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

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”.

Is OKR a New Management FAD ?

Photo by bonneval sebastien on Unsplash

In the last 30 years, many concepts were introduced in the companies claiming to have been that final solution that it will accelerate business growth. As part of these, concepts like Enterprise Performance Management, Business Process Management, Balanced Scorecard, and Knowledge Management where introduced in the market and promoted by consulting companies & leading business schools of the world. But they had a low impact on revenue growth, enhancing customer satisfaction and launching new products faster. And have only increased the revenue of consultants & consulting companies.

Nowadays OKR (a goal-setting framework for CEO and companies to get execution done) seems to be the hot topic. And every CEO is talking about implementing the same in their company. OKR is a part of the debate that companies need to adopt agile management practices; so that companies can respond to changing market dynamics faster.

New entrants, especially from developing markets and technology sector companies are moving into traditional companies and leveraging the power of Software+Hardware to disrupt the existing business models. And this is happening right now.

Let’s look at a few statistics that illustrate these changes:

  • A third of Fortune 500-companies in 1970 were gone by 1983. And many of those that were in the top-10 in 2015, didn’t even exist ten years before that.
  • The attrition in leadership positions in big companies has more than doubled in the past 10 years.
  • Google, Microsoft, Amazon, NetFlix, Uber and AriBnB are replacing the Coca-Cola, Big Retail, Media House and Established Hospitality industry Companies as most valuable companies.

Though these 20 year old new-age organizations are leveraging technology to deliver the product/services, they are also challenging the traditional management practices. They are adopting new agile principles and practices that enable them to remain closer to their customers, build a more transparent company and build a culture of thinking, planning and execution in their teams which enable them to move faster than existing traditional mindset companies.

But does this mean that every organization must adopt agile management practices and implement goal-setting frameworks like OKR. To answer this, we must under from where the “agile” as a concept came from.

The agile as a concept was first introduced around 2001 to better deliver the software. Before the agile practice came to picture, software’s were delivered to customers using the waterfall model of development. With the waterfall model, customers used to get the working software after 9 to 12 months. And by the time, they have received the software, customer requirement and business process to which the software was catering has changed. At the end, customer end up paying millions of dollars for something which was not near to what is required.

Then came the Agile way of delivering the software, in which software was delivered every 2 weeks. The customer gets the working software every 2 weeks. And the software developers adjusted to the evolving needs of customers. This resulted in customer end up spending less money and is more satisfied with something tangible for what he is paying for.

I have personally developed the software under the waterfall model and agile models. Frankly, adopting agile mindset was very difficult and was a change. People resisted it because it forced them to be on their toes, be more focused & accountable and forced then to be more collaborative across various teams. And you are clearly able to identify who is not performing within 2 weeks.

Now let’s look at the organizational age-old practice like “annual practices of budgeting & planning” and how it gets delivered by people in the company. Leadership team meets before the start of the financial year, sales targets are negotiated, CEO and management pushed for higher numbers and sales heads push back the numbers given and tried to freeze targets which can be achieved. New initiatives that needs to be completed are decided and everyone goes back happily to the workplace next day.

Think of your annual budget and planning process as software. Currently most companies are trying to deliver the budget & planning by following the waterfall model. A better way is to follow the agile way of quarterly process which is aligned with the company annual budgets & initiatives to be completed. Objectives (a.k.a goal) & Key Results(a.k.a milestones or action plan) to achieve the annual plan are created executed, reviewed & updated every quarter.

Frankly, achieving business results (sales plan, marketing plan, strategic initiatives) are different from programming a software. Unlike software programming, you might or might not achieve result (0 or 1) in a day, week or 2 week. But creating the OKR plan at the start of every quarter and reviewing it every month, will help you understand that will the outcome be achieved or not. Or enable you to understand that if you are all this time, trying to achieve the wrong outcome. The current execution design followed in companies leads people to focus on outcome rather then focusing on input that will lead to that outcome.

If I connect the dots, I have no doubt that adopting the agile management practices and frameworks like OKR(Objectives & Key Results) are much better approach to deliver the required business outcomes. What you think?

 

Building the Execution Culture!

When we started qilo’s journey, we had one single focus and agenda. How can we help companies perform better! During this journey, we met hundreds of leaders across industries and geographies. Did research with over 5000 people – Here are some learning’s from the experiences we got;

Execution Accountability

One theme, which clearly emerged as inputs from the leaders, was execution accountability. On an average a management team invests thousands of critical man-hours in boardroom/ meeting rooms, the question to be asked, are they genuinely productive?

Over 90% of the respondents we asked this question said no. So what could be the reason?

  • Lack of belief/ Clarity in the Vision
  • Limited say in creating the plan
  • Fear of conflicts
  • Yes Minister Syndrome
  • PTB- Passing the buck
  • Limited know how

Recently there has been a trend in companies that divide the workforce into 2 buckets – Planners and Doers. In some companies, they work as a team and in some still hierarchal. Depending on their culture, I have categories them as following types

  • The Houdini’sType – This team pops up while creating an annual plan and asks for data from across functions and post creation of the plan does a vanishing act. And to be seen during the review meeting sometimes. These type of companies build 2 classes amongst team (unknowingly) the corporate and rest of others.
  • Living on the edge Type– these are a set of companies, who do not believe in strategic planning or vision and find it a waste of time. (Believe me, they do exist and in masses.) These companies focus on a month-to-month plan with no strategic vision. Some of them pretend to be non-conformist (Strategy Atheist) but deep inside they lack know how at a leadership level.
  • King with the golden robe Type– These are set of companies where decision making resides in one corner office. Whether the company is doing well, bad is decided upon which side of the bed the king woke up from. The companies are highly perception and ego driven. The single focus for the teams is to please the king.
  • The Change Makers– they are a group of people closely aligned with the purpose and leaders vision. They fail together and succeed together. These companies align their teams with their purpose first and the drive execution accountability. They work in a network of teams and the leadership team rolls us the sleeve whenever required and run the shop floor.

Globally, the shelf lives of companies are getting shorter and shorter. Product Power and Proprietary Power will not just be enough. The key differentiator of a company will be the way you work and get the Strategy Execution done.

Always remember the pace and the quality of execution will decide if your team is working for you or your competitor!