Come Together. Right Now.
I received a lot of feedback from my previous article, particularly around the unnecessary silos and Chinese walls created by Executives for their Assistants. It's an important topic so I wanted to expand on it a bit more and talk about the movement that I see away from this traditional 1:1 Exec/Admin relationship.
But first off, let us get something straight:
Multitasking is a myth. Please remove the word from the English lexicon and let's call it what it actually is: semi-successful plate spinning. Multitasking is a buzzword, like synergize, that software can actually accomplish quite adeptly, but humans can only wish to master. While multitasking allows you to start several projects at once, it robs you of the focus and clarity of thought to complete each task with the care, attention and efficiency it deserves. Give side eye to anyone touting their insane ability to multitask. It's bullshit. It simply means they can spin alot of plates at once, spread their focus really thin, and produce the same results a more focused individual (or team) could have in half the time. Sorry to ruin your life like that.
Which brings me to the point of this article.
Companies of, say, 100 or more employees should completely restructure their Administrative team and pool their talents in support of the C-suite. I'll explain.
Executive Assistants have traditionally been hired to support one or multiple Executives at a time. Those Execs use their EAs to calendar, book travel, procure lunch, set up meeting rooms, etc. The Top 2 complaints that I get from the Assistants I teach around the globe are: 1. "I'm woefully underutilized," and 2. "I feel isolated from my fellow Assistants." Executives often become incredibly territorial with their Assistants even going as far as to banish any sort of business interaction or even lending a hand to another Assistant who's clearly overwhelmed. These Chinese walls and lines of demarkation have taken a toll on this profession and individual morale for decades. It's akin to segregation if you want the truth and I'll defend it as such. It's low key intimidation, completely unnecessary and puts Assistants, by default, at odds with one another as opposed to working together and pooling their resources as a team.
I'm excited to say, there's a change happening. Educational programs like mine are beginning to bring awareness to the power Executive Assistants have within the company. Younger C-suite Execs are more apt to partner with their EAs because they also realize the power they have and their reach throughout all levels of the organization. And the maverick EAs like me and many who take my classes are holding secret cabals with all the EAs in the building and creating a new team structure and accountabilities, seeking out educational opportunities, and sharing that knowledge with one another so that we can all be more effective in our roles and secretly circumvent the "divide and conquer" structure we subsist in. And it's working!
Companies that pool the resources of their Executive Assistants operate at a markedly faster pace than those who silo their EAs. Think about it. A single EA is incredibly resourceful. They handle a plethora of disparate tasks on a daily basis with varying degrees of confidentiality, complexity and urgency. Imagine what could be accomplished by pooling the capabilities of several EAs into one, tight, autonomous unit. Sure, Executives have very specific needs and personalities that are usually recruited for when looking for an Assistant. But is that really moving the needle for the company or more of a power/control/masturbation exercise under the guise of a "successful Exec/EA partnership?" I'd wager the latter. Simply, it's too singular and doesn't support the whole of the C-suite or the company.
So here's the new structure that's sweeping across business and that I now bring to companies across the globe.
1. Pool your team of Assistants.
Assistants are a tribe. It's been so for decades. Unleash us en masse on a project and your jaw will hit the floor. When empowered, Assistants can work circles around everyone in the building. Together, we produce at a speed that is rarely seen by most humans. However, we continue to be stuffed into boxes, our wings clipped, and admonished for helping a fellow Assistant in need. And for what, exactly?
Physically put your Assistants in the same area. We jokingly call it "Admin Island." By keeping them within arm's reach of one another you allow for those quick negotiations for space on each other's Exec's calendars or that recommendation for a restaurant that will accommodate the extra, last minute headcount. It also allows Assistants to seamlessly cover one another's vacations or time away from the office with zero disruption, or to stagger shifts so that Execs have support later into the evening and/or earlier in the morning. Most importantly, Assistants feel like they are truly part of a team instead of constantly feeling isolated and unable to ask for or offer help to a fellow Assistant.
2. Create an autonomous business entity with your Administrative team.
Instead of recruiting and matching EAs to each Executive, hire a tight bunch of sharpshooters and assign a Chief Executive Assistant. Any work that comes in goes through the Chief Assistant, typically the most senior, capable and respected, and is disseminated to the EA team according to their strengths and capabilities. Some EAs are calendaring powerhouses. Some EAs can book seamless travel with their eyes closed. Some EAs (like me) write all of my Exec's correspondence. Other EAs love running personal errands. This allows everyone to do what they do best and be focused, accurate and efficient from the jump. They can learn from each other's specialization and increase their own aptitudes. It also allows the Chief Assistant to identify any issues with work ethic or accuracy and coach/counsel those on a more proactive basis.
The upside of this is that it takes the mentorship and leadership responsibilities away from busy Execs and places them in the hands of the Chief Assistant. Additionally, the Chief Assistant becomes the supervisor for the Admin team providing a much more comprehensive and consistent feedback loop based on the production, efficiency and attitude they see daily at close range. Further, Execs have a singular point of contact for any work that is assigned or to offer feedback should any mistakes occur.
I can see the eye rolling now, from Execs AND Assistants. But hear me out. One of the largest pain points in the Exec/Admin relationship is the lack of face time each day. Exec/Admin statuses often get ignored or rescheduled or simply don't happen, which means that you have a bunch of Admins running around directionless and having to make assumptions or simply put out fires as they occur. Which is how 85% of businesses actually operate today. Worse, most Assistants have no clue about the significance of what they're working on, only the tasks at hand. The Chief Assistant solves this issue. They sit in on the leadership meetings and are privy to all of the initiatives in play. They can assess urgency and disseminate work to their team accordingly. They can also educate the Admin team about the initiatives so that they understand the importance and relevance of the tasks their working on and how they lend to the completion of the objective. This instills real accountability and creates buy-in for each member of the team. And it also creates a new leader in the Executive Leadership Team and an advocate for the Admin team that is woefully underrepresented in business.
I'll also say this. There's no better person to evaluate an Assistant than another Assistant. The Chief Executive Assistant has likely mastered all things administrative and operational. And they can quickly assess aptitude, attitude and rate of production. Additionally, there is no better person to coach/mentor/discipline an Assistant than another Assistant. Assistants have this thing. When we come across another Assistant that puts us to shame with their skills, poise and grace, we will happily subordinate and fall into line (as long as they're not a crazy, psycho, b'yotch.) We will test said individual a few times to make sure they're not an imposter, but when that balance is struck and the team approves, we'll happily follow that person's lead.
3. Hire less. Pay more.
Companies are doing this all wrong for the 21st century. It's time to kill the traditional 1:1 Exec/EA model and go this route. Instead of hiring 100 Assistants to support 80-100 Executives, hire 15 sharpshooters and a Chief Executive Assistant, put them on Admin Island, pay them handsomely and allow them the autonomy they need to shine. Then sit back and watch the magic happen! You'll reduce your overhead exponentially requiring less (expensive!) physical space. You'll increase Executive productivity exponentially by giving them a singular point of contact and removing the management/info share component of the EA/Exec relationship. You'll further increase productivity (and morale) by allowing staggered shifts that provide earlier/later coverage, instead of consistently impeding on Asssitant's personal time evenings and weekends. You'll bake-in professional development opportunities and create a role to aspire to for Assistants at every level. And you'll create a force within the organization led by Executive Assistants who feel empowered to do their best work, have a consistent feedback loop, and someone who advocates on their behalf vs. being isolated, voiceless, and largely ignored by their "too busy" Execs.
This is working, people! I'm already seeing it in the wild and I'm coaching it company-by-company with insane results. Sure, each application is different than the next, but the basics are the same. Admin Island led by a Chief Executive Assistant is the future of administrative efficiency. Pooling the firepower of the Admin team (and select members of Operations) creates the efficiency, checks and balances, and autonomy that most companies lack within the 1:1 Exec/EA model prevalent in business. This simple change in structure increases morale and efficiency, drastically reduces burnout, and allows everyone involved the opportunity to do what they do best. It pulls the management component and time suck away from the C-suite and creates a new leadership team member that is a resource managing both up, down and sideways across the chain of command.
Admin Island. Chief Executive Assistant. Get into it!