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The Benefits of Having a Chief of Staff

Want to retain your high-potential employees, keep them engaged and grow them into the leaders your organization needs as it evolves? Put them in a chief of staff rotation, advises the author of Chief of Staff: The Strategic Partner Who Will Revolutionize Your Who Will Revolutionize Your Organization (Tyler Parris Coaching LLC, 2016).

Author Tyler Parris is a certified executive and leadership coach who has built and managed teams in business, the military and nonprofits and counseled senior executives on issues affecting their organizations. In addition to creating coaching interactions with senior leaders that create capacity, raise awareness and change behavior, his current focus is advising business leaders on the need for a chief of staff, how to hire for the role, and how to make individuals in the position successful in the first 90 to 100 days and beyond.

Chiefs of staff frequently get promoted out of a line function to support a top executive. The role pulls high-potential employees out of a department- or function-specific job such as sales, finance or operations; creates a new vantage point across all departments and functions; establishes them as leaders across groups; and then places them “back into the business” with improved knowledge of the company’s market position, products, people, processes and politics.

Individuals come out of the role ready to fill leadership positions that they previously couldn’t have, Parris writes, because they learn so much about the business, enjoy numerous and deep relationships with people in powerful positions, and earn what some call a “mini-MBA” through on-the-job training. In a relatively short time, they are exposed to situations, nuances, operating tempo and complexity of decision-making that otherwise would take years to experience.

Companies that structure the position as a rotational role lasting 18 to 36 months are always moving new people into the position and giving more people access to that growth opportunity, Parris writes.

All of these benefits are precisely why, for HR executives and other leaders, the chief of staff position can be a great tool for developing high-potential talent, creating leadership bench strength and developing a deep succession plan at multiple layers in the organization. Experts also contend that it’s a cost-effective way to nurture junior employees. According to a senior leader in the financial services sector who is quoted in the book, “Rather than giving my executive assistant a promotion in title and raise and expecting her to play up to it, I gave her the chief of staff role as a stretch assignment to prove that she could add more value before earning a promotion. The role more than paid for itself in the first couple months.”

Parris suggests examining three “pivots” in assessing whether your organization needs someone in the chief of staff role:

-- Organizational dynamics. A chief of staff can help where you have multiple, diverse lines of business; geographically dispersed teams; significant changes in leadership or organizational structure; spinoffs; or complex internal activities.

-- Benefits to top and emerging leaders. Having a chief of staff could free up the CEO to use his or her time for other tasks or could improve the organization’s ability to make timely decisions.

-- The business’s primary deliverables. A chief of staff can help with budgets and planning cycles, as well as special projects such as new business models, restructurings or business reviews.

When carelessly crafted and executed, the chief of staff position can be seen as a wedge between the CEO and the organization. But analyzing the business case for the role can help an organization identify and address talent gaps while increasing its capacity for leadership development and organizational growth.

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