How executive assistants can support their executive’s decision making

03 November 2021 Anastasia Kelly

How E As Can Support Their Executive's Decision Making

One of the primary functions of a business partner executive assistant is helping the executive make sound decisions. With the responsibility of steering the future growth of the company, executives have immense power, and large budgets to spend. Therefore, the impact of each decision they make is considerable. Having someone to support that decision making process, helping them consider all potential scenarios and make the best decision with the information they have to hand is invaluable.

Be a sounding board
Above all, the executive assistant is the sounding board. Lending a listening ear will help the executive express any concerns about a potential decision. Often, just by actively listening and carefully paraphrasing back to the executive, you are helping them clarify their viewpoint and position on an issue. The idea is not to influence the decision, but simply to take a neutral and non judgemental way of concentrating on what you are hearing so you reach deep understanding. Using this method, your executive enjoys the benefit of expressing any fears, or simply has the chance to workshop the idea in-depth.

Using this process, you can avoid interrupting, but use nods and eye contact to show your leader you are listening and fully engaging with what they’re saying. You can use phrases to show how you’re understanding the situation, including:
--what I’m hearing is that you believe…
--you’re concerned about the impact of…
--what do you mean when you say…?

Often, the outcome is that the executive talks for a short while and then the decision makes itself clear.

Focus on company mission, vision and values
If your executive is struggling with a difficult decision, it may be useful to refer back to the company mission, vision or values. How does the decision align with these values? Often a decision becomes difficult when two values are in contradiction. For example, your company highly values quality work, but also has ambitious growth targets. It may be considering adopting a cost-saving measure that may compromise quality. As a business partner executive assistant, you can remind your executive of the core values of the business and how the decision reflects those values.

Similarly, you can consider whether the decision propels the company towards its mission, and supports it in the broader business objectives. When the executive is focusing on the minutiae of a decision, it may be difficult to see the bigger picture. Asking whether the decision impacts on the company goals will help the executive recognise how the decision fits into the overall achievement of their KPIs.

Consider alternatives
Often, a decision becomes difficult when there’s potential risk involved. Is there a workaround that reduces some element of risk? Is there another way of doing things that is faster/cheaper or more effective? What is the risk of NOT taking action? There may be a way to achieve the outcome while also reducing the element of risk. As the executive assistant you are in a strong position to suggest alternative courses of action that your executive may not have considered. This gives them more potential options to choose from and ensures a better likelihood of them taking action that results in a win-win outcome.

Reflect on past scenarios
What’s worked in the past? Have similar decisions been taken before and what was the outcome? A longstanding business partner EA will have good memory and may be able to remind the executive of similar instances in the past. But if you’re a newer executive assistant, it can be useful to ask the executive these questions to determine if there’s any kind of historical data that would be useful in informing the outcome of the decision at hand.

Gather third party opinions
If your executive is grappling with a decision, consider bringing in the experts. There’s likely to be in-house team members who can share insights and offer guidance. Beyond that, it could be that you need to consult with a lawyer, accountant or forensic expert who needs to be brought in for specialist consultation and advice. Suggest these options to your executive and let them decide whether they need to draw on the expert resources around them.

Play devil's advocate
Sometimes the executive needs someone to challenge their viewpoint and present a contentious counter argument in order to provoke debate. Of course you’ll know how far you can push it and whether this course of action is useful and appropriate in the circumstances. You don’t want to irritate your executive or seem unsupportive. Testing the strength of the opposing argument is a good way for the executive to prepare for potential opposition further afield, so by playing devil's advocate you create a space to dress-rehearse for any potential backlash. This can be done by asking incisive questions, considering alternative viewpoints, and posing hypothetical situations to clarify issues.

Encourage decisiveness
At some point, a decision must be made. Naturally, it’s important to take time to thoroughly review all information at hand, but sitting on the fence is a form of inaction that is a decision in itself. Often the making of the decisions is the most difficult, so making a prompt choice and moving on is often the best course of action. So the executive assistant should encourage decisiveness in their leader to ensure they don’t let the difficulty of grappling with the decision slow them down unnecessarily. Of course, the final decision rests with the executive but as a business partner EA you can steer the leader to take the final step and keep the wheels of the company moving in the right direction.

Looking to recruit an executive assistant for a c-suite executive?
Altitude EA are specialists in high-performing executive assistants. We’d love to help you fill this crucially important role. We have a unique understanding of the evolving role of the executive assistant and a strong network of contacts with EAs for some of Australia’s leading employers. Call Anastasia today on 0421 16 55 96 to see how we can support you.