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.
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.
Start with a strategic session outlining the opportunities and the pathway to transition.
The executive and the EA should evaluate the following questions:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.