Discover Chief of Staff: a new position among your C-Levels


Olivia Canedo


August 2023
reading minutes

In the ever-changing world of Tech and Innovation, organizational structures are being transformed to meet the complex needs of startups, scale-ups and unicorns. Among recent developments in this field, a new role is emerging as the cornerstone of management teams: the Chief of Staff. This seemingly discreet but highly influential position brings a new dynamic to companies seeking to optimize their performance and agility.

In this article, we delve into the world of the Chief of Staff, exploring his role, his missions, his profile and the key steps to integrating him strategically into your company.

Jonas Åman

To this end, we interviewed Jonas Åman, whom we were fortunate enough to support in his recruitment as Chief of Staff at French unicorn Back Market. In the course of his career, Jonas has successfully supported a number of hyper-growth companies, such as Spotify, in their efforts to optimize organization, structure and support change.

1. What is a Chief of Staff?

The Chief of Staff, literally the "Chef d'Etat-Major", "Chef de Cabinet" or "Directeur de Cabinet", is much more than just an executive assistant. His main function is to support the company's Chief Executive Officer or another member of the Codir, for whom he is a trusted partner. He is the guarantor of strategic and operational coordination within the organization. In Tech companies, this position is increasingly attached to the CTO, a strategic perimeter for innovative companies facing strong development and structuring challenges. Acting as a catalyst for communication, coordination and strategic execution, the CTO sets the company's strategy to music, like an orchestra conductor, by working with the various departments. He enables the CEO or other C-Levels with whom he has a hierarchical link, to focus on long-term objectives. This multifunctional role requires a holistic understanding of operations, an overview of strategic issues and the ability to work with a variety of stakeholders.

🎙️ Testimony of Jonas Åman - Chief of Staff :  

"For me, the most important objective of a Chief of Staff is to help the company derive maximum value from its team, its structure and the organizational constraints within which it operates. More concretely, this often means helping the organization prioritize how to invest its time (i.e., sometimes helping leaders say no to ideas and initiatives), identify, improve or even eliminate inefficient processes, improve communication and transparency within the organization."

2. When do you need a Chief of Staff on your team?

Hiring a Chief of Staff becomes relevant at different stages of a company's or a specific department's growth. If your company is at a strategic crossroads, facing a major expansion, or in a situation where there is a need to streamline operations, this role can be crucial. 

As a manager, if you're wondering whether it's time to add a Chief of Staff to your team, here are four situations where the answer is clearly YES: 

1- You're no longer able to attend all the meetings or events where important business decisions are made. You identify the need for a trusted person to be your eyes and ears when you can't be present. 

2- You can't keep track of individual dashboards and performance indicators linked to the growth strategies or long-term projects you're initiating. You live in fear that a critical problem won't be solved or brought to your attention soon enough. 

3- Your company is suffering from a steep growth curve and needs to be actively monitored. You need someone to ensure that your strategies permeate all levels of your organization, beyond your management team. 

4- You don't have the time to devote to in-depth reflection and vision, because you attend meeting after meeting and get stuck into managing operations. 

🎙️ Testimony of Jonas Åman - Chief of Staff : 

"My role as Chief of Staff at Back Market was strictly limited to the Tech organization. The reason for this was that the company was entering a period of major growth (doubling in size in 12 months) and they needed to update the hiring and on-boarding processes, the framework and guidelines for professional development and the internal organization of the department to be able to manage such rapid growth. I worked on all these aspects, often in close collaboration with HR and engineering managers and directors, to ensure that we created processes that were useful in our specific context." 

3. How do you create a Chief of Staff position in your C-Levels organization? 

As you can see, the Chief of Staff role can take on a variety of responsibilities. Each Chief of Staff position will be slightly different because, to be effective, it must be adapted to the needs of the company, the management team and the organization.  

It is therefore essential to clearly define the scope of the Chief of Staff's position in order to facilitate his integration into your management team. The mistake would be for you not to take the time to clarify the job description and get your management team on board in advance.  

In order to define clear expectations for this role, here are some ideas to help you define the scope and responsibilities of the position:

  • Project management: Which projects will he be responsible for, which ones will he manage, and which ones will he delegate?
  • Level of authority: What decisions will he/she take on behalf of the C-Level to which he/she reports? For what tasks will he work in partnership with members of the management team? What will he/she monitor and measure?
  • Process changes: What information, projects and processes will be delegated to this function that were previously managed by you as a member of the Codir? 
  • Job evolution: Is this position intended to evolve into another C-Level position in your organization? Or is this a long-term partnership between you and your Chief of Staff?

Team at work representing the C-Levels of a startup, one of whom is CoS

4. What are the Chief of Staff's responsibilities?

Once you know how to adapt the position of Chief of Staff to your organization, you can draw the contours of the position more precisely and integrate responsibilities such as :

  • Strategic coordination: The Chief of Staff can play a key role in aligning strategic objectives across the entire organization. He or she will act as a central pivot to ensure that the different teams work together towards common goals.
  • Operations management: The Chief of Staff can oversee day-to-day operations and strategic planning, freeing up the time of the person to whom he or she reports to concentrate on the long-term vision.
  • Analysis and reporting: The Chief of Staff collects and analyzes relevant data, providing actionable information to guide strategic decision-making.
  • Change management: At times of transition, the Chief of Staff facilitates the company's adaptation to change management by aligning teams with new strategies and ensuring transparent communication. 

This list is, of course, not exhaustive, and you'll need to refine it according to your own needs and the context of your organization. 

🎙️ Testimony of Jonas Åman - Chief of Staff : 

"During my experience as Chief of Staff at Back Market, I reported to the CTO and my peers were the engineering managers. Initially, I didn't have a team, but over time I hired three people to help me manage the operational aspects of the Chief of Staff's responsibilities (i.e. planning, budget work, communications, etc.). In terms of achievements, I'd say I've mainly contributed to updating the recruitment process, the induction process for new teams and the internal professional development framework (i.e. career development paths)."‍

5. What qualities and skills are needed to become a CoS?  

Once you have clearly defined the tasks and responsibilities of this new position in your organization, you need to think about the profile of the right candidate. There are a few essential qualities that are always found in Chiefs of Staff, but you also need to ask yourself what type of personality, skills and level of seniority will best complement your existing team. 

As far as basic qualities are concerned, here are those that seem essential:

  • Curiosity: The position of Chief of Staff requires a good understanding of the operations, expertise and personalities of the other members of the management team. The right person needs to be stimulated by these broad subjects, rather than challenged.
  • Resilience : The Chief of Staff position requires fast-paced learning in high-stakes environments, with potential setbacks along the way. The ideal candidate will be rigorous, humble, collaborative and adaptable. 
  • Communication : The ability to communicate effectively with a variety of stakeholders is imperative for success in the Chief of Staff function. You need to be able to communicate concisely, clearly and pragmatically, facilitating cross-functional management within the company's C-Level stratum.
  • Passion : The Chief of Staff must have a strong desire to see the organization succeed. He or she is a team player with excellent interpersonal skills and a strong team spirit, with whom it must be pleasant and stimulating to collaborate, especially in times of stress, exhaustion and frustration.  

In terms of skills, the Chief of Staff must possess the following in particular:

  • A strategic mindset: the Chief of Staff must quickly acquire a solid understanding of the company's objectives, direction and risks. He or she leads the company's strategic direction, and must therefore be able to understand the why of projects, and not just the what. 
  • Collaborative project management skills: The Chief of Staff will need to forge close links with all the company's organizations, and be able to effectively manage relations between different sectors. He or she must be a team player with strong interpersonal and managerial skills.
  • Sound judgment and decision-making: The Chief of Staff must be able to establish priorities to ensure the progress of projects and coordination between different departments / sectors of the company. He plays a coordinating, decision-making role. He raises the right questions, proposes solutions and anticipates needs.
  • Strategic analysis and the ability to process massive amounts of information : One of the essential functions of this position will be to organize, prioritize, communicate and summarize data from across the organization in order to make the right decisions at the right time. Mastery of tools such as dashboards, Business Intelligence tools, reporting, etc. is required for the position. 

Finally, and this is not always the easiest thing to do, the Chief of Staff must be able to manage expectations and sometimes power plays within the management team.

🎙️ Testimony of Jonas Åman - Chief of Staff : 

"You need to be an empathetic problem-solver and a good listener. Be a good listener, but don't take on too many tasks. Choose your battles wisely - what's the improvement that would make the biggest difference? Find it and solve it - if you try to change everything, you'll only overwhelm and slow down the organization. Help people to help themselves too! Your long-term goal should be to no longer be needed at all, otherwise you'll inevitably create organizational dependency on yourself!"

6. How do you work with your Chief of Staff? 

Synergy with the Chief of Staff is based on mutual understanding and fluid communication. Here are some tips for developing a fruitful collaboration:

  • Communicate your role within your C-Levels team: Take the time to ensure that everyone understands how this role will be most effective. What processes will change? What projects, data and issues need to be brought to the attention of your Chief of Staff that were previously handled directly by you?
  • Set clear objectives: Establish clear objectives and expectations for the Chief of Staff role to ensure a common direction. Your needs, objectives and strategy may evolve over time as your company grows, but they should always be crystal clear to your Chief of Staff. 
  • Open communication: Be transparent in your dealings to establish an environment of trust. Never cancel your one-to-one meetings, even if they only last five minutes, because they will be the most effective conversations of your day.
  • Ongoing re-evaluation: The Chief of Staff's roles and responsibilities may evolve over time. Regularly reassess the relevance of his duties and adjust them accordingly.
  • Mutual support : The Chief of Staff and the person to whom he reports form a pair. They must support each other, complementing each other's strengths and skills.

🎙️ Testimony of Jonas Åman - Chief of Staff : 

"For this role to work in the organization, you need to try to establish authentic links with the leaders - and the collaborators, the people who make things happen, such as HRBPs, executive assistants, office managers, etc. Listen to their problems without proposing solutions, but instead ask questions to help them clarify their thinking. If you can help them shine, the organization will be successful." 

In conclusion, the Chief of Staff is emerging as an essential C-Level for modern companies seeking efficiency and strategic success. This is why they are becoming increasingly essential in innovative, hyper-growth companies such as startups, scale-ups and unicorns that have raised substantial amounts of capital. This role not only supports the management team, but also strengthens organizational connectivity, stimulates innovation and facilitates strategy implementation. By carefully identifying the necessary qualities and establishing clear lines of communication, companies can harness the full potential of the Chief of Staff to propel themselves towards a prosperous and sustainable future.

Need more advice? Skillink, as a specialist recruitment consultancy , will be your best asset to help you define, recruit and integrate the right Chief of Staff for your organization. Talk to our consultants about your recruitment project. 

What are the duties of a chief of staff?

Reporting to one or more members of the executive or management committee, close to general management on a day-to-day basis while occupying a cross-functional position, the role of the chief of staff varies greatly according to the size of the company and its challenges. That's what makes this job so special: it's unique to each company.

Highly versatile, the main missions of a chief of staff are generally as follows:

- Prioritize the work of the executive: the chief of staff is one of the people who know the most about the company, its issues, challenges and values. He can thus help the CEO, who is often overburdened, to better connect his ambitions with the executive. He plays a coordinating role.

- Steer strategic projects internally and advise employees who contribute to these projects: these may be digital transformation, process optimization, reorganization, management consulting, sales and marketing development projects, etc. The Chief of Staff has an important role to play as a strategic advisor.

- Communication: knowledge of the company and understanding of the issues at stake guarantee effective information management. Internal and external communication is one of the cornerstones of the Chief of Staff's role. Good interpersonal skills are a must.

- Manage and analyze company performance using key performance indicators (KPIs).

- Participate in financial analysis and human resources missions: on an ad hoc basis, the CoS can take on the role of financial and HR consultant (e.g. for recruitment consultancy, participation in occupational health, etc.). 

Of course, the responsibilities of the chief of staff change depending on whether he or she is a junior or a senior consultant.

Who does the Chief of Staff work with in the company?

With no hierarchical link to the company's other managers, the Chief of Staff is the CEO's right-hand man, acting as a strategic consultant on a wide range of issues. The Chief of Staff's functions are highly cross-functional, so he must be agile, since he may be required to collaborate with a variety of departments, such as human resources management, key account managers, the teams in charge of digital strategy, financial services, the CTO and so on. He/she must be able to guide, propose solutions and help make decisions that may be operational, strategic, financial or other.

What training and career path do you need to become Chief of Staff?

To join a company as a practice manager, you generally need a Master's degree (BAC+5) from a business or engineering school, such as Polytechnique or HEC. You also need to have previously worked in a challenging professional environment. A first professional experience in a consulting firm, for example, is quite common among candidates for this type of position.

The job of chief of staff: how is it changing?

Thanks to their leadership qualities and their cross-functional role within a company, practice managers accumulate a wide range of skills that can lead to a career as COO (Chief Operating Officer) within a start-up or major group. In this case, they add team management to their experience. The role of Chief of Staff can also be a good springboard for embarking on an entrepreneurial adventure and eventually becoming founder or co-founder of a company.

Talk to our team.