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.

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.

Objective & Key Results (OKR) for Strategy Execution

Strategy Execution is an Alignment, Accountability and Execution problem. And execution is most of the time a definition problem too. If the company is unable to defining WHAT and HOW of WHAT; how you can expect the execution will happen.

Once CEO and board has decided on the next projects and strategic initiatives to be executed, defining exactly WHAT needs to be done and how it can be done properly and the metrics that will help us measure progress isn’t an easy task.  There are many goal-setting/policy deployment frameworks, but Objective & Key Results (OKR) is one of those frameworks which is simple and easy to implement.

OKR(Objective and Key Results) is a management tool that helps you to translate Strategy Into Goals and Metrics. Andy Grove @ Intel first made the twist to MBO methodology and created the OKR framework when Intel was trying to capture the market. In a way, it is a bit less formal than the balanced scorecard and Hoshin Kanri approach, but it is successfully employed at many companies. Google uses it for example.

There are two components to an OKR, an Objective that specifies what needs to be achieved in the medium or longer term, and Key Results: these are specific shorter term actions that we need to take to fulfill that objective. Key results should be measurable. Since they are used to track progress, they should also be time bound.

Let’s look at an example: Suppose we were managers of a retail chain. Our objective is to open five new retail branches in South East Asia by November. To achieve that objective we’ll need to achieve the following key results.

1) Identify the locations for our new retail outlets. This should be completed by August 1st.

2) After we know in which buildings we’d like to open their new retail outlets, we need to draft leasing agreements, and that should be done by September 1st. We want all our retail outlets to have a similar look, so we’ll need to renovate the buildings a little. For example, painting interior, put the company logo on the entrance, and this needs to be completed by October 15th.

3) We’ll also need to hire new people to work in the new retail outlet. Hiring should be done by October 1st, because we’ll also need to give the new staff some training and so on. This should be completed by October 25th.

4) And finally, we’ll need equipment, computers, POS(point-of-sale) machines. This should be purchased and installed also by October 25th. At any point in time, we’re able to tell how we’re moving towards achieving our objective of opening the five retail stores by November. If it’s October 1st and we still don’t have the locations for the new retail outlet, much fewer lease agreements, we’re in trouble.

By contrast, let’s say it’s October 15th and the managers from our Retail company headquarters are calling to check in about progress.
We’ll tell them that the staff has been hired and trained, and the equipment installed. So we’re done, and actually, we’re ahead of schedule.

This way everyone can see how their efforts fit within what the organization as a whole is doing. OKR framework is a simple, yet powerful framework to align and define what and how of execution.

Watch this video by John Doerr, who introduced Objective and Key Results to Google when they were 40 member team.

Difference between OKR and KPI

CEO’s and companies who want to implement Objective & Key Results(OKR) as goal-setting framework are often in the dilemma on how OKR is different from traditional yearly KPI/goal setting methodology. And Why they should invest in a change that comes with OKR implementation. There must be good reason for implementing OKR over KPI(Key Performance Indicators).

The similarity between them is that both are the goal-setting approach but with different purpose, starting points, and execution ownership.Here are 3 major differences in both the approaches:

PURPOSE

The purpose of OKR is to achieve and improve Alignment and Execution across the company. The purpose is to enhance the accountability. The purpose is to improve the discipline across the company for how we can grow better & probably faster.

The purpose of annual KPI’s/Goal setting is to measure the performance of the individual at the end of the year. At the start of year, KPIs are set and than are put in under the carpet. At the end of the year, dust is removed from the KPI’s and people are asked to prove themselves as how good they have performed against those KPI’s.

STARTING POINT 

The starting point for OKR is the CEO’s/business Annual Operating Priorities(AOP) and/or Strategic growth & innovation priorities.

The starting point of KPI are the Job Description of the person or should I say the role to which that person belongs to or should I say Google.

OWNERSHIP AND WAY OF EXECUTION

For OKR the execution ownership lies with the CEO or COO or Strategy Head of the company and HR.  You have to create a team who understand the business horizontally and a team which can put stretched objectives and the team that can teach people across the company how to set OKR’s which are directly aligned with company’s operational agenda and strategic priorities.

In Objective & Key Results(OKR) framework, you define WHAT needs to be achieved(Objective) and HOW you are going to measure the progress on your Objective(Key Result). The Key Results can be owned by either the Objective owners or team members of Objective owners or team members from other departments. This results in breaking silos and accelerate the execution. Further Objective and Key Results are agile in nature and are not fixed for year. They gets adjusted based on business conditions.

The ownership to set the KPI’s across the company lies with the HR. KPI’s sit in the silo without any context to an individual as how its impacting the company growth or help in achieving the operating plan. KPI approach worked when the organizations were simple, cross-functional collaboration was not that critical and bureaucracy & hierarchy was the acceptable norm. KPI’s are usually fixed for a year and remains static even if business conditions change.

Summary

  1. Purpose of OKR is alignment and execution, whereas the purpose of KPI is to measure the performance at the end of the year.
  2. CEO or people who understand the business horizontally drives OKR implementation, whereas KPI’s execution are owned by HR.
  3. The starting point of OKR is your Annual Operating Plan or your Strategic Priorities/Themes, where are input to KPI’s are your Job Descriptions.