The strategic chief of staff role, explained
Organizations can utilize the chief of staff position in multiple ways. Often, the position serves as a liaison between a company’s C-suite and the broader team, delegating tasks and completing a variety of administrative duties. Used another way, this role can be much more, especially in organizations implementing strategic initiatives.
In the Charles Aris Strategy Practice, we’ve noticed a rise in the “strategic chief of staff” position, as indicated by our recent chief of staff offer report.
This position differs from a traditional chief of staff in several ways, notably requiring the most qualified individuals to have served within a top strategy consulting firm. Here are a few ways organizations are leveraging the chief of staff role as a critical strategic asset:
Every chief of staff serves an organization alongside its senior-most executives, but a strategic chief of staff will act more as a thought partner within the C-suite.
Members such as the chief strategy officer and the CEO will rely on the strategic chief of staff to provide KPIs that directly support the organization’s strategic mission. Since this role historically liaises between the C-suite and the rest of the company, the strategic chief of staff will be best equipped to share and interpret data with executives interested in pursuing complex strategic initiatives, like transformation.
Because the strategic chief of staff will also communicate and delegate strategic initiatives with the team after inception, C-suites will generally loop them into key decision making to ensure their plans are feasible and can be implemented accordingly throughout the rest of the organization.
It’s easy for complex strategic initiatives to become diluted the further they get from the C-suite. It’s the strategic chief of staff’s responsibility to keep these initiatives on track by adequately communicating the plan and outcome to the entire organization.
These individuals may also be tasked with communicating initiatives to key stakeholders, which would include the board of directors and financial sponsors such as private equity investors. This requires meaningful time spent interacting with leaders across the organization to ensure the message adequately explains these initiatives for a variety of audiences.
An important asterisk to note is that not all roles of this nature will bear the same title or responsibilities. Depending on an individual’s skillset and time spent in prior strategy positions, as well as the type of organization and its needs, a strategic chief of staff position could take a different title and be asked to plug into a variety of projects.
At Charles Aris, we’ve seen an increasing number of private equity clients utilize this position within portfolio companies – positions that, by design, are essentially strategic chief of staff positions but are titled differently. Examples include vice president of strategy, vice president of strategic initiatives, vice president of transformation and vice president of business development and strategy, to name a few.
The strategic chief of staff could also have varying responsibilities depending on their experience. While these positions are usually reserved for MBA holders, pre-MBA individuals with a background in corporate strategy can still serve as a strategic chief of staff, but they’ll often handle fewer strategic tasks than their MBA-holding counterparts.
In other cases, a well-positioned strategic chief of staff could serve as the head of strategic initiatives for the entire organization. This model is especially popular in the world of private equity.
The chief of staff role can have varying responsibilities depending on the organization, but there is a growing appetite for strategic chiefs of staff who can play an active role in not only the execution of, but the creation of, key strategic initiatives.
In many cases, this role also serves as a stepping-stone into a more senior strategic position, like chief strategy officer, and will set individuals up to own a P&L and become a top leader in their organization.
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