How Entrepreneurs Can Leverage an Executive Assistant For Success and Peace of Mind As entrepreneurs, we are inundated with work and often don't get to complete many tasks on our to-do lists. While we can't compromise on the little sleep we get a night, we can hire an executive assistant to support us and become more productive.
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As a co-founder of a platform that connects global talent with busy teams and entrepreneurs, I spend a lot of time advocating for business leaders to offload tasks to their assistants. Ironically, though, until a few months ago, I didn't have someone to whom I could delegate tasks! So, when I had the chance to hire one of our executive assistants myself, I immediately seized the opportunity.
Working with Naomi, my assistant, is a rewarding experience. For one, I get another perspective on our business — that of a client. But more importantly, having Naomi around has helped me leverage my time and become incredibly productive.
Here are the things I've learned about how entrepreneurs could make the most of having an executive assistant!
Provide as much context as possible
The more background information your assistant has, the more tailored the solutions they can provide. Since there are few established protocols, there is much room for flexibility in achieving goals — and a well-oriented assistant will know how to use that to their advantage. Creating new processes to make their lives easier eventually makes the business more efficient.
Creating a solid foundation for your assistant means providing a way for them to dive deep into internal processes and understand how the business works. Admittedly, that requires plenty of trust, which is why you must thoroughly vet your assistants beforehand. Otherwise, you may opt for a staffing solution or managed service that would do that for you.
When you find the right assistant, try including them in as many high-level discussions as possible. Being part of these meetings gives first-hand direction on how you work in your role and navigate the business. Seeing you in action and getting exposure to your thought processes — especially around other core team members or C-suite executives — aligns your assistant with how you behave as a leader.
For instance, one of the first things my assistant did to help me become more efficient at work was to find a new task management tool. I already had a solid system in place, so a new tool had to provide significant benefits and a lift in productivity for me to make the switch. Since she knows my working style and preferences, she found one that works well for me.
Onboard gradually with independence in mind
In the first and second weeks, Naomi and I focused on introductions to people and teams and processes and workflows. I included her in most of my meetings, where she was exposed to high-level discussions. Rather than giving her a document that abstracted how the company worked, she was immersed in the environment from the start.
Naomi paid attention to calls, messages on channels and even public correspondence where she wasn't expected to provide input. This access allowed her to look for tasks and give suggestions on ways to improve my workflow and make things more efficient.
You'd want to keep the onboarding process at a moderate pace. This could feel counterintuitive–startups are generally fast-paced environments. But helping your assistant gradually adjust will allow them to settle into their role fully. When your assistant understands how they fit into your workflow and the larger organization, they can make better suggestions for you.
Setting deadlines and milestones is key
There's always something to do when you're in a startup–some project that requires recalibration or another that needs input from various stakeholders. But despite this constant stream of to-do's—or maybe because of it — setting deadlines is a must. There has to be a start and end date for everything, from your assistant's onboarding to the projects you will offload to them.
Setting deadlines for your assistant allows them to build a more consistent system they can lean on when you increase the volume of their utilization. By the end of Naomi's third week with the company, she had a system that allowed her to take on larger tasks.
To date, one of Naomi's biggest projects was building a new enterprise resource management database with which our teams will interact. It was a considerable achievement, given that she was still brand new at the company.
Reflecting on her experience, Naomi told me that the increased responsibility was unnerving at first but that she viewed it as a challenge to grow personally and professionally. Of course, I was always available to provide feedback and address concerns during the project, but I let her complete the task herself.
Trusting your assistant with tasks beyond monitoring or routine checkups will lead to a better dynamic. Your assistant will feel empowered to work on significant projects while you get a second set of eyes and hands on important tasks that could otherwise be delayed or done with less attention that would be ideal.
It is why deciding on milestones should also be part of your routine, besides setting deadlines. Don't just dump work on your assistant but set a deadline based on a feasible assessment of what is required to complete the respective task–which you should share with them. Your assistant will have to be able to set the pace for their work, and they'll need markers or intermediate goals to determine what those should be. Strike a balance between providing guidance and independence.
Strive for compatibility
Finally, one of the best things you can do to ensure that your assistant stays productive is to work towards real collaboration with them. Compatibility is important in any relationship, and good matching is just the start. Having a similar work style and favorite communication tools is a plus.
Compatibility isn't something that just happens. Make sure you interview candidates beforehand or at least review some profiles. And once you get started, remember to be patient, understanding, and cooperative to account for the steep learning curve your assistant is climbing. When both of you do the work, the rewards will be plentiful.