Hiring an executive assistant is one of the best things a busy executive can do to increase their own efficiency. By offloading tasks that don’t necessitate your expertise, you free up time to work on high-value projects. A great executive assistant can make your life easier in myriad ways, increasing your productivity, improving your work-life balance, and decreasing your stress level. Over time, the relationship can work like a well-oiled machine.
If there is a breakdown in communication between you and your assistant, however, or if effective communication skills and practices were never established in the first place, this can all fall apart. You may find yourself completing tasks you would normally delegate because you’re worried they won’t be done correctly. Or, if you don’t communicate often and effectively, things can fall through the cracks, and missed priorities may leave you with more stress than you started out with. And to top it all off, your assistant won’t be happy. Most people want to be good at their jobs, so the lack of effective communication in the workplace is frustrating for everyone involved, and can ultimately increase turnover.
So, how do you establish effective communication skills and practices in your workplace and specifically with your assistant? Or, how do you get things back on track if they’ve already veered off? Read on to learn tried-and-true ways to develop and maintain healthy communication with your executive assistant.
Establish Clear Expectations
This should happen early on, starting during the hiring process. You need to know what you want/need and state it clearly. Executive assistants handle a wide range of tasks, so your assistant needs to know exactly what you expect of them.
Common job requirements of executive assistants include:
- Managing your calendar
- Coordinating travel
- Scheduling and preparing meetings
- Managing administrative staff
- Creating PowerPoint presentations
- Acting in your absence
- Managing other administrative staff
- Expense reporting
- Acting as your gatekeeper
With such a wide range of potential responsibilities, you need to be very clear from the start about your priorities and expectations. If they need to take more leadership initiative and they only performed administrative tasks in previous positions, encourage them and let them know that leadership and management are part of their job. That can be a tough transition, but if you let them know that you support their decision-making ability, it will be much smoother.
Opt for More Communication, Not Less
You may reach a point with your executive assistant where you practically read one another’s minds and constant communication becomes less essential. Especially in the beginning, however, err on the side of over-communicating. Your new assistant isn’t a mind reader yet.
Let Them in on Your Rationale
Let your assistant know not just the what, but the why behind day-to-day decisions you would like them to make, especially if they are new to the industry your business operates in The more context they have around the tasks they perform for you, the better. Let them know why you like to schedule certain meetings at certain times, or which business contacts require different styles of communication. You want your executive assistant to eventually be able to act in your absence or without your direction, so you need to let them actually understand your thought processes.
Throughout your workweek, practice regular verbal communication. A morning huddle can do wonders towards improving effective communication for executive assistants and their executives and it will certainly speed their learning curve. Think of your executive assistant as a partner who you need to keep in the loop, and make sure they feel the same way. On top of creating a better relationship, this will decrease the likelihood of redundancy, miscommunication, and error.
If regular verbal communication isn’t realistic, make it clear how and where communication takes place. Perhaps you prefer Slack messages, email, or text messages — just make it clear. Establish what “medium” you want to use for communicating different types of information , the response time they can expect from you, and stick to your procedures as often as possible. This will improve your executive assistant’s communication skills, along with your own.
Schedule Regular Check-ins
On top of opening up day-to-day communication, you need to establish a regular check-in process. This gives both you and your assistant the opportunity to address things that might not seem urgent enough to bring up during the busy daily routine.
You can schedule these however often you think they’re necessary (weekly, biweekly, or what have you), just as long as they’re consistent. It’s better to cancel one weekly check-in appointment because there’s nothing to discuss that week than to only meet up when there are issues.
Also, schedule quarterly meetings centering on strategy. This will give you the opportunity to bring your assistant back up to speed with the company’s trajectory. Even if your assistant isn’t normally involved in strategic planning, it’s important that they understand what’s going on because you are involved. They need to be your right-hand man/woman, and they cannot do that without having a strong hold on what’s going on with the business.
Encourage Open Communication about Difficult Issues
It can be hard to bring up certain topics, and this grows exponentially harder the longer you work in an environment where communication isn’t fully open. Talking about things that are causing frustration before they cause resentment to build is essential. Make it clear that it is all right for your assistant to express opinions, even when they contradict your own.
This goes both ways, too. If you spend all of your time tiptoeing around your assistant because you feel uncomfortable providing constructive criticism, problems will develop. By regularly accepting feedback from one another, you and your assistant can build a stronger relationship over time.
Foster Positive Communication
Constructive criticism and feedback are important, but so is recognition! Studies have shown that being praised for doing a good job has even more impact on employee retention than getting a raise. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t provide fair compensation and great benefits, of course, but feeling recognized for your efforts is just as important when it comes to being happy at work.
And as you might have guessed, this also goes both ways. Creating a culture and relationship where your assistant feels comfortable giving you feedback means that they’re more likely to also provide positive feedback. At the end of the day, even though you’re in charge, you’re still invested in your work and being able to receive praise can strengthen the bond between you and your assistant.
Effective communication in the workplace is all about action. You need to take steps to open the lines of communication and keep them open. Try your best to:
- Keep your assistant in the loop
- Talk daily
- Schedule regular check-ins
- Provide and accept feedback
SOURCE: C Suite Assistants