Many strategic business units have a Chief of Staff function. Why do they exist and what do they do?

The rules of business are being rewritten every week with the imperative for digital transformation. Whilst customers gain the power of information and choice, digital technology dramatically improves the economics of business. In another post we've discussed why leadership is crucial to digital transformation, and seen proof that those companies who achieve digital mastery through leadership are 26% more profitable than their peers.

Leaders have to apply rules to engage, compete, and grow. Every industry has a unique digital transformation opportunity. A Chief of Staff works alongside their Exec as a force multiplier. Your CxO can’t do everything themselves. There is so much noise in the world. They need someone to help manage strategy and innovation and to improve the signal-to-noise ratio. That's their Chief of Staff.

CxOs can find it lonely at the top and have a deep need to be able to trust someone, a confidant. That someone can't want the top job as their next move. So while the CxO enjoys the power of their role, their CoS is more concerned with getting the job done. That's not to say a CoS is not capable enough to do the top job, its just that they get their satisfaction privately.

If your company is on a digital journey, then the small teams and different leadership structures we talk about in other posts mean that you'll have less hierarchy - that's a good thing. Where things are flatter, sometimes you need extra glue, extra connectedness, plugging gaps where they appear. Your Chief of Staff is perfect for this situation.

Summary Chief of Staff responsibilities

  • Act as an adviser to your Executive and their senior management team.
  • Assist your Executive in facilitating effective decision-making.
  • Assist your Executive in preparing material to share with the CEO and the Board.
  • Coordinate the execution of strategic initiatives.
  • Ensure all staff issues are addressed properly, efficiently and judiciously, and keep track of progress until resolved.
  • Participate in regular meetings with the HR Business Partner to discuss potential staffing issues.
  • Participate in regular meetings with the Finance Business Partner to discuss budget, actuals and maverick spend elsewhere.
  • Assess enquiries directed to the Executive, determine the proper course of action and delegate to the appropriate individual to manage.

Your Chief of Staff makes the above happen, so you may want to give them a couple of trusted juniors to run the numbers, prepare a draft slide deck etc, so that they spend their time at their pay grade.

Bear in mind that your Chief of Staff exists to provide the leadership to run and transform your business, so let them focus on these four directives:

  1. Deliver easy, effective and emotional customer experiences
  2. Focus operations on things customers value
  3. Build platforms and partnerships to accelerate and scale
  4. Innovate at the intersection of experiences and operations.

The Chief of Staff role is ideal for a seasoned campaigner from outside your organisation. They won't want the top job and they have the experience to know what to do. Aston Beck have the sort of people you need.

Typical Job Specification

Work with the Leadership Team, the Finance Business Partner and the HR Business Partner to ensure that the department is well managed and has the necessary foundation to serve the business whilst providing the leadership to move to a customer-centric way of working.

Staff - Role

  • Be the authority on the Establishment Headcount roles across Technology, including the role salary, role purpose and current role holder
  • Track new starters, leavers and internal movement to a different role
  • Arbitrate on role salary, including the need to raise and/or lower salary within budget and headcount commitment
  • Reflect the Annual Compensation salary uplift and annual currency exchange movement (if applicable in a global organisation).
  • Produce a regular report on staff movement, the current roles filled and vacancy positions; against agreed headcount and agreed budget
  • Ensure that commitment to the Exec on headcount and staff budget are met.

Staff - People

  • Update the relevant Organisational Structure Charts showing people in post (including role held) on a regular basis
  • Facilitate the update of HR systems to match Establishment Headcount
  • Facilitate completion of a Role Description for each role within the TOM
  • Facilitate the setting of objectives and appraising performance for all role holders
  • Facilitate identification of key talent, who would be a regrettable loss
  • Facilitate identification of deputies for each applicable role
  • Facilitate identification of successors, and the creation of a suitable succession plan
  • Contribute to recruitment, retainment and career development policies.


  • Create justifications for recruitment where necessary and submit for approval
  • Create and submit Approval Requests as necessary to gain authority to recruit a new starter
  • Liaise with the relevant leadership team members on the need to raise Job Vacancy Recruitment Requests
  • Liaise with the appropriate (global) Recruiting teams to hire new starters
  • Hold weekly meetings to track recruitment pace, applying focus and pressure as needed.

Demand and Capacity

  • Identify what roles have people in post, ready to work
  • Identify the work that needs to be done
  • Identify what people are currently working on, and will work on
  • Reconcile work expectation against timesheets
  • Determine the impact of new work on current department workload
  • Facilitate discussions as necessary to shape workload
  • Facilitate major Milestone and/or Gate meetings
  • Produce a Resource Capacity Report for the Investment Committee, and other reports as necessary
  • Provision of the Resource Allocation report and an In-flight Work Status report on the company intranet for all to view.


  • Facilitate department input to the annual budget cycle, including quarterly re-forecasts
  • Track monthly staff salary run against profiled spend, informing Finance of variation against expectation
  • Perform control checks against cost centres.


  • “Inform, Listen, Discuss” - a regular rhythm of engagement
  • Spread the load across Director and Leadership Team
  • Coordinate, facilitate, minute and action face-to-face events and special interest groups
  • Produce copy for major announcements and messages
  • Research and create Now, Next, News newsletters
  • Create department communications to Exec, including the monthly summary Exec deck
  • Publish Blogs and other communications on the intranet
  • Facilitate department and function ‘home pages’ on the intranet
  • Proof read and critique key documents.

Director Support

  • Facilitate completion of the departmental Balanced Scorecard / objectives
  • Co-ordinate and facilitate Leadership Team meetings and Awaydays - share and track actions
  • Mentor Leadership Team members as necessary
  • Prepare Briefing Papers on request
  • Prompt and facilitate continuous improvement ideas across the Leadership Team
  • Lead sensitive tactical or strategic initiatives to support Director & Leadership Team.

Technology specific duties:

Technology Spend

  • Work with Technology Solutions to understand likely product and non-functional requirements, likely revenue generation opportunities, desired service levels and an acceptable cost to support
  • Identify the Technology resource needed to develop and support each product
  • Be aware of the TCO of every product or service that Technology owns across the business
  • Identify what technology is used to support trading in the regions, and account for all technology costs not currently in the Technology budget
  • Puts in place appropriate controls to safeguard the Technology budget
  • Have visibility of the IT Supplier List, and be aware of opportunities to reduce spend.


  • Document the Technology ways of working, including handoffs to each function and to customers and partners
  • Provide a structure to ensure that appropriate process controls are implemented, monitored and improved
  • Facilitate a response to external requests for information from partners, compliance functions, internal and external auditors etc
  • Assess departmental performance against relevant industry maturity frameworks
  • Identify and create submission for relevant industry awards.

Next: People Matter

A Chief of Staff needs a happy and motivated workforce. Let's not forget that People Matter.

People Matter
Whatever our background, all of us are a diverse mixture of our past and present, with our own hopes and fears, abilities and weaknesses. Together we represent society, and by embracing the breadth of what we all offer then we are also relevant to and engaged with our customers.