Wait...Do You Even Know What We Do?

Okay. I've beat up on my Executive Assistant sister/brotherhood enough for now. They're starting to get it. So I'll give them a break for a sec.

CEOs and Execs...IT'S YOUR TURN.

Question: Do you even know what we do?

I've been working with several CEOs in my travels lately and counseling them about successfully leveraging their EAs. I dig for granular information to try and understand their work dynamic and perhaps remedy issues that they've encountered and contacted me about privately. What throws me onto my heels is that they often have no idea what their Executive Assistant actually does each day. Sure, they know that they hand something off and it gets done, flights get booked, meetings get scheduled and things just sort of automagically happen. But they have less than zero clue of ALL of the moving parts their EA choreographs day-to-day. And therein lies the issue.

A great manager knows what each of his direct reports is working on. The countless meetings we schedule make sure of that. Teams report up. Managers acknowledge and course correct. Teams adjust, complete the project, meet again for sign-off and they're onto the next fire. So why should your Assistant...YOUR RIGHT HAND...be any different?

Do you want to know the #1 meeting on the calendar that constantly gets rescheduled or blown off completely?

The status meeting with your Executive Assistant. 

Big mistake. HUGE!

By constantly skipping, scheduling over or rescheduling this meeting you're guilty of the following:

  1. You're intentionally depriving your Executive Assistant of the face time we need to ask a few clarifying questions, get timely, verbal sign-offs on things only YOU can provide, alert you of any timing conflicts, brief you about upcoming travel, give an overview of your day, the next and the following week, and most importantly, get a read on how you're feeling (read: nuance) so that we can schedule in a breather if you look stressed or book you back-to-back-no-lunch if you're being a dick (we have that power...and use it often) or simply be in the room with the person we actually like and admire and feel like we have your undivided attention for 15 minutes before you're consumed by the tsunami du jour.
  2. You're sending the message that we're not important. Real talk. While we're also guilty of allowing ourselves to be rescheduled, this meeting is really for YOU so that we can help YOU be the best YOU. We'll figure sh*t out because it's why we were hired and who we are instictively. But to be disrespected over and over in this fashion not only degrades the Exec/Admin partnership, but actually creates a tremendous amount of inefficiency for you, us, and the rest of the organization. A rapid fire, 15-minute, Q&A status meeting at the very start of your day can literally shave 2 hours off your calendar and create innumerable efficiencies and cost savings for the company. We'll have every answer we need from you and can pass those along to your thirsty teams so that they can continue on their paths to completion. We can book travel well in advance and save thousands of company dollars. And we can actually structure and prioritize our days based on the information gleaned from that 15-minute status. Yet, you continue to schedule over us. Not show up. Don't apologize. Or push it to tomorrow. It's kinda f*cked up. And, eventually, it makes us leave. Because we have that power, too.

My work at MEGA Assistant University is focused on coaching EAs to take/re-take control over their careers, by becoming the CEO of their own business and treating you, the Exec, as their #1 customer. There's an empowerment play here that is woefully absent in today's Exec/Admin dynamic. For decades this role has been a top-down, dictatorial, task collection clusterf*ck vs. what it should be today...a strategic partnership between two experts in their field, with a hint of mentorship in the mix. The perception change is occurring, like it or not. And my goal is to accelerate the pace.

Additionally, I see two major issues in your practice of hiring of Executive Assistants:

  1. You're hiring too inexperienced in order to save money. You'd rather pay someone $45K/yr and try to level them up vs. paying someone $90K/yr who is ready made, experienced, nuanced, truly ready to partner with you and be a driving force and resource for your team. You provide little-to-no training and pile on responsibilities (read: additional fulltime jobs) and call it "wearing many hats." You don't encourage/provide Continuing Education or budgets, and then you get butthurt when they leave from burnout or you micromanage them out the door because they can't keep up, drop the ball consistently, etc. And, of course, since you don't status with them you have no idea what they're doing nor get any read on the fact that they're drowning and are too afraid to speak up for fear of being labeled incompetent or fired altogether. How's that "savings" working out for ya?
  2. You're hiring above your grade. Yes, I said it. I see this often with startup CEOs with limited-to-no management skill. You hire a kick-ass Assistant with a deep resume who could literally push you down a flight of stairs and run YOUR company a bit better than you without missing a beat. And then you sit them at a desk and make them schedule. And schedule some more. All day long. Every day. You don't status with them. You don't ask their opinion. You barely say hello in the morning. The Assistant you hired with the resume that includes stints with some of your heroes has now stepped about 10 years back in time in the most advanced time in history, for what? To basically be treated like a 2nd year Assistant with the "benefit" of making a lot of money and keeping the "EA to the CEO" moniker consistent on their resume. Sorry, but some of you don't actually deserve top Assistants. Not yet, at least. You're clueless about how to utilize an Assistant and leverage all of their strengths. Don't believe me? Question: How many of you actually keep your Assistant's resume on your desktop and constantly refer back to it to mine for any skills or exposure that you can leverage for upcoming projects or "ins" to meetings with a particular exec or VC? Think about it. I'll be right over here.

The majority of you are missing the boat on how to hire and utilize your EA. You're too focused on getting the minutiae handled and completely oblivious to the immense amount of education we have, our advanced project management skills, the situational awareness we possess, the fact that we read everything, know the players and have inside info via our vast EA networks that can help you stay one step ahead of your competition or foresee your competitor's impending doom (read: opportunity for YOU to pounce). Stop attaching our "worth" to our ability to seamlessly schedule your trip to Schenectaday and start basing it on our ability to understand a project, engage and manage the players, run the meetings and complete and retro the project...and, of course, book the travel. May I remind you that this is one of the most important roles in the organization? When properly utilized this person could create an incredible amount of efficiency and process, and maintain that all-important communication bridge between you and the rest of the team. If you would take the time and effort to truly NAIL this relationship, you would be shocked at how much easier your life and your company runs. We can do so much more than calendar, book travel and grab your lunch. PLEASE catch up.

In an ideal world, I see this as the new administrative C-suite: CEO and team. CEA (Chief Executive Assistant). Logistics Coordinator.

CEA: Sole point of contact for CEO. Oversees CEO's scheduling. Attends meetings with CEO as his/her "second" and coordinates follow-up with DRIs. Reviews projects with CEO and direct reports and coordinates with their teams to track progress and deliverables. CEA would also manage the Logistics Coordinator and, perhaps, another Assistant, receptionist, or office manager as part of their team.

Logistics Coordinator: A scheduling and travel planning whiz whose primary role is to confirm meetings and plan travel (especially those companies who refuse to pay for a travel service.)

Scheduling and travel are two of the most time consuming duties of the EA role that consistently takes hours away from much higher level responsibilities and productvity. Ideally, your EA should be a true right hand and business partner/strategist to you. Sure, there is still minutiae to attend to like culling through your email, ghost writing correspondence, dealing with external/internal requests for time, etc. But the role needs support just as critically as you do. Especially at C-suite level. If that seems ridiculous to you, then PLEASE stop hiring top Assistants. Continue overloading and cycling through lesser paid, lesser skilled Admins and being frustrated. Then, once you come to your senses, reach out to me and I'll supply you with a MEGA who will blow your mind, free up TONS of your time and come just short of obsoleting you in your own company. Which is what you want. Believe me!

If you're a new or current CEO or Exec and seriously interested in forging a new business partnership with your EA or hiring a MEGA, catch me at phoenixnormand.com. I consult privately as well and can help you nail the Exec/Admin business partnership and provide you with the Assistant of your dreams.

Phoenix Normand