👩‍🚒 A Guide to Become and Grow as Chief of Staff

Overlooked #65

Hi, it’s Alexandre from Idinvest. Overlooked is a weekly newsletter about underrated trends in the European tech industry. Today, with Guillaume Linet from Spendesk, I’m sharing a guide to become and grow as chief of staff.

In the past few months, I noticed in France a growing number of entrepreneurs hiring a chief of staff and a growing number of friends around me wanting to break into the startup world by becoming Chief of Staff (CoS). I did some desk research and discovered than more than 30 French well-known startups had a chief of staff. I started to interview chiefs of staff to gather their feedback about their background and their role.

In the process, I met with Guillaume, Chief of Staff at Spendesk for the past 2 years. Guillaume knows everything about the job and has even actively contributed to build a community of French chiefs of staff. It was obvious that we should write together an article on this topic!

We decided to write a guide to help people who want to become successful CoS. We divided the guide in the following sections:

  • The Current State of the role in the French Ecosystem

  • What CoS really means

  • Key advice to get ready for the job!

Part I - The Current State of the role of CoS in the French Ecosystem

We've studied the background of 50+ current and former chiefs of staff in French Tech, identifying some patterns. Chief of Staff’s background can span a range of experience and seniority levels depending on the company maturity (manager-level, director-level or VP-level). Today, most of current french start/scale ups CEOs are looking for director-level chief of staff with :

  • Tier-1 business or engineering education background,

  • 3 to 5 years consulting or operations management experiences.

About 2 years in, chief of staff can face an identity crisis where it is time to wrap up their tour of duty. A good chief of staff is a trusted CEO advisor who will do what is best for the company. She will rather continue for a new 2 years tour or find her replacement and transition to a great role in or outside the company.

You can find a summary below.

Part II - The Role of CoS

A good starting point is to look at two recent job posts from Jellysmack (video content creation machine) and Luko (home insurance). We will quote certain sections of the job description but you can find the full job descriptions at the end of this article.

  • "We are on the hunt for a talented Chief of Staff, working directly with the CEO, to support the management team in their efforts to delivery against our strategic plans, to develop the framework to manage complex planning and priorisation, and to be a force multiplier for the CEO's strategic focus." - Luko's CoS job description

  • "We're looking for a Chief of Staff, working directly with one of our CEOs, at the heart of our strategy and development, to ensure the success of Jellysmack. The role alongside the CEO will be in charge of helping and managing our roadmap and processes in a very dynamic and international environment working closely with the operational teams." - Jellysmack's CoS job description

Although each CEO should tailor the position, the CoS duties are focused on making time, information, and decision processes more effective for the CEO.

We love this idea from Luko's job description of being "a force multiplier for the CEO's strategic focus."

While functional leaders typically emphasize their own scopes, a good CoS have to consider the whole company. Her job is to anticipate problems and be sensitive to issues that require diplomacy. Most importantly, a CoS acts as the voice of the CEO, which requires humility, maturity, and situational sensitivity.

Here are the responsibilities carried by a chief of staff :

  1. Help the CEO work on the right thing.

  2. Amplify CEO's communication, greasing the wheels of the organisation as a communicator linking the leadership team and the broader organisation

  3. Run the internal operating rhythm, aligning on priorities.

  4. Level up the CEO direct reports, helping them be 100% accountable of their scope.

  5. Lead strategic initiatives which are important for the CEO and which does not fall to anyone in the leadership team

  6. Act as the CEO in the organisation, facilitating decisions and bridging the gaps on some functions before hiring the new functional leader.

  7. Support the CEO on investor relationships (animate the board, build the relation with future investors, set up fundraising processes etc.).

  8. Be an honest truth teller when the CEO needs a wide-ranging view without turf considerations.

Part III - Key Advice to Get Ready for the Job!

Before moving into the role, it is essential to clarify the need for the CEO: what does she need help for? The particularity of the role often implicates very heterogeneous tasks, ranging from high level to basic. It really requires a can-do, get the shit done attitude. Not everyone is ready for it. A chief of staff is in the shadow, backstage, making CEO and leaders shine in front of the organisation.

Thus, a strong fit with the CEO is key to be a kind of two-headed person. It requires trust and confidence to get the most of the it and being an effective substitute for when the CEO is needed. The less the CEO is requested the more the CoS is successful.

From Day 1, this is essential to delimitate the scope, present the role to the team and define what success look like in 6/ 12/ 18 months. This role is the fastest opportunity to grow from the CEO’s vantage point, which is unique in an organisation. In the Sillicon Valley, people who have done the chief of staff tour of duty mainly lead to future founders and CEOs or GMs.

Conclusion

If you're interested to become a chief of staff and you are looking for additional advice, you can ping us at ade@idinvest.com and guillaume.linet@spendesk.com. If you want to dig further, you should definitely read this paper from HBR (The Case for a Chief of Staff) and this article from Firstround (You need Two Chiefs for the Executive Office).


Thanks to Julia (🦒), Isaure, Héloïse, Jérémy and Ferdinand for their feedback! Thanks for reading! See you next week for another issue! 👋

Appendix

Luko’s job offer to become Chief of Staff

Jellysmack’s job offer to become Chief of Staff