As a busy executive, you are always trying to maximize efficiency, which is likely why you hired an executive assistant in the first place. You begin to delegate a bunch of tasks that do not require your expertise to make more time for those high-value projects and tasks. Those tasks get done exactly how you would do them, and you begin to feel the stress melt away and become way more productive. Over time, the working relationship with your assistant will be seamless, much like a well-oiled machine.
While the description above is the start of a dream-like work environment, it isn’t as difficult to achieve as you might think. It all starts with training and the commitment to communication. That’s why in this post, we are sharing ways to maximize your assistant through training and communication.
A proper beginning
Believe it or not, creating a good working relationship with your assistant starts on day one, and it’s vital that they start at the best time for you. Your first reaction may be to start them as soon as possible because you feel like you are over-your-head in work, but it’s important for your assistant to start on a day you can devote time to them. In fact, your assistant will likely be working closely with and shadowing you the first month. So, if you pick the busiest month of the year to hire an assistant, they may not get the time they need to learn the company’s ins and outs and their role.
To find the perfect executive assistant for you, the search starts with a basic set of skills. But, to have a rock star assistant, they need to know more than the basics. You’ll likely send your new assistant through company orientation and training, they will likely work closely with you and maybe some other members of your team to really get a feel for the day-to-day, but that’s usually where the training stops. To really get the most out of your assistant, you have to invest in their education. Things change, technology advances, and assistants are doing more these days than ever, so it’s important to embrace education.
Create the relationship you need
Executive assistants are often the gatekeepers to the executives. They filter communication, they control their schedule, and they help their boss be as productive as possible by preventing the unexpected, but without proper coaching, they will never get the support they need. This is why it is important to create that relationship. To help you get started, consider doing these things:
- Determine what you need help with. Spend time creating a list of tasks that keeps you from doing what you need to do. Once that list is established, go through it and determine what you can delegate, and share that list with your assistant. Also, consider sharing the other tasks on that list you felt like you couldn’t delegate. Your assistant may be able to do more than you realize, or they may know a team member that can take those tasks on.
- Share the tasks you hate. There are just some tasks you hate doing. Sure, some of those tasks can be delegated, but not all. Since your assistant will be managing your schedule and helping you prioritize your day, share those tasks. When they create your schedule, they can help you prioritize and schedule those dreaded tasks during you’re most productive time of the day.
- Share your pet peeves. It doesn’t matter if you really hate being interrupted during your focus time or you just hate long-drawn-out emails, share your pet peeves with your assistant. As we said above, your assistant is your gatekeeper. They can help minimize the annoyances if they know what they are.
- Create clear expectations. It’s important to be as clear as possible about what you expect from your assistant. If they don’t know what you expect from them, they may work so hard they burn themselves out because they think that is what you want, or on the other hand, they may not be doing enough. Outline your expectations and communicate them clearly.
- Discuss your obligations. There will be meetings that you must attend and meetings that you can skip. There will be deadlines you have to meet and obligations that can’t slip through the cracks. Your assistant needs to know all of these details. Share as much information as you can; it will make your assistant’s job easier.
- Talk about relationships. Interruptions will happen, but you can control some of them. Give your assistant a list of people that can always interrupt you throughout the day and a list of people that cannot.
We have all had those moments where we feel like we have shared too much, but when it comes to your assistant, the more information, the better. To truly establish a strong working relationship with your executive assistant, you have to have solid communication. To help improve communication with your assistant, you should:
- Share your preferred communication method. To improve communication, it’s important for your assistant to know how you want to be communicated with. If you prefer to email over a phone call, tell them. If you would rather have your schedule sent to you digitally over a paper copy, tell them.
- Have a debriefing session. Start each day with a quick 5-10 minute meeting to discuss your calendar. Your assistant should have your schedule ready and provide you with a copy before this meeting. Also, use this time to discuss any known changes or possible delays.
- Schedule regular check-ins. There will be things that come up that need to be discussed that aren’t urgent enough to interrupt your schedule. Even though these things aren’t urgent, your assistant still needs clarification, so schedule a regular meeting to address those items. It’s up to you to determine how often these meetings are needed, but in the beginning, we suggest weekly.
- Embrace feedback. Open communication is important for any working relationship, but for your assistant, it is crucial. Your assistant should regularly be asking you questions that will help boost your energy and productivity. Contrastly, you should be asking your assistant questions that make you more self-aware and ways to improve your relationship. Scroll below to download our free assistant question sheet. It has example questions you should ask your assistant and questions your assistant should ask you on a regular basis.
- Adopt positive communication. We all love to hear when we are doing a good job. In fact, studies have shown that praise and feeling appreciated often leads to higher employee retention. You demand a lot from your assistant, so when they show up or over-achieve, don’t hesitate to tell them how good of a job they have done. Also, your assistant will likely praise you for a job well done; instead of just writing it off as something said, actually listen to them. Believe it or not, executives need praise too.
- Encourage open communication. It is already difficult to bring up certain topics, but if you are a leader that isn’t easy to talk to or snaps to judgments, it can be even more challenging. Encourage open communication, even with the difficult stuff, by letting your assistant talk, don’t jump to conclusions, and determine a solution over a consequence. Mistakes will happen and what matters most is how you respond to them.