In nearly every article aimed at Executive Assistants (EA), the discussion talks about the importance of the role, the attributes considered essential to be successful, and of course the importance of ‘managing up’ to ensure an Executive is kept on track through even the busiest day.
There will be many levels of expertise within the Executive Assistant profession, from those commencing their career to those who have reached the higher echelons and are considered to be their Executive’s strategic partner. At any level, they are dedicated and excel in their chosen field of endeavour. Over time they become highly valued by any business entity.
On the flip side of the coin is the Executive, someone who is highly competent in their field of expertise, but may not be fully conversant on how to utilise the expertise of an Executive Assistant. A situation that will contribute to the Executive Experience being more stressful than it otherwise should be; equating to a huge loss of potential, momentum and prospective expertise. Worst of all is the loss of productivity as the two parties work in silos rather than as a unified entity.
However, the ability to build a strong working relationship with an Assistant will be the catalyst for ensuring that the objectives and goals of the office are consistently met.
There has to be a starting point in creating a highly efficient and effective working relationship, ensuring the office runs at maximum capacity through even the most demanding periods. That starting point is understanding that the EAs primary role is to manage the administrative demands of the Executive’s office, which in turn increases the Executive’s level of functionality. In other words they are able to concentrate on what they do best.
There are a number of key responsibilities that are recognised as specifically EA related duties as listed here:
Diary Management, is the prime responsibility for any Assistant, where they add high end value for any busy Executive. The EA must have total control over the management of an Executive’s time, which will in turn creates best value for time expended. For instance, as and when a new meeting needs to be negotiated, advise the party concerned that your EA will be in touch to discuss a mutually convenient time. This saves time, and the possibility of a double booking. It also generates a professional image for the Executive.
Office Management, dealing with all Stakeholders both internal and external in a highly professional way promotes the credibility of the EA’s position, as they are seen as an extension of the Executive. The position should be seen as pivotal, and the first port of call into the Executive office.
Email Management, dealing with incoming emails allows the Assistant to understand the ongoing business of the office. They will be able to screen what is being received and then precise’ the information for their Executive. Information management is one of the most important aspects of any system and having a pivot (the EA) will streamline the process.
It is important to note Assistants also need to be kept in the loop of emails sent out directly from the Executive, so they are able to track the flow of information on any issue.
Communication, one of the most important aspects of any working relationship. The ability to have an open exchange of information that will create a smooth flow of business both in and out of the office. Keeping the EA informed of the many facets of the Executive’s area of expertise will empower them to undertake a greater responsibility for keeping all the balls in the air and make informed decisions within the scope of their role.
Meeting Schedule, the importance of ongoing meetings between the Executive and their Assistant cannot be underestimated. Daily meetings of 10-15 minutes to review the current days’ business, and a longer 15-20 minutes Weekly meetings to review the week to come and any upcoming projects etc. It is essential that there is a commitment to attend these meetings as they are the basis for the effective operation of the corporate office.
Information Management, as stated previously, to enable an EA to effectively manage their role, consider including the Assistant in Management meetings, to build their knowledge of ongoing issues. It will result in them being able to operate at a higher level when dealing with stakeholders and enable them to make informed decisions.
Continual Professional Development, to get the best value from the Assistant’s role, there needs to be opportunities for the incumbent to feel valued. Supporting them to undertake further study or attend PD forums, will show that their Executive is interested in their continued growth.
The following dot points are what an Executive could expect from a high level Assistant. Probably the most important attribute is being able to ANTICIPATE THE NEEDS of their Executive. To be able to operate at that level, all of the previous points are relevant.
For any Executive, who has been used to managing their own office, it can be difficult to let go, relinquish tasks and relegate responsibilities to another person. However, it is essential to do so, as although they may be able to sustain doing two jobs over a short period of time (their own, plus that of a potential Assistant), it takes it toll on both their ability to constantly meet their demanding objectives, but perhaps more importantly, it affects their health.
The other side effect of not utilising an Assistant’s expertise, is a high level turnover of staff, which is expensive both financially and in the loss of intellectual property. EAs are passionate about their profession, and are always looking to grow, so when they find themselves in a situation where their expertise is underutilised, they will likely ‘move on’ to a more career orientated role.
HIRING A NEW ASSISTANT
If the decision has been made to hire a designated resource then the following process is recommended.
- When hiring an Assistant, ensure the Executive is included on the Interview panel.
- When the new Assistant comes on board, meet with them to look at how the two roles will interrelate.
- Look at level of experience of Assistant, how can this expertise be utilised to gain maximum level of effectiveness?
- Be clear on levels of responsibilities expected from Assistant.
CALL TO ACTION
If you are looking to build a strong working relationship with your current Assistant then the preferred way forward would be:
- Have the EA diarise a 15 minute daily meeting to review actions and priorities for that day. NEVER relinquish this designated appointment as it is the opportunity to keep on top of issues before they become critical in nature.
- Meet once a week for 20 minutes to review longer term issues eg up coming meetings or projects.
- Within the next 10 days commit to a meeting to have an honest conversation on what is working and what needs to be reviewed.
When the strategic partnership between an Executive and the Assistant is engendered, the ability to operate at a very high level is greatly enhanced, reducing undue stress levels for both parties. Get the dynamics right and life in the office becomes more manageable.
I like to think of the Executive Team as being ‘The Dynamic Duo’.