When Do You Need a Chief of Staff?

This article was co-authored by Catherine Berardi and Maddy Niebauer. It originally appeared on vChief's blog here.

When was the last time you missed an important deadline? How about the last time you dealt with a detail so minute that it should've been handled elsewhere? How often do you think your time is spent on the wrong things? If these questions are resonating with you, it may be time for a Chief of Staff.

If you’re unfamiliar with the role, read more about what a chief of staff does and the archetypes of an effective chief of staff. Overall, a chief of staff is a great resource to help you become a better leader. She can help take things off your plate so you can focus your energies where you will have the most impact. She can oversee projects, build systems and processes and ensure your team is operating at their peak. Sounds like everyone could use a chief of staff, right? Here are some common symptoms that highlight why now might be the right time to hire one: 

You just don’t have enough time in your day


Do you feel like things are endlessly piling up in your inbox and to-do list? Perhaps you wish you could clone yourself or learn how to operate on four hours of sleep a night. Leaders who are strapped for time are often not leveraging all of the opportunities in front of them, not following up after stakeholder meetings, and are missing important deadlines. They often wait too long to provide team members with input or feedback, leaving the leader feeling inaccessible. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, dropping balls, and just not on top of your game, you might benefit from the added capacity a chief of staff can offer you. 

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A chief of staff can put time back on your watch by doing or delegating work on your behalf. With cross-functional experience and solid acumen, chiefs are able to step into a variety of work activities to get things done. The chief also holds you accountable to important deadlines, ensuring the work you need to do is being completed timely and accurately.

You are not satisfied with how your time is being spent


In addition to never having enough time to do everything, leaders often feel like they aren’t spending time on their most important activities. When there are so many things competing for your attention, it’s easy to end up in reactive mode, just dealing with the tasks that happen to be at the top of your inbox at any given moment, or responding to team members who are knocking on your door most often. If you don’t have personal strategic priorities you’re driving toward, how can you be sure you’re spending your time efficiently? A chief of staff can help you better allocate your time to where you are uniquely able to have great impact. 

If the things taking up your time are more administrative in nature, like managing your calendar, travel or expenses, you may need an executive assistant rather than a chief of staff. If you’re looking for someone to do the more strategic-focused tasks that you would otherwise do yourself, a chief of staff is likely a better fit.

Your leadership team is not operating at peak performance


Do gaps currently exist on your leadership team? There are a number of reasons why you may feel like your leadership team isn’t fully effective, including vacancies, underdeveloped talent, conflicting viewpoints, or simply having work that doesn’t fall cleanly to a C-suite leader.

The chief of staff can act as glue among leaders, rallying members around a common goal. They can also play an important role in leadership meetings by serving as facilitator and ensuring forward momentum and clarity with next steps. As one education nonprofit chief of staff recently told us, “Before I joined, the leadership team meetings would end and no one would have any idea what their directives were.” The chief may also “co-pilot” initiatives with leaders, partnering with them to access the resources they need to accomplish their priorities.

Your organization needs more efficient systems and processes


Do you still use a paper calendar? It may be time to consider something new. Often leaders feel strapped because they are using clunky or inefficient processes that inhibit them from being a well-oiled operation. This typically occurs when leaders are strong visionaries and strategic thinkers, but not so great at process. Proper structure and systems are critical throughout an organization, especially at the top. A chief of staff acts as your structure builder and process driver. They are able to translate your vision and make it reality through a well-considered system.

A chief of staff understands your organization’s unique challenges that are impeding success, and uses tools and methodologies to drive better results. For example, the chief of staff for a large family foundation recently had staff undergo pattern recognition training. “We weren’t recognizing problems that were happening multiple times, so I conducted a training to help our team identify these occurrences sooner.”

You are implementing a new strategic plan


It seems most organizations are undergoing a new growth initiative these days. And any new strategic direction or vision is dependent on a focused leadership team to steer the organization in the right direction. It also relies on the broader staff to understand the purpose of a transformation to be fully effective.

A chief of staff is essential for not only ensuring the focus of the executives, but also in serving as a culture champion during a period of change. New strategic plans can quickly fall flat if they are not properly executed, and the chief of staff is a key player in keeping employees aligned and engaged throughout the process.

If these things resonate with you, it might be time to hire a chief of staff. You’ll be amazed at the amount of leverage one can bring you as a leader. Read more from us about writing a job description and tips for hiring a superstar chief of staff, including what to look for in candidates and where to find them.

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Madeleine Niebauer is the Founder & CEO of vChief Virtual Chief of Staff service, which offers part-time and interim chief of staff support to start-ups, nonprofit organizations, and businesses of all sizes.