While it’s not uncommon to see leaders want to combine executive assistant and chief of staff duties into a single role, we typically warn against that since the work is fairly different and the candidate profile differs accordingly. Still, however, we encounter leaders who don’t have enough workflow to need a full time person in each role. This begs the question: what is the best solution when you need a bit of an EA and a bit of a CoS?
A Case study from the field: Camelback Ventures
One example is our mutual client Camelback Ventures. Camelback was in fairly early start-up days when they engaged both of our organizations.
What does this partnership entail? We call ourselves the “Office of the CEO” and all work together to lead the organization. Our CEO Aaron is in contact with both the Chief of Staff (CoS) Ami and Executive Assistant (EA) Stacey separately, and we meet together daily in a short phone conversation to ensure we’re aware of each other’s priorities and that we’re not blocking each other’s progress. Some workstreams overlap, others do not.
What are the benefits of having each (CoS and EA)? It’s hard to think in the micro and macro, but having an EA and CoS allow you to do both more effectively as a CEO. Although both people support and interact frequently with the CEO, the EA is more focused on logistics, planning and management of the CEO specifically, while the CoS takes a broader, more organizational and strategic approach to the CEO role.
You could say the CEO is like air traffic control. They are setting the route and keeping the whole field of view in mind. The CoS is the first pilot, who knows how to manage all the controls and is in constant contact with the CEO. The EA is the second officer. This person handles a lot of detail and has the capability to stand in where needed. There have been times when the CoS was at capacity and the EA could handle those tasks - that is huge.
How do they (CoS and EA) work together? Beyond brief daily check-ins, Ami and Stacy work together on an as-needed basis. Explicit conversations about roles (both the EA and CoS roles as well as the broader team’s roles) early on in the partnership helped set the stage for success especially when it came to the “who does what?” question.
How did you know you wanted both a CoS and an EA? (Aaron Walker, CEO & Founder at Camelback Ventures) My CoS and EA were brought on at about the same time when Camelback Ventures was growing quickly and I needed quality support, but wasn’t ready (nor had the capacity) to hire full-time people. I could have combined the roles into one more full-time person but the mission of both jobs is different. It would have been more forced. With the part-time, virtual solution I got two individuals who are specialized and excellent at their distinct roles.
What's been your experience working with a virtual EA? (Ami Magnuia, Chief of Staff at Camelback Ventures) There are so many different aspects of work that Stacy supports as Aaron’s virtual EA that would be impossible and forced if we had just hired one person traditionally and based
in New Orleans. First, she’s able to stay focused on the things that matter. It’s easy to lose sight of priorities when you’re in a more traditional role because you become more reactive. As a result, the internal org muscle practices being less reactive as well.
Second, I think the virtual aspect really underscores the importance of communication. We have been able to establish practices that encourage transparent and frequent lines of communication. Finally, Stacy’s been able to morph into being what she needs for us. In our environment, it’s important that folks can wear multiple hats. Being virtual means that we can have access to the kind of expertise we need. In the case of 33V and Stacy, even if it’s skills or time that Stacy might directly have, we have access to others who can help to find the solution. It’s like having one mega-human in one. It’s amazing!
What's been your experience working with a virtual CoS? (Stacy West, Executive Assistant at Camelback Ventures) I’ve found it very helpful to engage with someone else who is also thinking about how to best maximize the CEO’s ability to do his job well. Ami’s experience adds depth to my support because she has so many great ideas and perspectives that I add to my toolbelt. Because of the nature of her position, Ami has a deeper outlook on the organization as a whole than I do, so she has been a great resource for me when working to prioritize or troubleshoot.
In general, here is how some of the work may play out in a partnership between an Executive Assistant and Chief of Staff:
Types of projects a virtual Executive Assistant typically leads:
Travel Planning & Management
Organizing Files (Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, etc)
Contact Management / CRM Support
General Administrative Tasks:
Providing summaries of action items
Strategic Thinking, such as:
Ways to maximize Executive’s time
Backplanning tasks to goals and milestones with Executive
Creating standard operating procedures (SOPs)
Types of projects a virtual Chief of Staff typically leads:
Aligning a leader’s time with their priorities at a strategic level
Strategic planning & monitoring key performance indicators
Large-scale cross-organizational project management
Speech writing or creating CEO presentations
Creating or streamlining systems and processes
Hiring & HR systems
Budget creation & management
Types of work that overlaps - may be done by either:
Event or meeting planning
While there are a few tasks that overlap between the Executive Assistant and Chief of Staff roles, the majority of the work is specific to each role and would benefit from having two separate entities handling separate workflows. Leaders who are concerned that there may not be enough work for each role to take on should consider initially hiring on a part-time basis, with the option of increasing workload and employment terms if need be as each role develops on its own terms. Having both a virtual executive assistant and a virtual chief of staff can truly add to the success of your organization.
Casey Putschoegl is the Co-Founder & Managing Partner of 33Vincent, which provides high-quality and flexible Executive Assistant based services to its clients, as well as ongoing work opportunities for individuals seeking balance and flexibility.
Madeleine Niebauer is the Founder & CEO of vChief Virtual Chief of Staff service, which offers part-time and interim chief of staff support to start-ups, nonprofit organizations, and businesses of all sizes.