How to performance manage your executive assistant

05 April 2022 Anastasia Kelly

How To Performance Manage Your Executive Assistant

When you’re considering performance managing your executive assistant, you need to be prepared to manage the situation delicately. But with a willingness to face tough conversations, clear communication and a performance management action plan, you can turn the situation around. Anastasia shares her thoughts on performance managing EAs in her latest article. 

Are you a c-suite executive needing to performance manage your EA? Moving to a performance management situation doesn’t need to be unpleasant or stressful. When implemented well and with clear communications, a solid performance management system can help both people turn things around and return to a more harmonious workplace relationship.

Communication is often the issue 

When a leader is disappointed with the performance of the executive assistant, it is often a case of poor communication. If the EA doesn’t know what is expected or isn’t clear on the priorities, values or goals, they can make well-meaning but incorrect interpretations of the requirements in the role. If you as the executive are feeling frustrated, it is very likely your executive assistant has picked up on this already. They are likely to be already trying to set things right, without being totally sure what issues to address. This can create an environment of fear, stress or tension which needs to be addressed promptly to protect the mental health of everyone involved. 

Act quickly 

Some leaders want to avoid the uncomfortable situation of addressing the problem. Due to the close working relationship of an executive and EA, it can be difficult to express concerns, and easy to put it off, hoping that things will improve. But if your EA isn’t clear on how you are feeling, there is no chance to respond and take action. Failing to address issues means that the EA mistakenly forms a false perception about the quality of their performance. This can be even more damaging over the long term. Getting negative feedback will come as a bigger shock if the issue has been a problem for months. 

Acknowledging the emotions of the situation

The EA will likely feel surprised, shocked and upset to be informed that there's performance issues that require management. Meanwhile the executive potentially feels frustrated about the quality of performance and worried about facing awkward conversations. Having an expert HR advisor to support both parties, help clarify viewpoints and create the official performance management plan will help ease tensions. Having a clear and fact-based plan will support decision making when emotions are running hot. 

Frank and open conversations must take place

Drawing a line in the sand begins with scheduling a meeting to address the concerns. All parties can air their concerns and identify strategies to improve performance. Having a mediator present will help keep the conversation on track and ensure everyone focuses on identifying new strategies for better communication, reporting and addressing particular problems. Be prepared for surprise and disappointment from your EA and be ready to manage the emotional response to any feedback that is negative. The key goal is clarity. For example, telling an EA they need to ‘sort out the correspondence’ is vague and open to interpretation. But clarifying that ‘all emails must be filed within 24 hours’ is clear and measurable. 

Be open to changing your leadership style

Allowing your EA to give feedback and explain why they struggle with particular responsibilities will help rebuild trust in the relationship. Be open to allowing your EA  to raise concerns and consider ideas to change your approach to ensure a better working partnership. A good way to start is to commit to spending more time together on a trial basis to ensure that the EA is clear on the priorities for the day, week and months ahead. A good leader will have the skills to bring out the best in teams and inspire others to be more productive, innovative and committed to company goals. So if you strive to be a leader with excellent communication and better dispute resolution skills, you are more likely to be able to resolve the problem and move forward to a more positive working relationship. 

Create a clear pathway to change 

Setting clear parameters for what happens next in the performance management process is vital. This should include regular meetings and evaluations, two-way communication and work-in-progress discussions. If regular progress checks don’t take place, there’s a risk newly established working habits and routines won’t last. A written action plan should specify: 

  • the goal of the performance management plan 

  • the timeframe for the achievement of the goal 

  • how success will be measured 

  • how often progress will be reviewed 

It’s not ideal to have an onerous paper trail,but there must be clear documentation of the issue and the steps taken to address it. This means that everyone can be clear on the goal and how progress is being made towards achieving it. 

With guidance and teamwork, you can establish a better working relationship

When both parties are open to feedback, willing to actively listen and able to establish better habits, there is no reason why you can’t quickly move towards a more harmonious, efficient working relationship. After all, when people are happier in their role, they tend to perform better, so when everybody knows the key performance drivers in the role, they can be better managed to get optimum results. 

Are you looking to hire an EA, or are you an EA wanting to grow your career?     

Contact Anastasia for an obligation-free discussion on 0421 16 55 96.