As the Role of HR Evolves, Adding a Chief of Staff Can Be a Smart Move

The role of HR has undergone major shifts over the last few decades, and in recent years the function has taken leadership of employee-focused business strategies that drive greater job satisfaction and retention. Today, we are seeing yet another shift as HR technology provides greater insight and measurement around talent management capabilities, smoother payroll functionality and outsourcing of benefits administration. As technology helps simplify many of these tasks, the focus of HR is increasingly on recruitment and compliance, especially at small to midsize companies.

For small to midsize businesses, this can mean an overhaul in the management structure. This happened at my executive search firm, Protis Global. As the company grew larger, the CEO wanted to focus his time and effort on the growth of the organization instead of dealing with day-to-day operations. The solution was the creation of the chief of staff (COS) position, which eliminated the need for separate department heads. The COS reports to and provides direct counsel to top leadership, and advises on HR, IT, marketing, sales and growth strategies.

Over the past five years, the COS role at Protis has grown into an all-encompassing one. As COS, I oversee each functional area which has enabled us to stay lean while in growth mode. This shift from a traditional organizational structure is a trend that is becoming increasingly widespread, especially for small to midsize businesses. It also works extremely well for independent recruiting firms. It helps to fill critical talent gaps while allowing the CEO to concentrate on matters that will have the greatest impact.

Although leaders at the top want to avoid diverting attention away from high-level concerns, they still want to know what’s going on in the company. The COS acts as liaison, buffer and advocate, presenting what the team wants while at the same time, partnering with the management team to protect the values and culture of the organization. The COS is effectively the internal face of the company who has the trust of leadership at 30,000 feet and employees at ground level.

A few of the major areas that I focus on in my role as COS include:

Direct Support of the CEO. I assist our CEO in setting our strategic priorities, researching the metrics surrounding those priorities, and assessing our progress in achieving them. I also determine when the CEO’s input is needed at critical decision-making points in any aspect of the business. A lot of issues don’t require his personal attention, but it is essential to know when he has to be brought into the process.

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The HR Function. While the HR manager takes care of routine administrative HR matters, I handle personnel issues, oversee the policies and processes involving hiring and the management of staff, including reviewing our organizational structure,uncovering gaps and filling them. Among the most important of these responsibilities are overseeing diversity and cultural initiatives, promoting employee engagement and fostering our employer brand. Always keeping my finger on the pulse of employee satisfaction, I recommend new policies to the CEO for review and approval, and propose next steps for implementation. Our mutual goal is to bring in top talent and then nurture that talent to encourage retention.

Brand building. As an independent recruiting firm we recognize that we have to build our own brand to create name awareness and to be recognized as thought leaders in our industry niches. Even a great company can lose out to an average company if the average company is better known in the marketplace. The COS role includes reenergizing our public relations efforts and implementing inbound marketing through social media to allow us to move up the value chain. We use a broad range of tactics – blogs, podcasts, video, infomatics, webinars — to showcase our knowledge of the market trends and insights that matter to our clients. And we help our clients see that they need to do the same thing.

Business Services. I want all of the components of our business to run like a well-oiled machine. That means coordinating efforts, avoiding time-wasting duplication, and ensuring that we are all on the same page. It means, for example, that our marketing approach supports our business development strategy and our sales teams. My job is to ensure that every single person in the organization understands our goals and objectives and has the tools and training to do their part in achieving them.

Communication. A COS has to be able to communicate well. I am charged with keeping the lines of communication open between senior leadership and staff, and also with keeping our CEO aware of what’s going on in the organization. I’ve come to value greatly the need to be a good listener and to pick up on the mood and satisfaction levels of our people.

The COS role is both challenging and rewarding. It has enabled me to be an active contributor to the success of our business and to feel that I have fostered the careers and growth of the people who work for us. It has given me a profound respect for what can be accomplished by a well-led team focused on common goals. I think it’s the best job in the world.

Richard Ledesma

Richard Ledesma
Richard Ledesma is chief of staff of Protis Global.

Richard Ledesma

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