How to transition your EA to become a business partner

23 Sep 08:00 by Anastasia Kelly


If you are a busy executive, you may be wondering about having your EA step up to become more of a business partner or chief of staff. I’ve seen first-hand the numerous benefits that come from transitioning your EA away from administrative tasks to become your chief strategic supporter. 

With a birds-eye view of business operations and strong connections with stakeholders, EAs are well placed to give the strategic insights that executives rely on. 


How do you manage the transition? 

It depends entirely on the enthusiasm of both parties to make the move. In my experience, senior EAs are delighted with the opportunity to step up, take a leadership position and provide top-level insights.


However, some EAs are reluctant, often due to a lack of confidence. With the emergence of strategic chief of staff EAs being relatively new, some EAs simply haven’t considered themselves in this capacity. Whereas others have been working this way for years, or even decades, without realising it and without placing true value on the level of support they provide. 


Evaluate the opportunities 

Start with a strategic session outlining the opportunities and the pathway to transition. 

The executive and the EA should evaluate the following questions: 

  • what would the desired position description look like?
  • what current tasks can be outsourced elsewhere or reduced to allow the EA more time?
  • is there technology to invest in that reduces administrative workload? 
  • what kind of training or mentoring is required? 
  • what is the skills gap and how can the EA and executive support the closing of the gap?


Transition takes time 

It won’t happen in a week. So establishing a realistic timeframe is vital. I recommend six months but of course, this should be flexible on the needs of the executive, the EA and the organisation. 

Monthly evaluation meetings ensure that the transition remains a priority. 


Stakeholder management 

Wil there be others in the organisation who question the move? If the EA was traditionally silent in strategic meetings and begins to speak up, there may be opposition. There are some traditionalists who expect EAs to file paperwork, answer the phone and book meetings - and nothing further. The idea of a strategic EA is foreign to them. Plus, some executives who value their senior relationship with the executive may feel they are being usurped and resent the intrusion. 

It takes a united front from the executive and the EA to be prepared for such opposition. By communicating with stakeholders at the onest, potential problems can be alleviated before they begin. Emphasising the importance of the transition and setting strong expectations of support from stakeholders will be a great help. 


Supporting your EA 

The EA must gain confidence by showing up and taking gradual steps in the right direction. As much as possible, the executive must facilitate these opportunities. This could include:

  • inviting the EA to share opinions in meetings 
  • avoiding temptation to dictate decisions and responses - get the EA to take the lead 
  • encouraging the EA to take ownership of the process 
  • sharing insights into decision-making processes 
  • be open to disagreement or different points of view from your EA - don’t immediately dismiss them 
  • encourage them to take strategic risks (and own the outcome)
  • celebrate their contributions outwardly - don’t take credit 
  • do not muddy reporting lines - the EA reports to the executive, not the leadership team 
  • send EA to meetings on your behalf with authority to make decisions 


Start with a specific area or project

Perhaps your EA has a particular interest in finance, marketing or operations. Whatever the area, make that the initial focus. This is more effective than an all-access approach which may be overwhelming. By starting with a sector or project that fits with the EA’s natural interest and skills, you are creating a strong framework for potential success. 


Expect roadbumps

As the EA takes on more responsibility, it’s not going to be all smooth sailing. From time to time mistakes may be made. These are excellent learning opportunities. Rather than delivering a stinging rebuke, take the time for constructive criticism. Understand the EA’s rationale and point of view in the actions taken. Encourage the EA to take ownership of any mistake and do what’s necessary to set things right. By publicly supporting your EA instead of laying the blame, you will strengthen their loyalty and trust in the relationship. 


From micromanagement to trust

The executive needs to learn to let go and trust the EA. Again, this comes with time. By starting small and taking the necessary time, both parties can adjust to the transition. It can be challenging to surrender decision making to someone else. Especially if you’ve built your successful career as an executive by trusting nothing but your own instincts. Agree at the onset what is reasonable and how you will manage conflict, so you will both be primed for success. 


No such thing as too many questions 

As both executive and assistant navigate this new landscape, clarity of communications is vital. The executive should be checking and asking questions, as should the EA. 

Questions the executive should ask: 

  • What do you think? 
  • Why did you take that approach?
  • How can we prepare for or prevent a potential problem? 
  • Do you feel comfortable taking the lead on this? 
  • How can I support you in this? 
  • Questions the EA should ask: 
  • Can I clarify my role here? 
  • Can you explain how you’d tackle a decision like this? 
  • Here’s the problem. What do you think of these three potential solutions? 
  • May I take time to think about this? 
  • Is there anything I haven’t considered that I should know about?


Realistic expectations 

Strategic EAs are not magic bullets sudden success. So while you can expect a myriad of benefits, you should be realistic about what’s possible. There will always be challenges, risks and obstacles. Don’t expect your fledgeling transactional EA to be handing senior-level negotiations on your behalf while you don’t lift a finger. They are not going to band-aid all your challenges, and you can’t expect them to completely run the show. Again, clearly defining responsibilities at the outset can ensure that your expectations are reasonable. 


Looking for an EA as a business partner? 

If you’d prefer to hire a strategic EA, we can help find you the ideal candidate. Register your vacancy today or contact Anastasia on  0421 16 55 96.