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Sharing an executive assistant between two leaders - how to make it work

11 Aug 10:00 by Anastasia Kelly

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Are you tempted to share an executive assistant between two leaders? It can be highly cost efficient, but there are pitfalls. Firm rules of operation need to be established for the partnership to be successful. If it’s a plan you’d like to pursue, it’s important to have clear lines of communication and boundaries to make it effective for all parties. 

 

But first, the pros and cons of sharing an executive assistant between two leaders. 

 

Pro #1: sharing an EA saves on salaries 

The strongest benefit to sharing an executive assistant is the cost savings. Naturally, many employers appreciate the benefits of cutting the wage expenditure and sharing an assistant between them. With the advent of more automation in business, administrative tasks are reduced, so it frees up more EA time, thus making this arrangement more feasible and more common for Australian employers. In times of economic pressure, it can be a wise move. 

 

Pro #2: it makes administrative sense 

 

When the two executives work closely together, it makes sense to have a single executive assistant. Having a single point of contact for both leaders saves plenty of cross-handling and doubling up of administrative tasks like booking appointments, reporting and office administration. 

 

If both executives are attending meetings, making presentations and delivering training or speaking together, having one EA to handle the bulk of the organisation can be highly efficient. A single EA handling correspondence and diaries for two leaders means it’s easy to coordinate emails and appointments. A single EA also makes a good gatekeeper for both leaders, protecting their time and their inboxes from unnecessary demands on their time and attention.

 

Con #1: prioritising tasks

This is the most common problem with leaders who share executive assistants. When both leaders have an urgent task, who takes precedence? This can be stressful for all people involved. The EA is facing pressure to complete urgent tasks and is stuck in the middle of conflict. The leader who’s forced to wait feels frustration. Meanwhile, the leader who gets prioritised worries about quality of work declining as the EA is in a rush, or feels guilty. This problem may only arise intermittently. But if it’s a common occurrence, it’s a strong red flag that the arrangement is not working effectively. 

 

Con #2: limited support 

Some executives underestimate the level of support they need. When leaders share an EA, they need to be comfortable with not having a full time, 100% committed business partner on their team. There’ll be times when the EA is focusing on other priorities elsewhere, and executives need to find another resource, or wait, or worse — do it themselves. This can mean a less productive leadership office, as things aren’t completed as quickly or efficiently as when there’s a dedicated EA for each leader. 

 

Con #3: different personalities, leadership and operational models 

Two different leaders may have opposing views on how they want their EA to work. Or it might be a case of different personalities and working styles whether that be conversational, structured, talkative or quiet, conservative or progressive. One executive might expect detailed reporting, while another is content to leave the EA to it. There’s no right or wrong, just different leaders require different approaches. This means the EA may be regularly juggling and adapting to two different leadership styles. Consequently, daily tasks take more time and require more attention to detail, which can take additional time, and be a source of frustration or stress. 

 

Con #4: difficulty recruiting 

High performing, senior-level EAs tend to prefer to work with one executive. They want to gain a deep working relationship with a single leader, focussing 100% on that partnership to the exclusion of all others. As a recruiter specialising in placement of executive assistants, I’ve seen some highly valuable EAs refuse roles purely on the basis that they’d prefer to work with just one leader. Of course, others are quite happy to take on the challenge, but it’s a consideration to bear in mind at the recruitment stage. 

How to make it work best 

Hire an adaptive EA 

The EAs who easily juggle two executives need to be highly adaptable and flexible. They need to be open to different ways of working, and to adopting the approach according to two different leadership styles. Finding an EA who has experience of reporting to two leaders is always preferable as well. 

 

Have a 60/40 split (or 80/20)  

Many shared executive assistant arrangements go for a 50/50 split of duties. But often it is more harmonious to have a clear preference so the EA knows who to prioritise. For example the CEO gets the executive assistant for 60% of the time, and the COO gets the remaining 40%. This helps the EA make decisions when there’s conflicting responsibilities. 

 

Have clear operational and communication processes 

Both leaders need to commit to being highly communicative so that the EA knows what’s expected at all times. This means forward planning on a regular basis, strong project management and avoidance of last-minute requests (unless they’re urgent). A simple meeting at the start of each week to agree priorities may be all that’s required to ensure everyone knows the key deliverables for the week. 

 

Don’t leave the EA as the messenger

When two leaders have conflicting priorities, the poor EA can be stuck in the middle. As much as practicable, the EA should not be the messenger between the leaders. Sticking to a clear operational model will help prevent those causes of conflict. Understanding the extra juggling that the EA will have to do, and adjusting communication styles accordingly can ensure those moments of conflict are few and far between. 

 

Considering recruiting an EA to support two executives? 

Altitude EA can help find the ideal candidate. Contact Anastasia on  0421 16 55 96 or list your vacancy with us today.