The role of Chief of Staff illustrated

I found a very good read from the latest issue of HBR (May-June 2020), on a fairly new corporate role/designation that a lot of people still don’t exactly know what it entails. The role of Chief of Staff, associated more with Governments and army, has recently been made popular owing to many start-up founders opting for the position.

This was primarily because they were too new to form multiple hierarchies within the rapidly growing organizations, and ended up having too many people reporting directly to the CEO. The Chief of Staff is the buffer between the CEO and that person’s direct reporting team.

The case for a Chief of Staff (HBR, May-June 2020)

I particularly loved the visuals provided by illustrator Bianca Bagnarelli.

Why? For 2 specific reasons:

1- There are 2 visuals (both present in the print version and only one in the online version) and the gender balance between them is very thoughtfully handled. The first one has a female CEO (gazing out of the window) and a male Chief of Staff (seated), while the second one has a male CEO and a female Chief of Staff!

2- Both visuals offer extraordinarily lucid explanations of what the role entails! The first one has a beautiful narrative involving direct reports of the female CEO seated in that room in spirit! The role of the Chief of Staff is to be the conduit between them and the top executive!

The 2nd visual is even more direct in its meaning (compared to the more poetic way of explaining the role of the first). Here, the female Chief of Staff literally orchestrates the direct reports to perform in unison, cohesively in order for it to make sense to the CEO!

While the article itself is a fantastic read, the value Bianca’s illustrations add deserves a very special mention! This is visual storytelling at its best.

Do take a look at her Instagram page for more stunning illustrations that she has done for other leading publications like The New York Times, Economist among others!

Interestingly, HBR has a particularly evocative and effective way of using visuals for its stories in print. Another story in the same issue, on digital transformation, has an arresting set of photos by Giles Revel. His photographic-story-telling has been credited separately, with a lot of attention to detail.

Even if the direct meaning of the photos seems to wade into which is better – natural-looking or synthetic/digital? – the photos add specific value to a story of ‘digital transformation’, adding a thought-provoking meaning.



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