Many managers, particularly those new to management do not make the most of having a personal assistant. A well organised, reliable assistant can provide significant value to a manager transitioning into a new division or company. The practical tips below will have a new manager and their assistant performing as a well oiled machine in no time.
Organize an initial meeting
Schedule a one hour preferably uninterrupted meeting to discuss how you will work together. The purpose of this meeting is to clarify the expectations of both parties.
Determine your assistant’s level of involvement
Do you want to be reminded of pending deadlines and meetings you have to attend? Be advised of an urgent email requiring a response? These are standard practices for a personal assistant. Relying on your assistant to keep you on track will allow you to focus on the other responsibilities of your new role. Delegation for new managers can sometimes be an issue. A good place to start learning effective delegation is with your own assistant.
Clarify day to day responsibilities
To be blunt, you no longer have time to reschedule meetings in your calendar. Meetings frequently change or get moved. Juggling meetings in a busy calendar can be time consuming, particularly when meetings with time challenged Senior Management are involved. Leave this action to your assistant.
Your assistant can also set aside specific blocks of time in your calendar to prepare for regular ongoing deadlines, plan time for you to respond to emails, schedule lunch breaks (which you may or may not actually take) and work around as many back to back blocks of meetings as possible, though unfortunately sometimes these cannot be avoided.
Be clear on your position involving deadlines
While we all like to think we meet our deadlines, in truth we all know people who are NOT good at getting work in on time. If missing deadlines has been an issue in the past, you will need help from your assistant to ensure deadlines are met. Being upfront about your requirements will save you grief later. Your ability to meet deadlines while producing high quality work will be a defining factor in your success as a manager.
Communicate whether you are a detail oriented or “big picture” person
Some people have a highly tuned attention to detail. Many need this level of attention to perform their jobs successfully. If you have a high attention to detail, make this clear to your assistant. To achieve the best results as a team, your assistant will need to perform on a similar level.
Big picture thinkers may require their assistant and team members to do some of the more detailed work for them where possible.
Have a daily morning meeting
“Not another meeting,” I hear you grumble.
Think of this more as a quick daily catch up. A ten minute conversation on the day’s priorities should do the trick. This meeting ensures that your priorities and your assistant’s priorities are aligned. If your assistant is working for multiple managers, this meeting takes on an even greater importance.
These catch ups can also serve as a time to get paperwork signed or bought to your attention.
Practice regular and open communication
A situation to avoid when you first start working together is a lack of communication.
For example, keep each other up to date on meeting changes. Having your assistant spend 40 minutes preparing documents for a meeting that you forgot to mention was canceled is a waste of time.
Another common problem to avoid is duplication. Watch that you are not doing the same tasks as your assistant. This can be easy to do if you are used to fending for yourself.
“Underutilizing” your assistant
Within a short amount of time working together, an experienced personal assistant will generally know whether you have worked with an assistant in the past. How? They are being underutilized.
Don’t assume that you know what your assistant is capable of simply by skimming his or her resume. Your assistant may be a whiz with Excel or have experience managing projects. Ask them about their previous experience. “Underutilizing” your assistant may result in them yearning to be challenged or feeling they are not adding value to the partnership.
Overworking your assistant
It goes without saying that most employees have overflowing to do lists. Watch your assistant is not overworked. If the team is working on a large project where overtime is required to meet the deadline, working extra hours is reasonable.
If no equivalent project exists, yet your assistant is working late every night, coming into the office on weekends and starting to show obvious signs of stress, there is most likely a problem brewing.
Sit down and discuss any workload issues. Perhaps some less important tasks can be put on hold or another member of the team who is not as busy could assist in lightening the load.
Limit time spent on personal errands
In a manager/assistant role there is often some level of personal work involved. Asking your assistant to grab you a bite to eat since you have back to back meetings is one thing. Having them spend hours shopping for your partner’s birthday present would be seen as inappropriate.
It is important to clarify expectations and boundaries early in your working relationship. Work demands constantly change, so maintain an open and honest line of communication and discuss challenges as they arise.
Working well as a team is the key to a fulfilling and productive manager/assistant relationship.
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