Starting out in a Chief of Staff role can feel weird. That’s because you take a smart, high-achieving person and put them in a position with little definition and a lot of variation. There likely aren’t projects just waiting for you on a silver platter, either. You must figure out what the projects are and where you can add value.
We believe every Chief of Staff should enter their position in observation mode. This means getting accustomed to your new environment and its people before anything else. While spending your early days absorbing information may feel unproductive, it’s essential to your overall effectiveness.
Understanding your organization’s unique way of doing things is critical to your effectiveness. No one likes the newbie who comes in and immediately tries to shake things up without first understanding why things operate the way they do currently. When you are new, you have the benefit of asking “why” about everything. Understanding the “why” can help you uncover interesting organizational dynamics.
In addition to asking “why,” try to get as much exposure as possible to the organization and its operations. Ask to sit in on meetings and attend events. Don’t wait to be invited or you may never be.
Learn the business
Most of us are not industry experts, but that doesn’t mean you’ll get away with not understanding the business you’re in eventually. It’s important for every Chief of Staff to learn as much as they can about their new organization—its business model, sales tactics, priorities, clients, key stakeholders, industry trends, key competitors, and more. Knowing the business is essential to thinking and operating strategically. Ask for any collateral on the organization to help you learn their value proposition, positioning, and messaging. In addition, ask others for resources and books that may be helpful for getting up to speed on the business.
In addition to observing dynamics and business models, it’s important to spend your early days as Chief of Staff building relationships. The obvious one is your leader, but a somewhat common pitfall for Chiefs of Staff is focusing too much on one relationship versus many. It’s important that people understand your position benefits the organization and not just one individual. Therefore, take the time to build relationships with key stakeholders both inside and outside the organization who you will likely continue to interact with closely. This will make things monumentally easier for you in the future.
Define your role
Too many Chiefs of Staff feel lost in their positions because their organizations and leaders didn’t take the time upfront to consider the role’s key functions. If this is this case for you, starting to define your role is an important step toward being effective. In your early days, you are learning the answers to the question, What have you been hired to do? Getting to the root of this isn’t as easy as simply asking your boss. It requires understanding the key challenges that exist in the organization, both spoken and unspoken, that may be inhibiting success.
Get to work. We know there’s a lot you can do.