Top 8 Takeaways from The Chief of Staff Network Summit

Last week, I attended the Chief of Staff Summit hosted by The Chief of Staff Network. The day was packed with tactical information, career advice, inspirational speakers, fresh ideas, career validation, and more! It’s always invigorating to be in a “room” full of your peers sharing best practices and perspectives, as well as learning new solutions to common challenges. Above all, as with most conferences like this, it always reinforces that I’m in the right career and working with the right team – and that is priceless!

Here are a few of my key takeaways from the Chief of Staff Summit.

1. Meta-work is where Chiefs of Staff shine.

Meta-work is not about “busy work” or procrastination, though some (namely our Executives) may see it as such. Instead, meta-work is about improving how you work – working on how you work. For example, annual business planning, applying frameworks like OKRs or KPIs, or creating reporting across departments to synchronize activities.

While it may not be the best use of our Executive’s time, it is work that often needs to get done. Enter the Chief of Staff. Chiefs of Staff are uniquely positioned to handle this meta-work on behalf of the Office of the CEO, their Principal, or the ELT (Executive Leadership Team). They have insight into not only the vision and agenda of their Principal, but the goals and outcomes required of the team. Chiefs of Staff can act as a communication bridge, keeper of the structure and progress to get the goal accomplished, and identifier of the gaps to bring teams and resources together as needed. Meta-work is important work, if done with a clear purpose and the utmost efficiency.

2. Always know who the DRI is.

The DRI is the Designated Responsible Individual. Often in the Chief of Staff or Force Multiplier role, our default is to designate ourselves as the responsible party, but that does not have to be so! The important part for a Chief of Staff is to make sure a DRI is assigned for each project, outcome, or new initiative. The DRI is responsible for reporting the status of the project, as well as pushing it towards the goal line. They will work with various team members to get the result, but the DRI needs to make sure the result is hit.

3. Be the Dominoes Tracker for your Principal/company/office.

I loved this analogy, because we’ve all seen the Dominoes pizza tracker. Once your order is placed, you know exactly what stage of production your pizza is in, when it’s out for delivery, who the responsible party is, and when your order is complete. This is very similar to the role a great Chief of Staff plays. The expectations and deliverables are set, you keep key stakeholders informed of progress along the way, and there is a clear deadline. Oh, and don’t forget, if the deadline isn’t hit, there is clear and quick follow-up and a new plan of action is created.

How can you implement this concept to better support your Principal, the Office of the CEO, your company, or whatever your span of control is? If you think of your role as Chief of Staff as a guide, the keeper of the structure and progress – you’re on the right track. As Chief of Staff you help set clear expectations, deadlines, and communication plans, and ultimately drive towards the agreed upon outcome.

4. Stop and smell the roses (i.e. your accomplishments).

One of the big themes throughout the Summit was about taking control of your career, advocating for yourself, and creating opportunities. One of the best ways to be ready for whatever is next is by tracking your accomplishments on an ongoing basis. This serves several purposes: it helps you recognize and remember just how far you’ve come, gives you plenty of ammunition for your next performance or compensation review, and gives you data for your resume if/when you look for your next opportunity. To get started, check out our suggestions for a Wins & Notable Moments Journal here.

5. Chiefs of Staff need their own “second brain.”

Chiefs of Staff often operate as “the second brain” for their Principal. This ranges from remembering details about key stakeholders, preparing briefs, capturing action items at board meetings, or keeping the Principal on schedule throughout the day. It can be a very important part of the strategic partnership. However, Chiefs of Staff need a second brain of their own! Whatever you decide to use – Asana, Todoist, Excel, Google Docs, Evernote, Trello, etc. – is not important. It just needs to be a system that you understand and will utilize to capture important notes and things you need to remember. My preferred method? A good ole fashioned notebook. Which is then generally translated into action items via email delegation or my Weekly Execution Plan, or saved for later in my elaborately simple Google Docs filing system.

6. Spend time with key people in the organization.

This was a great reminder to step outside of the day to day interactions with my Principal, our CFO, and our EA, and set aside purposeful time to meet with other key stakeholders in the organization. This is where you can get a real pulse on the organization – from what is going well and what isn’t, how employee morale is, if there is challenge with an employee, if there is a major staffing need, if a project is behind deadline, great ideas to improve the company, generate revenue, or cut costs, etc. You’ll strengthen old relationships, build new connections, and learn more about the organization as a whole when you do this. Bottom line, it may seem like a luxury to schedule these coffee chats or 1:1 meetings, but you, your Principal, and the company will thank you for it!

7. When hiring, understand the stage of your company.

Finding and hiring talented individuals is key to any business. Knowing what stage of growth your company is in will help you find the right fit for your organization now and in the future. A couple of key notes here. When considering the stage of your company – think about the size of the organization and/or what funding round you’re in. You’ll also want to get very clear on the role and job experience required.

After that consider this: If your company is in the early stage, consider hiring generalists. These are individuals who are able to prioritize themselves before others. They have an entrepreneurial mindset, can handle a variety of tasks and competing priorities, are able to live in the gray, take initiative, and can adapt and flex to the needs of the business. In later stages of the company, hiring specialists who are more comfortable with structure and consistency could be a smart move. Not to mention, as your company scales, you will need individuals who are experts in certain areas to help your company compete and thrive.

8. Be the best accountability partner for your Principal and ELT.

Ever wonder who your leader’s accountability partner is? Well… it’s the Chief of Staff! Okay, it isn’t always, but it can be, and I think it’s a perfect role for the CoS to play. The Chief of Staff helps plan and create structure with their Principal, which in turn means you can hold yourself and your leader accountable to ensure those goals are met. Depending on the exact purpose of the CoS role, this accountability can extend to the ELT as well. Yes, this involves meta-work and implementing a “Dominoes Tracker” and spending time with key people in the organizations, but who better than a Chief of Staff to do the aforementioned! Everyone needs someone else looking out for them and their success. Chiefs of Staff can, and must, do this for their Principal.

As I mentioned before, the Summit was such a great reminder of the impact the Chief of Staff role can have on an organization. The more we, as Chiefs of Staff, can lean into our unique position in the company, share the benefits, and more importantly, show the impact we make, the more career growth and satisfaction we’ll have.

I look forward to continuing to research and help refine the Chief of Staff role as a Force Multiplier and foundational team member to visionary leaders. And, of course, we’ll be sharing it all with you as we go!

Speaking of sharing info…

Join us for a LIVE sneak peek of our new Founder & Force Multiplier community! We will walk you through the features of our platform, including discussion boards, on-demand training and resources, and special events, while answering any questions you may have about the membership.

THE BEST PART: During each webinar, we will select one attendee to win a FREE YEAR of membership to the FFM Community! Plus, all attendees will have first dibs at a chance to become a founding member for a discounted rate. Make sure you’re there live for the chance to win!

Register for the webinar on November 3rd or November 8th. You can also sign up for our newsletter, The Inner Circle, to be the first to know when the platform goes live.

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