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Part I: What is Executive Operations?

Maïa Cybelle Carpenter

Increasingly, the term Executive Operations, which originated in the SF Bay Area and Silicon Valley, is gaining popularity as a way to describe roles and teams. In 2016, I created the role title "Executive Operations" and started using it within my networks to define the evolution of the Executive Assistant (EA) role. As an advisor to founders and longtime mentor to Executive Assistants and Chiefs of Staff, it made sense given the amount of administration AND operations that the EA role was increasingly taking on. Using the role title "Executive Assistant" did not make sense as it referred to a mostly task-based administrative role. The evolution of the role meant that these individuals were expected to autonomously make decisions, oftentimes strategic ones.

Simultaneously, the Chief of Staff (CoS) role started catching on beyond Silicon Valley and its origins within the military and government. While there is overlap between Executive Operations (EO) and CoS roles, there are some important key differences. A big difference is that EOs strategically manage executive stakeholder time and increase their velocity by creating structure, building and nurturing relationships and operational processes. CoS then additionally take on some executive decision making and are consummate program managers. While both roles increase the efficiency and effectiveness of a leader, they approach it with different competencies. For more on the CoS role check out some of these resources.

After launching Carpenter Consulting Partners in 2017 to focus on executive coaching and the working relationship between leadership and support roles, I wrote "Elevate the Executive: Evolve the Executive Assistant. It was the first online published use of the term “Executive Operations” to describe the evolution of the Executive Assistant role. This article has had thousands of views and I'm grateful that it ignited an important discourse on support roles.

Fast forward to 2023 and Executive Operations as a role has started to take hold beyond the SF Bay Area. For the purposes of this series of posts, I will only discuss individual contributor roles, however it is important to note that there are Executive and Leadership Operations Managers, Leads, and Director roles increasingly visible within companies in the USA and abroad.

So what is Executive Operations? 

Once upon a time, a well known CEO told me that he approved of changing the Executive Assistant role and team name to “Executive Operations” because “goodness knows our executives need to be operated!”
‍The recipe: Take an EA role that strategically supports one to two leaders, then add the skills and competencies for advanced project and some program management across administration and operations and you have an Executive Operations (EO) role. In other words, blend parts of the strategic EA with a CoS role and you have Executive Operations (EO). In some companies, this looks like employees who:
• strategically manage the stakeholder's time and energy; creating structure through systems thinking and process improvement
• manage internal and external communications including relationship building
• Board of Directors preparation and process
• public relations
• team programs and projects
• specialized research
• data analysis

Or, in smaller companies an EO would be responsible for the “back office”/internal G&A such as:
• strategically manage the stakeholder's time and energy
• manage internal and external communications including relationship building
• management of external finance and accounting contractors and bill pay
• investor relations
• procurement
• implementation and maintenance of Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
• management of legal and HR contractors and projects.

View our EO sample job description for recruiting purposes here.

Coming soon on this blog:
In Part II we'll dive deeper into examples of Executive Operations individual contributor roles, and provide a sample scope of work.
In Part III we'll talk about how to recruit for and compensate for these roles.
In Part IV we'll talk about career development for these roles.

If you have questions, comments or feedback, please contact us here.

Also, check out this "In Conversation" series blog post featuring an Executive Operations role. We'll have more interviews posted in our blog soon!

Maïa Cybelle Carpenter

CEO, Carpenter Consulting Partners, Inc.

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