What a Chief of Staff Does, and Why MBA Graduates Are a Perfect Fit

Ashley Suelyn | ASB Class of 2020 | Careers

Many assume that a Chief of Staff (CoS) is the Head of Human Resources. But the responsibilities of a CoS go well beyond one department.

In fact, every CoS plays a different role as business needs evolve. It is a dynamic job in which uncertainty is the norm, making the ability to learn quickly, put information together, and understand it in a meaningful way a crucial prerequisite.

A CoS has six main focuses: gathering information across departments, evaluating and staffing projects, championing new initiatives, advising the CEO, solving problems that arise, and advocating for every team member.

To be effective, she must balance each of these duties, working across departments and managing both the big picture and the details.

 

Gathering information across departments

At times, a CoS does not have the background knowledge of a project and needs to learn from employees across various departments. A multi-skilled CoS searches for information, identifies problems, and acts as a resource to each person in the company to narrow down potential solutions.

A CoS not only highlights areas of improvement, but also evaluates each project objectively and finds areas of collaboration within the organization. In this role, having foresight and realizing what the company needs today in order to achieve its vision tomorrow are imperative.

 

Evaluating and staffing projects

Sometimes, a CoS needs to question whether a problem the company is trying to solve is really a problem at all. She then needs to look beyond the current problem presented and search deeper for the root cause.

More often than not, once a gap is identified within a company, a CoS is automatically assigned to propose an intermediary solution while identifying a suitable task force and project owner. In other cases, a CoS also assumes the role of leading special projects that may not fall under any one department’s purview.

 

Championing new initiatives

A CoS coordinates the execution of strategic initiatives while monitoring the results of a portfolio of projects. Building relationships with every single person in the company to obtain their trust and confidence is key.

When new initiatives get introduced, the CoS assists to align all inter-department conversations to any company-wide communication, and also provides assurance and support to those who are involved.

In a large company, a CoS should always be accessible to anyone who wants to flag a problem, propose a new solution, or simply share information. She sees everything that is happening within the company, enabling her to coordinate large groups of people to push initiatives forward.

 

Advising the CEO

A CEO makes decisions based on high-level information that has been provided to her. One of the CoS’s key roles is to facilitate that decision-making process by distilling the important details and enabling the CEO to understand any project at a glance.

At the same time, a CoS must provide her own opinion about how the CEO should make the decision. She helps eliminate the CEO’s blind spots and becomes her sounding board.

A CoS provides guidance, expertise, and oversight in different verticals and keeps track of the progress of each project until it is completed. Providing and receiving constructive feedback are a big part of a CoS’s day-to-day.

 

Solving problems that arise

The ability to quickly understand high-level components of the business is even more valuable if the CoS also has the willingness to get her hands dirty with the nitty gritty details. Being organized and handling stress well are crucial because a CoS solves many types of problems on a daily basis.

She makes the best use of her time by consistently being agile and frequently switching between tasks and roles. Embracing challenges becomes second nature for a CoS who is willing to be hands-on in any situation. There are no tasks too big or too small for a CoS.

 

Advocating for every team member

At the end of the day, a CoS does her best for her staff by being there for them when they need encouragement, assisting them in their workload, listening to their challenges, and encouraging them to become better at what they do.

Within a company, everyone is focused on achieving their departmental and personal KPIs. A CoS takes this into account when allocating resources and evaluating a company’s priorities, understanding the complexity and urgency of issues that arise while maintaining focus on the company’s objectives.

 

How ASB prepared me to become Chief of Staff

As an MBA graduate from Asia School of Business, I have worked on four different Action Learning projects across Asia in teams consisting of diverse nationalities and backgrounds, managing multiple stakeholders for each project.

The entire experience has taught me how to quickly break down a problem and solve it with the team and resources given to me. Not only were my teams proactive due to the short timeline of each project, we also learned to build trust amongst one another in a short span of time and communicate empathetically with one another.

This collaborative mindset has allowed me to embrace the complexity of each problem and thrive under uncertainty. Through four Action Learning projects, I have increased employee productivity, diversified revenue streams, reduced turnover time and developed a new product. I have become an autonomous problem solver with an improvement-seeking mindset.

With the sophisticated Smart and Sharp skills developed throughout the 20-month structured program, I relish the opportunities to further expand my toolkit in my current role as Chief of Staff at SOCAR Malaysia.