Chief of Staff: The new CEO necessity [Guest Post]

by ShawnP on 01-02-12

Guest post: Shawn Patterson is the Executive Director, Enterprise Performance Management and Chief of Staff to CEO at DTE Energy. Shawn has held numerous positions in multiple industries and is passionate about influencing lean transformations in organizations.

A recent CNN Money article stated,

“In headier days a CEO’s must-have accessory was a GulfstreamV or a house on Nantucket. These days it’s a chief of staff, a top-level adviser who’s part confidant, part gatekeeper, and part all-around strategic consultant. While that has long been a key position in politics, many top executives are now adding this person to the payroll.”

I happen to be one of those people on the payroll, and without making any judgment on my capabilities, I have come to appreciate the value of the Chief of Staff role. It may be a simple organizational addition that will help unlock speed and collaboration in your company.

From my own reading and my own experiences, the Chief of Staff can play two important roles for the organization and ensure the corporate agenda is moving forward. The first key role is to fill the white space in the organization. There are many enterprise initiatives that cut across the functional areas (e.g. HR, Communications, line units) and don’t have a clear owner. The Chief of Staff role can takeover the leadership role for these initiatives and convene the appropriate leaders to steward the effective implementation of the initiative.

The second role is to spend the time with leaders and groups that are struggling to effectively handle the strategic part of their role. Usually when this is happening, it is not a competency issue, but rather it is a matter of a key leader not being entirely clear with how their group needs to align with the enterprise strategy. The Chief of Staff gets 10x bandwidth with the CEO and can help interpret his message to those with more limited access. It is very difficult for the CEO to provide the coaching and frequent interaction with all leaders given their time demands. The Chief of Staff can be responsible for helping ensure that all groups are on mission and aligned with the CEO’s direction.

With the CEO’s job becoming ever more complex and demanding, the Chief of Staff can play an important role in making the top leader more effective. Ultimately the role can be like the power boost button on a video game. When the CEO needs a little more energy, focus, and juice, in comes the Chief of Staff.