So you’ve taken the leap and you’re hiring a new virtual executive assistant.
Congratulations! This is a great step in moving forward and growing in your role. Now that you’ve made that decision, it’s important to look at the logistics of managing the relationship well. After all, working with people is about relationships - you have to be able to work together and form a fruitful partnership.
We’ve learned a few valuable lessons along the way to form a great understanding of what it takes to set up for success. Here’s what you need to know:
Start Out Strong
Have you ever started a job where on your first day they basically said “there’s your desk” then left you to it? Unfortunately, this happens more often than you might think. It’s not only lacking in terms of welcoming a new team member, but it’s quite awkward for them too!
When we talk about “starting out strong,” we mean that your virtual EA starts work and understands that there’s a plan for them from day one. In a virtual or an in-person environment, that means that someone should have thought about this plan ahead of their start date, with the aim of getting them orientated to the role as efficiently as possible.
Yes, this sounds like work for you. However, in all honesty, doing this work upfront will save you a lot of time in the long run. Consider the following when onboarding your new executive assistant:
- Introduce them to the team.
- Explain the company vision, values, and goals. (Of course, include your own goals and how they’ll be assisting you in meeting them).
- Ensure that they have system access as-needed.
- (If you aren’t utilizing Worxbee) cover the basics of their employment, for example benefits and how to access them, hours of work, when and how they will get paid…
- Get them up to speed on any current projects they’ll be stepping in to assist with
- Make sure they know where or how to get help (for example, who do they talk to if they’re having any IT or system issues?)
It’s also very helpful if you have some available tasks. While you can expect that your executive assistant will be proactive and will find things that need doing, they’re not clairvoyant! There’s always some ramp-up time while they learn your particular needs and how things work in your business. You can expect that this may take 6 to 12 months - after that, you’ll see more and more things disappear off your plate that you didn’t see coming before.
Set Expectations Early (And Realistically!)
Don’t leave your executive assistant to guess! Clearly spelling out expectations is both helpful and appreciated. It ensures that you’re both starting out on the same page and allows an opportunity to clarify or to give feedback.
How do you set expectations? Make sure you tell your executive assistant directly, and do so from their interview, and again on their first day. For example, you might like to consider:
- Sharing the goals that you expect them to work toward.
- Your expectations in terms of availability. This is important because it can be an area that gets contentious where expectations aren’t met. Define the hours you expect your EA to be available and for your part, make every effort not to contact them outside of those hours. Your assistant will appreciate having their work-life balance respected.
- How quickly you expect a response to communications. For example, do you have different levels of priority for email, Slack, or text messages?
- How much visibility do you expect to have over their work? Do you want frequent reports?
- Your expectations for responsibility and delegation. This is something to really consider what you are comfortable with. The best relationships with executive assistants tend to involve delegating a high level of responsibility allowing the EA to become more like a partner.
Communication is such a critical part of building a successful relationship with your executive assistant. It begins by finding someone you actually CAN communicate well with. We all have our own styles and personalities, and some are better suited than others. Generally, those with a similar communication style tend to do better together. It will be easier for you to be totally transparent and ensure you get what you need.
Secondly, it’s how you communicate. Consider how you communicate best and look for an executive assistant that fits your preferred mode. For example, if you hate Zoom, you need another way of communicating well with someone virtually.
A huge part of success here is being willing and open to communicating. This can mean setting aside time to do so. For example, maybe you have a daily startup meeting with your executive assistant where you update one another.
Another key piece for your communication is transparency. Don’t be hesitant or even ashamed to state exactly what you need. You don’t have to clean things up! An executive assistant expects to help with cleaning up as-needed. It’s their job and you’ll make better use of having an assistant if you just come out with your needs. Be ready to share any pain points; your executive assistant will do their best to help you resolve them.
Consider what may have worked or not worked previously and let them know about those things. Your executive assistant will appreciate the insights so that they can work out how they will best serve you.
Give timely feedback
Giving frequent feedback is an important part of a successful partnership with your executive assistant. It’s not something that should be left to performance reviews - it’s vital that your assistant knows your thoughts so they can make changes as soon as possible.
One thing that will help you with giving feedback is to be clear about the goals you’d like your executive assistant to work towards. It tends to be easy to relate feedback to specific goals so that there is transparency. If there’s something you’re dissatisfied with or simply want done another way, tell your assistant at the time. Provide suggestions for how it might be handled differently in the future.
When giving feedback, it’s important to be very specific in order to be effective. A general “I don’t like X” doesn’t tend to be helpful - it still leaves the person guessing as to what it is that you don’t like and how they might do it differently next time. However, if you were to say “Here’s the thing I don’t like about X,” it provides a clear action step. Preferably, your feedback should be in the moment, honest, and conversational. Talk with your executive assistant as a partner - remember an EA is a highly skilled individual and very capable.
At the same time, being open to feedback from your executive assistant can be valuable. They will often have thoughts, suggestions, or valuable insights that can help to advance your success. Sometimes they notice patterns or habits that you have which might not be helping you to achieve goals. Your executive assistant should be able to professionally and respectfully make suggestions, just as you do with them.
A successful relationship with your executive assistant starts right from selection for the role. You need someone you can communicate with, form an understanding with, and trust implicitly.
The foundations of that strong partnership begin from day one, with orientating your executive assistant thoroughly and with communicating your expectations well. Be realistic about what you expect and clear about timeframes and preferences.
You can expect that your executive assistant will be a very resourceful professional and a valued asset to yourself and your business. Giving them the right tools for their own success in the role will help you to get great results.