Building a Partnership With Your Executive Assistant
All executives have different types of work styles.
Some executives will prefer to work with their assistant in a different way than I have outlined below. There are no right or wrong ways to work with an assistant, but we believe that executives gain a higher level of leverage when they build a partnership with their Executive Assistant.
The results are in— CEOs we’ve worked with around the country experience a higher level of productivity and effectiveness when they learn to partner with their assistants. A wonderful client of ours recently said,
I realized I have never been more leveraged and supported by an assistant than I am today. Working with this caliber of person is life-changing, I couldn’t be happier!””
Other clients have said that “learning how to partner with my assistant has increased my productivity by 20%.”
Your assistant is much more than a task-oriented employee simply executing on daily transactions.
He/she is your business partner whose highest purpose is to provide you with leverage. The more he/she knows what’s important to you, the better equipped he/she is to use judgment in managing your time.
Below are seven steps you can take to work with your assistant as an integral business partner to enable you to achieve your greatest potential.
1. SHIFT to a Partnership Paradigm
The great assistants I interview want to “partner” with their executive, but not every executive knows how to do that.
Assistants want to work with not for an executive. Once you’ve hired a great Executive Assistant, then your first step is to empower your assistant as a high-value contributor and integral member of your executive team.
How you shift your mindset in working with your assistant will affect the way you interface and communicate. When you adopt a partnership paradigm, you will empower your assistant to be better informed and aligned with your life and priorities. Your success is interdependent.
2. SHARE the Big Picture
It’s vital that you share your short-term and long-term objectives with your assistant. Let them know your biggest goals and concerns.
For example, if you’ve been working for months on a particular new contract, let your assistant know about it and the names of the key contacts involved. Another example if your objective is to become the keynote speaker at next year’s industry conference, he/she can prep the notes or slide deck for your final speech or find a public speaking coach to assist.
It is not only inspiring for your assistant to hear your vision for the future, but it also provides a broader framework and context from which he or she can understand where you are going and how to help you and your executive team get there.
Providing your assistant with the information needed to excel in decision making on your behalf rapidly will set him or her up to succeed in supporting you in regards to meeting priorities and overall calendar management.
3. INVOLVE Your Assistant
Include your assistant in as many meetings as feasible, so he/she quickly learns the key players, priorities, and plans.
Bring your assistant to off-site leadership meetings, and he/she will prepare agendas and become knowledgeable about current and future projects. Your assistant can hold your executive team accountable and follow-up on essential action items.
Provide access to your emails. Your assistant should ideally be a trusted partner, and the more they know, the more they can help you.
So many executives I know struggle to cope with hundreds of emails pouring in every day – and having an assistant reviewing them enables the assistant to flag what’s most important to deal with, categorize others, directly respond on your behalf, and discard those which are irrelevant.
Imagine you had a clone of yourself reviewing your emails, and drafting correspondence for you to review and send off saving you countless hours of time!
4. ALIGN Your Priorities
More tactically, it is essential that you communicate what you value and why that’s your highest priority. Only when your assistant understands and aligns with your highest priorities can he/she effectively manage your time (e.g., who gets on your schedule, and who gets bumped when priorities shift) and anticipate your needs.
Upfront, your EA will need to check in with you regularly as people request meetings to ascertain your sense of priorities. Let them know any time-sensitive projects – what is coming up that needs critical attention or any sensitive personnel issues.
5. DEVELOP a Relationship
Invest a small amount of time in the first few weeks of working together, sit down, and let your assistant learn more about your preferences and business priorities. Once a quarter, grab a quick lunch to sync up on shifting timelines and critical projects.
By spending even a few minutes each day to cover pending items with your assistant, they feel appreciated, and you will establish a relationship with a higher level of trust and support.
Trust is the foundation of your working relationship with your assistant.
When employees trust each other, decisions, and work flows faster. Trust is built on open communication, holding each other accountable, setting measurable results and expectations, and leading by influence.
When an assistant respects and genuinely likes his or her boss, it shows. It benefits you by their attitude and the way they represent your office as an ambassador internally and externally.
It provides intrinsic motivation and drives to accomplish what needs to get done daily. It’s also essential to maintain your relationship with continued engagement; for example: if he or she is out sick for some reason, shoot them an email and ask how he/she is doing. Showing a little bit of humanity goes a long way.
On the flip side, your assistant earns your trust and builds the relationship with competence, exceeding expectations, anticipating your needs, and having “The DNA of a Great Executive Assistant.” Mutual trust builds the strongest relationships— and trust goes both ways.
6. INTEGRATE Business and Personal
For most executives I know, they have blurred boundaries when it comes to their business and personal lives.
While your assistant is supporting you in a professional capacity, there is an inevitable overlap with your personal life. Share as much as you are comfortable sharing about your social and family life so that your assistant can keep your “whole life” in mind when scheduling your time and know when to give you space/ privacy.
Taking a holistic approach with your assistant and sharing personal-life priorities such as getting home by 6:30 pm to have dinner with your family, will guide him/her not to schedule a meeting that could run over that important time at home.
If you are at your son’s baseball playoffs, your assistant should know who to tell “you’re out of the office at a meeting;” versus getting a call from your spouse wondering if you’re already on your way to the game.
7. REWARD and APPRECIATE Top Performance
Years ago, “administrative” staff were considered less than “professional” staff and were not included in bonus plans or equitable compensation packages. The role of a great assistant has dramatically shifted, and assistants with top-level performance are rewarded with equity and bonuses equal to the level of a senior executive.
Beyond compensation, most execs have no idea that the simplest “thank you” – makes a massive difference to an assistant. It makes them feel appreciated. It is a small practice that builds loyalty and engenders positive feelings toward you.
I’ve always encouraged our CEO clients to acknowledge their assistants’ birthdays – whether it is as simple as sending flowers or giving them a gift certificate or the day off.
One of our clients had a company-wide practice of giving each employee $1,000 for their birthday, which could be used in any way they wanted, as long as they shared what they did with the money at the next all-hands meeting.
Finally, you never know who your assistant knows – great assistants cultivate strong relationships inside and outside the companies they work with and may be able to open doors for you with their own contacts!
An experienced and high-level assistant has their Rolodex of contacts from previous roles or projects they’ve worked on in the past, and you should never underestimate the value and power of an assistant’s network. It’s essential to reward and appreciate your assistant to ensure a long-term partnership.
Work with your assistant – as an administrative business partner, and you will see tangible results in your productivity. In our experience, an assistant who is empowered and appreciated as a valuable contributor will work productively and have a positive impact on the company culture.
About the Author
Kathy Macdonald is the Founder of Kathy Macdonald Associates, Inc., a retained search firm that specializes in top tier executive support. To learn more, please go to http://kathymacdonaldassociates.com/
Based on the number of inquiries we’ve had about this subject, we now offer individualized coaching sessions to help C-Suite executives optimize their working partnerships with Executive Assistants and Chiefs of Staff. Please reach out directly to [email protected]