Why An Exceptional EA Makes A Business FlourishPosted on 15th April 2021
We all need assistance. Why an exceptional Executive Assistant makes a business flourish
I have a confession to make: my timekeeping can be pretty bloody awful.
It’s perhaps not the done thing to admit as much in business, where things need to run like clockwork and we want to make it all seem so effortless. But the reason I mention that is because it highlights the importance of having a great assistant working alongside you – someone to watch your back.
As directors, business owners or managers, none of us can be all things at all times. As much as we’d like to have full control of the business from top to bottom, that’s just not realistic.
"Knowing which responsibilities - and when - we we need to delegate is a skill all business leaders need to master. And that is where having the right assistant comes in."
I would often get caught up with the day-to-day tasks of running a business. Too often, responding to emails, arranging and rearranging my diary and taking care of the general admin would eat away at my time. My attention was regularly taken by the work I could be doing and I’d lose sight of the work I really should be doing. In my case, I should be keeping sight of the strategic objectives, our people and culture strategy, structuring the next quarter for success and focusing fully on keeping the business aligned, but all too often I wasn’t.
Every successful business leader I have ever worked with has understood the importance of having an assistant and using them effectively, after all, a good assistant doubles the output of a CEO! But to be able to do that, you have to first identify and understand your own weaknesses and any weak points your business may have.
Weakness is not a great word to throw out there, particularly in business where it can be seen as a failure. But a weakness is only a weakness if you fail to identify and then act on it. If you can identify and address the problem, you can work on turning it into a strength – and this is where my Executive Assistant (EA) has been absolutely invaluable.
"A great way to turn weakness into strength is to write down a list of what you are good at and what you enjoy in your role."
Then write down the tasks you don’t enjoy and any areas where you could improve. This kind of business MOT is good for you and for the health of your business, because once you have that list you can begin to find solutions.
So what are my weaknesses? Well, as I said at the top, my time-keeping can be a little, let’s say erratic. I am always – always – on time for meetings, but once I’m there and the engagement and the interest takes over, I can often lose track of time and overrun. Knowing this is a weakness, I now have my EA keep me tightly to schedule so that I respect everyone else’s time and keep on track.
I’m also pretty bad at admin, in the sense that I allow myself to get too involved in it. I spent several years as a finance director and I was great at admin in that role – because the role required it. But when my role became more strategic and managerial, I found it hard to leave that previous role behind. All too often I’ll find myself getting distracted by the type of admin that can be important to the business, but is not essential to my day-to-day role.
To address this problem, my EA now has full access to my emails and the freedom to work on responses on my behalf. We’ve introduced templates for email replies that allow her to draft replies on my behalf that I can very easily top and tail and personalise. This approach ensures important clients in my network receive a quicker response than they might otherwise get and makes me more productive.
Handing my diary over to my EA has also made a big difference as it allows me to work on business development and the bigger picture. My diary reflects my strategy. I like to set aside time that I spend on management, on business development and on meeting existing clients and that structure pretty much reflects the strategic objects of the business and my monthly and quarterly targets. By sharing my insight, my EA understands how I like to work and what I like to avoid and can plan my diary accordingly
"To really get the most out of your assistant, it’s crucial that you have clear communication, clear feedback and clarity in everything."
You have to have complete trust in each other and that takes time, but you can speed up the process a little. Have regular meetings and encourage free and open feedback. Explain everything, particularly the things you may take for granted or that seem too obvious. Ask questions and encourage them to do the same. Your assistant will have a wealth of knowledge and expertise that they can bring into your world. The more they understand about you, the more effective they will be in their role, which in turn means you will be more effective and your business will benefit as a result.
I often say that a good assistant is missed far more when they take a holiday than you ever are! That may or may not be true, but what I know for certain is that if you can find the right assistant and you work together effectively, you will have the time to work on the business rather than working in the business. It’s only one letter different, but the effect that can have on your business can be huge.