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Donna's blog on coaching, leadership, and life

Administrative Assistant as Strategic Partner

To create that top-notch working relationship between you and your assistant, and have it work in a way that’s ideal for both parties is truly an art. The Administrative Assistant profession, like no other, runs the gamut relating to roles, responsibilities, and status. The role offers a blank canvas for all kinds of possibilities, levels of support, and opportunities.

Most important to the foundation of the executive and assistant relationship, are the interpersonal dynamics in the partnership, how highly you both value the partnership and business results, and how clearly you have both worked to set expectations and standards for the relationship.

There are multiple strategies that you can take to help you and your assistant elevate and fine-tune your support of one another. Here are just a few strategies that may help you get started.

• Position and jump-start the shift.

Talk with your assistant and let her know that you’re taking the time to think about how she might become more of a strategic partner. To start, ask her to schedule a meeting for the two of you in a week, where she’ll come prepared to discuss at least one area where she feels the relationship is going really well and one area where she feels you can both improve communications and/or increase your support of one another. Let her know you’ll come prepared to offer her the same. Prepare for the meeting and be ready to listen, compare notes and discuss. Once you meet and have the discussion, identify one action that you both agree to collaborate on. Set a reasonable target date when you can both evaluate and discuss your successes and challenges in taking that action.

When the time comes to evaluate, and if all’s going well, keep discussing and adding best practices that you both agree are well-worth trying. To start, the change may be minimal such as: You might agree that your AA’s new responsibilities include recommending specific changes to your calendar based on what she sees as your upcoming demands and travel times. Or, you might agree on texting versus email under specific circumstances, etc. Your agreement may relate to a larger responsibility such as: Your assistant taking over your expense report, or managing a budget, or taking the lead on a committee or department initiative.

• Meet with each other one-on-one formally, and often. Keep each other informed.

In addition to your on-the-run conversations and on-demand communications, schedule regular one-on-one meetings (10-15 minutes) where the two of you have the uninterrupted opportunity to discuss upcoming demands, expectations, and needs, from both perspectives. These meetings—and your focused discussions with each other—should be treated as a priority and take place at least twice a week. If you’re primarily on-site, every day may not be too often to meet. If you’re generally off-site, adjust accordingly. Ask your assistant to come prepared to your meetings with a checklist of what she needs to discuss and you’ll do the same. And if your scheduled one-on-one cancels for any reason, ask her to reschedule, ASAP.

When I ask executives what their number one goal is relating to support from their assistants, they say they want their assistants to “anticipate” more. The surest way for an assistant to anticipate your needs is to keep her consistently well-informed!

• Periodically explore changes or expansions in your assistant’s role and responsibilities. Expect your AA’s role to continue to evolve over time.

To start, ask your assistant to prepare and document her thoughts about the following. Schedule a time for the two of you to discuss.
– Where specifically does she feel she may be ready and able to expand her responsibilities to best support you?
– If she’s swamped in a particular area of detail, what are her recommendations for specific strategies that will allow her to eliminate some of the pressure and increase her availability? And, how can you best support this?
– Where does she feel she may need more mentoring or training?

The answers to questions like these will provide a basis for exploring how you might go about coaching, developing, or providing training for your assistant, which will increase your contributions to each other’s success.

• Appreciate and recognize your assistant’s contributions to your success.

We all know a simple thank-you goes a long way. However, highlighting an individual’s specific contributions to your success during a thank-you is more powerful. In addition to the traditional or typical thank you card or gift-giving during Administrative Assistant month, you may want to take the time to give something that is especially chosen with your strategic partner in mind.

Notes: Early in my career, before entering management, I spent several years as an Administrative Assistant. I served as Secretary to Sales, and then Executive Assistant to the President, in a telecommunications company, and as a Legal Secretary and Office Manager in a law firm. I’m very grateful for those years where I learned so much about business, service, and building relationships. In the earliest years of my consulting business, I specialized in providing management and communication skills to administrative assistants in varied business environments. I still sometimes have the opportunity to serve as a consultant to executive and assistant teams, to help them elevate their strategic partnership—which is what prompted me to offer a few ideas here. Interestingly, 95% of Administrative Assistants in the US are female. I have met and read about men who are thriving in the Administrative Assistant role. Whether male or female, the right person in an AA role with the right set of skills, can create their own career path, and catapult an executive’s ability to be successful.

(Btw, in this post, I’ve written as though I’m talking to the person in the executive role. However, if you’re in the assistant role, and you’re looking to increase the level of your service and partnership, I encourage you to take the lead and the initiative, and recommend these joint strategies to the individual(s) you support.)

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