I was recently working with an Assistant, Lynda, on her Diploma in Business Administration. During our discussions she outlined how six months into her role she was allocated a new Executive, new to the organisation. She described his first day, when she met him in reception and took him to his office. Lynda told me that as they walked together, he quite calmly told her “I’ve never had an assistant before and I’m not quite sure what you would be doing for me”. She says he has confessed many times since (they have enjoyed a three-year working relationship), that he simply couldn’t function without an assistant now! In addition, after being allocated him, she was allocated a second new Executive. Both had very different working styles and she adapted her support to suit each of them.
The organisation Lynda was working in at that time was going through a restructure. She decided that the new proposed structure did not provide her with the assistant role she preferred working in, nor any opportunity for advancement. Lynda made a personal strategic decision to look for another more suitable role. She was successful; and was told that one of the striking things about her was that she had clear and well-expressed ideas on how to “train” a new executive, which really impressed her new employer.
Lynda lists the day to day tasks she undertakes in the first stages of her “training”:
Manage all meetings and appointment requests.
Daily meetings with the Assistant
Preferably in the morning, a daily meeting avoids constant interruptions to each other during the day. If your Executive is at a different site or is away from the office for work, then have that meeting by phone, skype, or other remote access.
Early on in your business relationship, daily meetings are an opportunity to get to know each other better and build rapport. Lynda found that over time these meetings act as “grounding” or “sanity” time for the Executive in a busy day.
The meeting itself should be no more than 30 minutes but ensure your Executive understands a brief check-in later in the day could be necessary. The daily catch-up meetings could be used for:
If the full scheduled time is not required, then both Assistant and Executive have some time back in their day, or they could use the time to go out for a coffee instead!
Each afternoon build a “daily pack” for your Executive for the following day, containing their schedule and all the papers required for meetings, together with itineraries, notes, etc. This may be hard copy documents, through embedding documents into appointments, OneNote or other electronic processes, as you and your Executive agree which method best suits you both.
Discuss with your Executive, how you would like to understand and know their key contacts/stakeholders and get to know their Assistants. Explain the value of you forming a good relationship with those Assistants, describe how this relationship is crucial should urgent requests for appointments, information, meetings, etc., be required (after all it is the Assistant who makes the diary work!). Suggest you have the mandate to take those Assistants out to coffee/lunch every now and then.
Travel and Expenses
Book all travel for your Executive, even if they have done their own in the past. Early on, establish their preferred airlines, seating, flight preferences, places to stay, etc and ensure these align with the organisation’s protocols. Have their profile lodged with the travel desk/agent.
Agree a method of keeping in contact when your Executive is away that suits you both.
Once a trip has finished, handle all expenses claims, credit card reconciliations, etc., again, even if they have been doing this before! Be sure to strongly encourage them to keep all receipts and give them to you – perhaps have an “envelope” or “pocket” in travel documents/papers for these to be held in while away.
Dealing with Emails
Depending on the Executive’s preference it can be a big time save for them if the Assistant manages their inboxes. Once trust is built the Executive may request the Assistant to deal with some of the emails and reply on their behalf.
One effective way to manage an inbox is to categorise the emails. This will enable the Executive to quickly see which items they need to attend to.
Once emails have been dealt with, if they are to be kept, file them in appropriate folders in line with your organisations protocols. Folders can be agreed with your Executive and the Assistant can then do this.
Lynda recommends that you do not try to do this all at once! Determine which aspect to tackle first and build your Executive’s trust in your ability, knowledge and skills. It is important to take it slowly and subtly and expect adaptations to be made that suit both of you even better.
About the Author
Eth worked for 30 years as a Personal Assistant. For the past 12 years she has run her own professional development consultancy, Enderby Associates Ltd, specifically for Administrative Professionals. A former National President of the Association of Administrative Professionals New Zealand Inc (AAPNZ), she instigated their Certification programme. In 2013/14 she spent a year volunteering in Samoa with Volunteer Services Abroad (VSA), as an Administration Services Advisor. Eth is currently Chairman of the World Administrators Summit Advisory Council. Her passion for the administrative profession and their value in the workplace is shown by her commitment to encouraging them to value themselves and their roles. Eth is the author of The Executive Secretary Guide to Conference and Event Management, available now on Amazon.
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