companies is dead. The 3 major reasons for this dead-end process are:

  1. It doesn’t make sense to employees, managers, and management.
  2. It doesn’t help in getting work done on business objectives which the company wants to achieve the next 12 months.
  3. It only states WHAT needs to be achieved, the HOW part is missing.

Let’s look at how this traditional process works in a typical company

Traditional goal-setting
Traditional goal-setting

 

Why it’s done in a way it’s done: The current goal-setting is done to get the annualized rating of an employee & take that rating to decide who will get how much money this year. Against every goal, the employee declares how much she has achieved, and the manager reviews and correct the rating based on his perception. And them someone sitting at the top does normalization(adjustment of the rating) to put people and their rating in bell-curve shaped.

I am not saying that these activities are not important. Differentiating people based on their performance is important; otherwise how someone who is performing average will aspire to perform better. And how the company will come to know who is not performing and need coaching to perform better.

Being an employee & manager while working in corporate, I never liked the process; it was too theoretical.

Someone who is good at acting & driving perception in the last 3 months of the year will get the maximum benefit of the current goal-setting & rating process of the company

The future of the goal-setting process should be business-centric & data-driven; it should support in getting work done on the business objectives which the company wants to achieve in the next 12 months

The high-level process of this future goal-setting process should be something like this

OKR way of goal-setting
OKR way of goal-setting

The progress on these goals is driven by the milestones that define the method of achieving that goal. And these milestones are defined, achieved and refined every month or quarter. I call them as Agile goals, and few companies call them OKR’s. And those of you who have not heard about OKR, they are invented in 1978 at Intel and used by leading companies like Google, Walmart, Uber, and many others leading new-age companies.

How the future ready goal-setting can be implemented successfully: 

  1. Create a core team: This can be implemented successfully then the company creates a core team of a senior business person who understands company business horizontally + a human resource professional.
  2. Spend time in coaching people on how to set agile goals/OKR: For the first 2 years, invest in coaching employees and manager on how to set the agile goals/OKR. Don’t consider to generated score in the final employee rating for 2 years.

Why the company should take this pain(what’s the business case): Why someone in human resource or CEO should think of changing this current approach of goal setting; here are a couple of reasons

  •  Implement the new approach of goal-setting to achieve your yearly sales & operational targets. If done right, it can increase your top-line by 3% to 8%.
  • It can help the CEO and company to achieve a higher level of alignment across teams.
  • It will help HR to get this activity closer to company 12-month strategy and contribute towards company growth.

The future of goal-setting has already arrived. The new-age goal-setting process should create the habit of thinking, planning and executing goals that will drive company agenda & growth ahead.

Learnings

  1. The traditional goal-setting process leads to a bureaucratic culture in your company
  2. The traditional goal-setting process is not data-driven
  3. To implement the new-age goal-setting process, create the core implementation team which is a mix of business and HR.