In this Chief of Staff Network member spotlight, you will learn from Tim Gilligan, the Chief of Staff at Capital One. You will learn how Tim was initially hired in 2017 as a Design Practice Manager to becoming a Senior Director, Chief of Staff at Capital One.
Let's dive in!
How did you get into your CoS role at Capital One? I think there is an interesting story about it…
I was initially hired to lead our operations practice for Commercial Design. As I learned more about how we work and the roles at Capital One, it became clear that the business understood my operational role as a chief of staff. I worked with my leader and we built a path for me to move into a hybrid Operational and Chief of Staff role.
What was exciting about transitioning internally into a CoS role?
Legibility. We have a robust Chief of Staff practice and design operations was, in 2017, a fairly nascent field. It was exciting to be on the forefront of elevating a design practice through operational rigor, but within the larger context of my ecosystem, the CoS title and role helped make my focus and goals clear to others familiar with Chiefs of Staff more broadly. I was also able to lean more into executive communication and enablement which has been an incredibly rewarding area of focus.
What has been your biggest learning from this internal transition as well?
A deep understanding of the context and dynamics you are operating within and supporting was central to my transition and continued exploration. Many operational roles are inherently invisible or seamless when executed well so a keen eye on observation is central to identifying and delivering on opportunities.
What advice would you give to someone looking for a CoS role now?
Perhaps this is more broadly applicable, but spend time identifying your strengths, values and boundaries. I deeply care about people and setting them up for success in their careers. This focus has helped me discern where and when I am the right person to lean in and where I may need to delegate or seek support from my team. Knowing your goals and values makes it much easier to communicate to principles and teams and identify if you and the role are appropriately aligned.
You are the local chapter lead for DesignOps Assembly. Why is this role meaningful to you? How does it help you with your CoS role as well?
Chiefs of Staff and Design Operations are two ecosystems of incredibly dynamic and unique professionals driving rigor, practice development, and operationalizing core values into business impact. Entering into Design Operations as a practice was a big embrace of some of the most dynamic leaders I have had the opportunity to work with and learn from. Our founder Meredith Black Brant espouses an ethos of inclusivity, stewardship, and having fun whilst doing it. I try to bring this energy to our New York Chapter and to my role as a Chief.
What were some of the key learnings or breakthroughs you had while working as a CoS?
It is not enough to have the foresight to know where we are heading strategically and operationally. The true test of an executive and their chief is how well they can bring their org, their partners, and teams along the journey. Inherent to business is practice evolution and patience and persistence as we grow and shift is perhaps one of the most valuable lessons I have learned again and again.
What have been the most challenging and rewarding parts of your CoS experience?
My experiences have thrust me into a continuous liminal space. This has made fertile ground for me to have profound impacts on our culture and ways of working and connect with and uplift many different ideas and opportunities, but it also has invited me to be both inside of and an observer of the systems we operate within. This duality of focus makes patience, dispassionate curiosity, and judgment key to navigating. It is essential for me to build trusting relationships early so I can collaborate with peers to drive outcomes.
What are you most focused on right now?
I am very interested in building systems of accountability and autonomy. We are at a unique inflection point where we have the opportunity to deeply understand the constraints and boundaries of the organization and orient our teams towards an ethos of experimentation and curious questioning. I am bringing a mix of wayfinding and generative tools for inquiry paired with more traditional well managed business tools (SWOT, Forecasting, Metrics, Business Model Canvas) into our teams to help develop our path forward.
What’s the best professional advice that you’ve ever been given?
Lisa Gironda shared the insight with me that “Knowledge is a burden.” At once, she recognized and empathized with the weight we are asked to carry as Chiefs of Staff and a reminder to share the power of information with humanity and care. I love to share and build trust, but I return to this again and again as I work through how and when I communicate.
Is there anything else you want to share?
I am very interested in the intersections of Design Operations and Chiefs of Staff. Often, I say Design Ops is a design role where the org and team is your domain. For Chiefs, I think there is a similar call to organization and team and executive. The mix of a strong operational practice matched with a strategic outlook has been foundational for me to ground myself in the midst of ever changing contexts in my career.
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