Ideally, measurement efforts can be distilled into an equation. Such representations, however imperfect, pull us away from the subjective and towards the objective. Pursuing an equation that helps to illuminate performance of the chief of staff might start with examining the components that contribute to the foundational performance objective outlined above.
If we consider a set of recurring meetings that a leadership team has scheduled, what are the factors that might dictate how well that scheduled time is used? In my experience, the key factors are the following:
- The Topics. What topics are getting onto the leadership agenda and why?
- The Cadence. When should the team engage on which topics? How might we balance known, important topics with late-breaking, urgent topics?
- The Design. How should the team engage on a topic? What data or information is prepared or shared in advance? How is the live discussion designed and facilitated?
- The Outcome. What is the outcome of the discussion? Who owns the next step(s), and what is the system of accountability?
In my view, the above four factors contribute greatly to the foundational performance objective. It’s worth unpacking these areas a bit more to uncover what high performance might look like. To this end, I think it’s helpful to think of these factors in the context of how a chief of staff might prepare for, conduct, and conclude a specific staff interaction.
Topics & Cadence
For years I’ve been asked this question: ‘how do you determine what the staff should spend time on, when the surface area of the team is so expansive?’ It’s a great question, and an important one. In my role, I consider two input streams:
- Stream A pertains to things that, all other things being equal, merit the time of the leadership team in some periodic cadence.
- Stream B pertains to things that were previously unknown but are now urgent and important.
For Stream A, it’s possible to build a finite list of topics that merit ongoing review, given the objectives and context of the leadership team. For an executive team at a large company, this list might include regular inspection of key business priorities and financial performance, organisational design, talent development, culture evolution, and a myriad of other things. The point is, the chief of staff can build such a list and validate it with the leadership team, arriving at a joint agreement; the list can evolve over time as the internal and external environment change.
Stream B is harder to plan for in terms of a finite list of topics because Stream B is, by definition, unknown. However, it is possible to plan for it in terms of capacity, or more specifically, reserve capacity. Said differently, we may not know what urgent and important topics might arise that merit attention (thinking over the past eighteen months, such topics could have included the global pandemic, social inequality issues, or extreme weather events, to name just a few), but we know something will show up and demand time, so we must assume some capacity relative to overall available capacity.