1:1 Time...Where TF Are You?

I'm constantly bombarded with Executive Assistants asking about how to cure the communication gaps, misunderstandings, mistakes, and assorted dramas with their Execs all associated with the lack of face time. As much as I'd like to assign 100% of the blame to all of the "so busy" Execs out there, I can't. A bulk of the responsibility for this lack of communication lies with the Executive Assistant. I'll explain.

A great Executive Assistant runs their Exec. They create the game plan, book the meetings and calls, plan the trips, sit in on all the meetings that give the context they need, and provide a perfect, detailed playbook for their Exec to follow. Every day. 

The issues come when that playbook changes. If a couple of urgent meetings or calls need to be scheduled in an already packed day, Executive Assistants are all-too-willing to give up their one-to-one time to fit those meetings in. On paper it's a chivalrous move. However, in practice, it often creates a number of issues and sets a new (lower) bar going forward.

There is already implicit bias with regard to the Executive Assistant role mainly because Execs don't truly understand all that it encompasses. Most still see the role as a necessary evil or less important than other roles within the company that quantifiably move the needle. As a result, EAs are often sidestepped or rescheduled on a whim with little-to-no recourse.

The Exec/EA one-to-one time is critical to not just the Exec's success that day, but to the entire company's success that week. Each time that meeting is rescheduled, pushed to next week's occurrence, or ghosted altogether it creates a domino effect that stalls the momentum of the entire organization. Here's a scenario:

Annie, Bob's EA, just sacrificed her 1:1 time with Bob on Monday, at his suggestion, because of an urgent call. Bob's calendar is back-to-back for the next 3 days so she pushes their 1:1 to Friday. Craig, one of Bob's direct reports, needs an answer from Bob pretty urgently so that his team can move forward with a project that has a Friday deadline that Bob set. Same with Donald and his team and with Edwina and her team. Craig, Donald, and Edwina entrusted Annie to get the yes/no answers from Bob, because they know her Monday 1:1 always provides the answers they need to execute for the week. At 4pm, Bob learns that his grandmother got critically injured in a Senior Olympics pole vaulting accident. He is distraught, books his own flight to Minnesota to be with her, asks Annie to cancel all appointments for the rest of the week, and heads to the airport.

  1. Empathetic Annie is likely not going to blow up Bob's cell during this tough time to get the answers Craig, Donald and Edwina need.

  2. Craig, Donald and Edwina are likely to follow Annie's lead and press pause on their teams until Bob gets back to Annie, Annie to them... sacrificing forward momentum within their 3 teams.

  3. Annie is now wracked with the emotional stress of not coming through for 3 team members and their teams, having to reschedule 2-3 days of meetings and calls that took, in aggregate, weeks to confirm, and deal with her own feelings of guilt that she's let a number of people down.

This may seem farfetched, but I've witnessed similar scenarios such as this play out consistently throughout my career as an Executive Assistant. This entire sequence (less granny breaking her hip during her pole vaulting event) could have been avoided by Annie and Bob having that 1:1 first thing Monday morning. Even if it was a phone call on the way to work, a slack or text during one of those "urgent" meetings/calls, or a walk-n-talk from meeting to meeting. There are 5 people at fault here. Annie for allowing her 1:1 time to be rescheduled knowing that 3 teams were dependent on the success of that check-in. Bob for (consistently) not coveting that 1:1 time with Annie and not seeing it as critical to his success, that of his direct reports, and their teams. And Craig, Donald and Edwina for being too chicken to approach Bob for the answers themselves fearing they'd be embarrassed again like in last week's team meeting when they didn't have comprehensive enough answers to Bob's litany of clarifying questions.

The Exec/EA daily or weekly checkin meeting is one of the most important meetings on the calendar and should be regarded as such. Executive Assistants assist everyone, not just the Execs they support. They are the eyes and ears of the company and are often tasked with getting time-sensitive answers for other team members that affect the productivity of the business. It is a tremendous responsibility heaped onto an Assistant who is, likely, already chest deep in their boss' tasks, internal/external requests for time, travel arrangements requiring procuring VISAs, meeting minutes taking in low ROI meetings, and projects that require wrestling answers from multiple teams with three different approaches to the same solve. Be not deluded into thinking that EAs simply get coffee and file their nails between 10am and noon. They are accountable for a myriad of tasks in the space of a day, while other members in the org have a singular accountability.

My point:

  1. Executives need to covet those short, weekly, 1:1 meetings with their Executive Assistants and, under no circumstances, allow those meetings to be pushed to another day. Find a way to get even 5 minutes on the phone to make sure nothing urgent requires their attention or decree. Waiting until the next day often means that your business waits until the next day. You may not see it, but it happens more often than you know. Believe me...I know. 

  2. Executive Assistants need to covet those short, weekly, 1:1 meetings with their Executives and, under no circumstances, allow those meetings to be pushed to another day. Put a fake meeting on the calendar if necessary. Walk in, close and lock the door, make them get out of their seat and sit on the other side of the desk across from you...and hijack your 5-15 minutes. Passivity stops business. Period. And sometimes it's necessary to get a little aggressive in order to get the undivided attention you need to keep the train moving within and outside the department. 

Let me be expressly clear. A main component of the success of Executives and their teams is the success of their Executive Assistant. Which means, Execs need to do an audit of their personal perceptions of the role and keep up with its evolution. EAs know both YOUR business and THE business. Give them the attention and respect they deserve and you will have someone in your corner who will move mountains for you. Reschedule them, ghost out on their 1:1s, and treat them as non-essentials, and you will do yourself and your teams a grave disservice. And they will leave. And I'm not just talking about the Assistants.

Phoenix Normand