Turnover is Inevitable: How to Be Prepared


The average tenure of a Chief of Staff is three years. To some, that may sound like a long tenure. To others, it may sound overwhelmingly short. In today’s job economy where some millennials are hopping jobs every year and members of Gen X and the Boomer generation are concluding decades-long tenures, our advisors here at Prime Chief of Staff are neither surprised nor intimidated by a Chief staying in their role for an average of three years. In fact, we recommend suspending reaction and opinions to this statistic and instead focusing on what is possible to achieve in three years and how you can best prepare for the inevitable turnover that will occur in your executive office.  

Limited time can still be impactful time 

It’s important to make the most of our time. Yes, we mean this in an existential sense, and we also mean it regarding your work. Regardless of your position in your organization, whether you are an EA, Chief of Staff, or at the executive level, it benefits you and everyone around you to dive into your work with gusto and determination. We know that the average tenure of professionals is trending shorter. Let’s use that as motivation to make the most of the time we have with the resources and professionals around us.  

One of the best ways to make impactful change is to “fail fast”—tackling challenges boldly and trying new things to meet goals. If you have the mind and position to provide fresh perspective, enact new systems, and plan bold endeavors, do so. Don’t hold back your good ideas and enthusiasm for the sake of playing it safe. Be confident in your ideas and expertise, contribute early and often and embrace failures and pivots as chances to improve and learn.  

If you are an executive at the helm of an organization, we urge you to earnestly listen to your team when they bring you new ideas. Trust your discernment, but not at the expense of evolution and improvement. You devoted a lot of time and money into assembling your executive office. It would be a shame to stifle the ideas and perspectives that you’re fortunate to be surrounded by. With the average tenure of a Chief of Staff being just three years, prioritize building trust with them so that you may quickly get to the fun part: creating serious impact.  

Support system > support person 

Chiefs of Staff are often called an executive’s right hand. While it’s not untrue, we’re not sure it’s the healthiest way to think about your team. Instead of having a strong, trusting relationship with just one person you work most closely with, consider fostering trust and closeness with each member of your team, no matter their seniority or proximity to your daily activities.  

When just one or two people on a team are an executive’s go-to consultants, fire-handlers, and delegates, pressure to be perfect builds and burnout becomes inevitable. Just as executives should delegate, so should members of an executive office. Don’t let one function be the permanent, sole responsibility of just one person. Rather, collaboration, delegation, and tandem problem solving should be the norm. When team members are striving for their own to do lists and objectives, it can sow isolation and a lack of awareness about how each person’s work is contributing to larger goals. Thinking of and behaving within a team as a system instead of a group of individuals promotes camaraderie, mutual ownership of success, and a healthy culture. 

If you are a part of an executive office, promote these behaviors early and with enthusiasm. If you need to delegate something, let your principal know that you’ll do so and then point out the benefit, like having more time to devote to a more urgent project. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with requests for your input, offer the idea to get more people in the room to brainstorm. Doing so is not a sign of inadequacy, rather, it promotes a culture of collaboration and demonstrates your willingness to consider all angles.  

If you are a leader of an executive office, be mindful of burnout and its cause: too much pressure and not enough support. Encourage your direct reports to collaborate, delegate, and problem solve together. Having more than one or two perspectives and voices in the room will improve your decision making and facilitate ideation. 

Sustainable effectiveness 

We speak with executives every day who are hunting unicorns to fill the openings within their offices. They comb through their network and resumes for professionals who have the exact blend of skills, experience, and communication style that their most recent rockstar possessed. Our advice to them? Be more open minded.  

Sometimes the unicorn you need looks different than the one you had. Don’t limit yourself. Your executive office will inevitably experience turnover, and one way to ease the transitions that turnover causes is to be radically welcoming to candidates who might have a slightly different experience, education, and skillset than the one you’ve deemed essential for the role. The more stringent your qualifications list when sourcing candidates, the longer your search will take. A lengthy search can put undue strain on your existing team and might even sow feelings of inadequacy among your colleagues, deteriorating the culture you’ve worked so hard to build.  

Rather than relying on specific qualifications listed on a resume to make your team more effective, invest in your existing team by expanding their knowledge of your business and its operations. Prime has found that the most effective executive offices are ones that embrace cross-training and information sharing. Empowering your staff to learn from one another not only improves tactical knowledge but also increases agency and confidence. Your staff members will be grateful for the professional development and be more confident in their contributions. In turn, when gaps in your team occur, either due to vacations, family leaves, or sabbaticals, your team will be able to pick up additional responsibilities with minimal lead time.  

When your team has expansive skillsets and knowledge, it makes for sustainable effectiveness. No single skill, responsibility, or piece of technology should be owned by just one person. Rather, a team should have collective stewardship of your office’s operations. When it comes time to fill an opening in your executive office, you won’t need to find a carbon copy of someone who’s left. Instead, you can take a holistic approach to sourcing candidates and be confident that any gaps in skillsets can be remedied with your culture of learning and info sharing. 

Be realistic and proactive 

All professionals weather turnover and transition, and perhaps you’ve thought about what might happen when you decide to leave your role. Regardless of your position—be it executive, Chief of Staff, Executive Assistant, or something similar—it only benefits your organization to be realistic and proactive about turnover. Below are a few ways to do so. 

  • As mentioned previously, encourage information sharing, cross-training, and working as a collaborative team instead of a group of individual achievers.  
  • Avoid worry and handwringing when a gap in coverage occurs on your team. Regardless of the gap being caused by a turnover or a simple leave of absence, gaps will occur. Attitude goes a long way in these scenarios, and it’s also contagious. Embrace shifts and adopt a can-do attitude when it comes time to cover for your colleagues.  
  • Don’t be timid when it comes to taking leave or submitting your resignation. If you know that time is approaching, be brave and proactive in suggesting coverage and contingency plans. Doing so will put a cherry on top of your tenure—your colleagues will be grateful for ample notice and your consideration in how your leaving will affect them.  
  • Recruit outside support when your team is spread thin or adjusting to increased learning and responsibilities. Throughout this article, we’ve made many recommendations to foster a collaborative, healthy team culture that won’t falter when gaps in coverage occur. However, this kind of work and preparation don’t need to be done solely by the team you have in place. Consider seeking the advice of an outside advisor—perhaps a consultant or board member who can provide a bird’s eye view of your team’s work together. This person might offer valuable insight on blind spots, coverage gaps you didn’t see before, or especially fraught scenarios that are or could occur on your team.  
  • Start and end strong. All of our suggestions can be adopted at any time in the formation or operation of your executive office, but having support in doing so means you won’t have to do this work at the expense of your regular responsibilities. Consider strengthening your onboarding process so that new members of your team have a facilitated avenue to receive cross training and information gathering. Provide ample coaching and professional development opportunities for your team so that they may have an objective sounding board and advisor as they strive to work collaboratively and within the culture you’ve established.  

Prime Chief of Staff is a premier advising firm that supports professionals in executive offices. Prime provides signature Assessment services where we score an office’s effectiveness, identify blind spots, resolve bottle necks, and foster alignment in both objectives and responsibilities. The outcomes of our Assessments manifest in providing top-notch coaching and advisory services, placements for gaps in coverage, and onboarding and transition services that create easeful experiences at work.  

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