Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Q: "Siri, will you be my Exec Assistant?".....Siri: "I'm sorry, I'm afraid I can't help you with that"


Robots workplace

I've just read an article that has literally made my blood boil and really riled me up. It's on a topic that I've been meaning to blog about of late and as its a subject that certainly is a hot topic of discussion at the moment. It's also something that has begun to be 'joked about' in my office, but those individuals that choose to joke about it with me should start practicing their 'duck', if you know what I mean! Anyone that says to me that my job will one day be done by a robot should expect a firm fist to fast approach their face! Digital assistants like Siri and Alexa are not a new phenomenon, but with technology fast advancing, there is an idea progressing out there that some day (and some think that this will be some day soon) that Artificial Intelligence (AI) will in fact replace Assistants entirely. Now I'm not sure who these people are that are out there making these proclamations, no doubt they are probably the makers and designers of this technology, but one things is for sure, they are definitely NOT EAs or PAs, nor have they ever been! This topic feels somewhat familiar though, especially given my recent blogs and correlating 'movement' I'm trying to initiate around the demolishment of negative or incorrect stereotypes associated with our roles, and I'll explain why as I go on.

Now the article in question was in fact printed in a leading EA/PA industry magazine. But for a magazine that is written specifically for Assistants, I was surprised to read this. Obviously Virtual Assistants (VAs) are not new to our industry and understandably for some Executives/managers, having an Assistant who is remote to their business works for them, especially when the tasks that are being asked of them don't necessarily need the Assistant to physically be present in the office. But the concept that a robot could take over these tasks entirely is something that I cannot get my head around.

The article suggests that if we don't up-skill ourselves with more training and education, our roles will eventually be made redundant, and I quote from the article, "PAs still need to prove they're essential as technology evolves". It explains that the rise of this AI technology will eventually be so advanced that all the tasks that we do on a daily basis will essentially be able to be done by the likes of Siri, Alexa or some technology similar. It suggests that we should be considering training in areas like HR, finance and marketing, in order to keep a requirement around our positions. Craig Allen, Director at Change Group says in the article that, "PAs are already acquiring new skill sets and extending their roles into other areas", as to "ensure they have a place in the workplace long term". I wonder if his EA/PA (if he even has one) is 'up-skilling' herself given his comments?!  I believe though that if you are being forced to do HR, finance or marketing within your EA role, you are probably being taken advantage of, as this is not traditionally part of our role. And if you do some of these functions within your role you absolutely should be having a discussion with your manager around re-titling your role and matching your salary to whatever a marketing/finance/HR manager would earn. I've seen it all too many times before, where small businesses bundle corporate functions into the EA or Office Manager role, just to save on headcount. And we all know that these functions really are so far from what we do, that we would in fact require formal training to do them. But the idea that we should be expanding ourselves to include these functions, just to validate our existence, is nothing less than an insult to what we currently do.

I'm all for further development as Assistants, but it should never be done to validate our roles, or to 'keep' them and ensure we have a place in the workplace. Rather, further training and education should be undertaken to better ourselves so that we are more valuable to those we support. We shouldn't be doing it for fear of rising technology, nor for the fear that our roles may no longer be required!

Some of the experts quoted in the article I actually feel are in no position to speak on behalf of the EA/PA role. I quote, "The role of the PA is one that is often mooted to be at risk from the rise of the robots", says Jeremy Campbell, Chief Commercial Officer at Global HR and payroll provider, SD Worx. "In fact, rather than making PAs redundant, AI is more likely to help complement their role and even add to the overall influence they have within the organization". Words clearly spoken by someone who has never been an EA/PA. The article goes on and explains, as Jeremy reinforced in his quote, that these AIs are something that may in fact make our job easier. If used in conjunction with our own skill sets, they could take over some of the repetitive tasks that we often do. But when I actually stopped and thought about this, I wondered how well these so called robots, could do some of these tasks we commonly do? I know, as no doubt you probably do too, that whenever I ask Siri to do anything, her answer is "I'm sorry, I'm not sure I understand what you mean" or "I'm sorry, I cannot help you with that". I can hardly see myself though, or my Executive for that fact, as tech-savvy as we are, tolerating Alexa or Siri whilst they try to identify by voice recognition the names of all the attendees required at meetings. Not to mention trying to spell out some of the rather complex project names and acronyms we use in our business! But what truly is laughable though is the struggle Siri/Alexa would have trying to find availability of certain company Executives who are booked out for months on end, and who would need the intervention of an Assistant to shift the diary around, just to accommodate what potentially may be an urgent meeting request. On top of that, I would truly wish Siri/Alexa luck in finding available meeting rooms to match the requested meeting times, especially ones that are restricted or not available on the network and that require a manual request of the meeting room owner to book it. Many business processes would have to be adapted, on top of their internal systems, just to accommodate these AIs. And although they say that the technology will develop and get better as they work to produce the 'perfect Assistant', so will we. The fact of the matter is, we all get better every day, every time we perform tasks. Practise makes perfect remember!

The thing is, these tasks that are labelled as 'so simple a robot could do them' can actually be done by us, with our eyes closed in the matter of 1 or 2 seconds, so will this technology actually help us? Or as technology so often does, will it actually fail us? Or hinder us? The idea that a large company full of managers, all asking their robotic assistants to do things, is so far fetched, especially when it comes to calendar synchronisation and integration. Yes they could tell you where you're meeting your next appointment and when, but then again, so will your eyes if you just care to look at your calendar. But Campbell continues in the article and states, "Robotic process automation can operate at the user interface layer of business application and work between existing systems to mimic tasks which were usually carried out by PAs". Now I ask you, what tasks do you think he's referring to? I hate to say it, but clearly another person who really has no idea on the variety of tasks we get asked to do on any given day, and the complexity surrounding them. Once again our job is boxed up and assumed to be something that it's not, and all because of out of date stereotypes that are still attached to the role. Which is ironic given we are talking about the advancement of our roles here. And if we are really going to bring our role out of the dark ages into the 'future', then there needs to be a better understanding of what we do and the value we add. No robot can replace the 'personal touch' we do add to the role, and no matter how much training we embark upon, the personal and human touch we offer, along with the opinions, view points, advice and not to mention, memory of what's been done previously, can never be replaced.

The article states that Deloitte's latest Global Human Capital Trends report revealed that only 16 per cent of leaders surveyed said they felt ready to manage a workforce consisting of both people and AI, and you can see by my points why. But the article also states that research from a luxury support specialist, Change Group, claim that 44 per cent of London-based PAs fear that robots at some point will replace their roles. My message to them is, relax, we aren't going anywhere....trust me. And whilst I'm always an advocate for more training and development, don't let fear dictate you actions on this one.

I'll finish by saying this - although the argument is that AI will improve efficiencies and productivity, essentially that is what we are here to do. And like any business - systems, processes and technology all can do that, but there has to be someone behind all of it - driving it, initiating it and implementing it, and that's where we come in. As much as they want to put the fear into us that AI will either take over our roles entirely, or even partially, at the end of the day, the key part of the EA/PA role that robots will NEVER be able to take over, is relationships. Just think of all the things that will be absent for that manager/Exec if Assistants were no longer there? - the trust, the loyalty, the second set of eyes/ears, the second set of arms and legs when they're too busy to get their coffees or lunch. And I'm not saying that Assistants are just there to get the coffee, but robots will never be able to replicate the relationship and human touch elements that we bring to the table. But it's not just the manager that will suffer without our physical presence, its also the relationships of all the key stakeholders too, both internally and externally. Essentially if Assistants were not there, business' would struggle to run. Others can joke around or blow wind up us by saying that 'we basically run the company', but you know, and I know, that we actually do! It's like saying that one day AI will replace all CEO's or Company Directors.....it's never going to happen! And quite frankly the idea that is developing that Assistants could be replaced by an electronic gadget is just insulting.


Thursday, 11 May 2017

Bitten off more than you can chew? When it all just gets too much........

When it all gets too much at work

I don't usually write my blogs about my own personal experiences but I've decided in this blog to hone in on something I'm going through on this occasion, because from one EA to thousands of others (being all of you lovely followers), I know you're all going to be able to relate to this feeling I'm having.......

In a role that can be unexplainably busy with a lot of 'flow flow flows', and sometimes little to no 'ebbs', you can sometimes find yourself wondering where you actually get the stamina to do your job? Or worse still, you start wondering where you're going to get the stamina to in fact keep doing your job, especially during times of high stress!! I'm sure you've all been in a similar situations before where you come home after somehow ending up in a full day of meetings (which isn't that common in our often desk-bound jobs) only to find yourself switching your laptop back on to catch up on the 250 emails that you didn't get around to answering because you'd been pulled into these raft of meetings that you were 'required to sit in'. Sound familiar? And at particularly busy times of the year these occasional days of endless meetings followed by countless emails to catch up on at night, can turn from the odd occasion to becoming your normal routine that you find yourself in for weeks on end, if not months, whilst you try to keep on top of your workload. But the wonder woman/men that we are, we keep going, burning the candle at both ends, not wanting to fall behind, not wanting to disappoint, or God forbid putting ourselves in a situation where we are so behind that we actually have to speak up and say we aren't coping! None of us ever want to paint ourselves as being incompetent, or worse still not strong enough to deal with what we're being asked to do. But as organised as we are, and as cool and as calm as we try to be, occasionally we do feel like we are going to crack!

So today I want to give you all some advice around this particular scenario when you feel like you're hitting your breaking point, and I include myself for this advice too! Because it's common sense, but common sense that sometimes needs to be spelt out to you, before you start to dissolve into anxiety and panic.

Perhaps you've started a new job and you are just not keeping up or getting it?; perhaps you're managing a project or event that you're expected to deliver on top of your every day responsibilities?; or you're temporarily looking after another Exec/Manager for whatever reason?; or perhaps you've got things going on in your personal life that are taking away from you keeping on top of what would be your normal workload that you could normally do with your eyes closed? Whatever the situation is, you start to think, "I've bitten off more than I can chew!". That little voice in your head starts to take over and start asking you, "well how one earth are you going to manage all this? or get all of this done?". And this voice isn't just one that likes to rear its ugly head when we get busy with work, it also likes to frequent our heads when our personal lives get too much too. But it's how we respond to that voice that is key. So what do you do? As you start to spiral into a panic there are some things that you can do to take back the control of the situation. Because this is what it's all about right?......control. As Assistants we all have something in common, and that is that we generally are all 'control freaks'. And to me, that's not a bad thing. The world needs control freaks, otherwise things just wouldn't get done! But when we feel like we are losing control, that's when things can start to go pear shaped. So I've listed some steps below that I think we all should consider when we start to spiral into that 'I've bitten off more than I can chew' mode.

So first and foremost you need to:

1. STOP!
When you are feeling a sense of being so overwhelmed it's time to stop what you're doing and walk away for a breather. You cannot produce good quality work when your stress levels are peaking, so it's important to walk away and regain your composure. Take a walk; have a glass of wine; or go and have a chat/vent with a friend or family member (try to avoid talking to work colleagues if possible just to ensure you keep your reputation in good form). The idea is to just pause, so you can get it together. The last thing you want is to actually end up in tears or in a tizz where you end up doing or saying something you'll regret, all because the stress just got to your head.

2. Re-asses and prioritise
When you're feeling overwhelmed, it's time to prioritise what you've got to do and when. We all know that when we look at our to-do-list from a holistic view it can make us literally feel weak at the knees and have us start to doubt whether we've actually got the capacity, time and energy to do it all. So make a list, prioritise what's important, what needs to be done now and what can wait. Never feel like it's all got to be done now or on this very day, but what I will say is if you can knock off a whole lot of small stuff to make you feel better about the 'size' of the list, then by all means do that. And if that means one night allocating 3-4 hours to just to 'knock off' some tasks, then do it! Or if you can work from home one day, just so you don't get bothered or pre-occupied with other priorities, then do that too.

3. Communicate
I seriously feel like a broken record sometimes when I harp on about communication, but essentially it's really important when you start to feel overwhelmed to start communicating. Don't ever feel shameful because you think that you aren't coping. If you are seriously being pushed to your limits, then it's time to have a conversation with your manager. Obviously though some busy periods, events or projects are just 'busy times' and we just need to get through them, but if you don't speak up you may not get the opportunity to be offered some help that you wouldn't normally get it if you didn't ask. If you don't ask, you don't get.....simple. And if even if your manager can't help you from a workload perspective, at least if you told them where you're at from a workload/stress point of view then in turn your credibility will go up as you've actually had the maturity to talk to them about it rather than bottle it up and potentially implode.

4. Get some perspective
It's time for a reality check.....you are only one person and you can only do what you can do. So stop putting so much pressure on yourself as Assistants' so frequently do, and take a chill pill. There is always going to be a light at the end of the tunnel, so when you feel like the world is starting to crumble around you, reassure yourself that there will be an end. And if you can't reassure yourself, tell someone else to tell you!

5. Plan time off
I think regardless of whether you're in a busy phase or not, its super important to have holidays or time off planned throughout the year, for your own sanity's sake. We are all given 20 days leave for a reason, so it's important to make plans throughout the year to take these days off. And not just a day here and a day there, ensure you plan to take at least a week off at any given time so you can actually rejuvenate yourself and get the down time you need. Not to mention, holidays actually can be that thing you look forward to and can be that 'light at the end of the tunnel' that you really do need when things get crazy.

Lastly I want to say one final thing - when people get stressed and overloaded with work the number one piece of advice you will commonly hear from others will be:
1. Just chill out
2. Meditate or practise mindfulness
3. Exercise
4. Don't drink or indulge in any unhealthy behaviours

Those pieces of advice are all very well but seriously when you're an EA/PA and you actually have serious responsibilities that you must deliver on, you just don't have time to go and pop off to the gym for a 2 hour work out, or sit under a tree and meditate for an hour a day......you've actually have got things to do! The key is regaining your composure and reigning in your stress by actually re-organising yourself. But by all means if you can re-organise yourself to allow yourself to go and workout every day for 2 hours and do everything that you need to, then hats off to you, but you have to do what works for you.

So you're all probably wondering why I'm feeling like I've bitten off more than I can chew at the moment, so I'll let you in on a little secret.......On top of my day job, that I normally manage with ease, I'm currently going through the motions of rebuilding 'Who's the Real Boss' and moving it off the Blogger platform and transforming it into a hub/platform that you can all visit and subscribe to and share in my passion of this extraordinary role that we all do and my dedication to transform the perception of the EA/PA role to ensure its a great job for all of us that do it. On top of that there are also some other things that I'm working on that I will announce to you all when I do launch my new website, and its something that I do hope that you will all join me in celebrating when it launches. But stay tuned for all of that, and I'll do my very best to take my own advice here and try not to implode  with stress whilst I'm trying to organise it all! :)



Sunday, 16 April 2017

The EA/PA Role: When your friends and family just don't get it.....

When others don't understand what you do for a living
Do you ever get the feeling that all your friends and your family think you do is answer phones and make coffee? Do you think sometimes that even though they say they get how busy you are, that they really have no idea? And do you think sometimes even though you bear your frustrations to them about certain challenges and frustrations that you have, that deep down inside they think its not a 'real' job?

I conducted a survey with you all not too long ago and one of the questions I asked you was if you thought your friends and family actually understood what you did as an EA/PA? 73 per cent of you told me that you didn't think your friends and family really understood what it is that you did each day, and 20 per cent of you said that they had NO idea whatsoever. These stats don't surprise me one bit, and I'm sure they probably don't surprise you either. As much as we can tell them all about the extremities of what we can be faced with on any one day, you're sure in their minds that they see you just sitting there like that image of a 1950s secretary, looking pretty at your typewriter and perhaps filing your nails, saying, "yes Sir" as your boss asks you to 'take a memo'. As much as we try to escape these archaic stereotypes of the assistant image, they have somehow attached themselves to us, leaving everyone who is close to us to believe that we are nothing but a paper pusher and glorified tea lady.

So what are we going to do about this? Because I kind of get the feeling that many of us are just sort of happy to live with these incorrect myths flying around about what we do and the value that we add. Call it complacency, or perhaps maybe enough of you feel valued and you think this isn't a reality for you, but the reality is that this isn't about how you are actually treated in your workplace and whether you get the respect you deserve, this is about what others think of us and what we do. And I hear you say, "why should we care what others think?". Well we absolutely should care about what others think and as EAs/PAs we have a responsibility to the role to create and sustain a positive image of it so that it's a great role for anyone that does it.

To me there is a re-education piece required around our roles, and who better to do the re-education than ourselves. For too long we have sat back whining and complaining that people don't respect us and see us for all the value we add, but meanwhile we aren't willing to stand up and make change for the better. No one else cares enough to change these out of date stereotypes associated with our roles, so it's time we stood up and took control of the situation once and for all.

You may have noticed recently I have posted some images on my social media and LinkedIn group asking you all to 'join the movement', and then I've also posted subsequent 'myths' associated with our roles that I label as being 'BUSTED'. I've labelled all these posts with the hash tag #demolishnegativeEAPAstereotypesforgood. And my plan is to continue to put up these myths every other day with my explanation of why they're busted and will continue to hash tag them with the handle so everyone is aware that they form part of a bigger movement. If you too feel passionately about this, and are fed up of the untrue images that others have of us, then I ask you to get on board with me. Anything you see online like this, that is a re-education piece for others, then re-post it with the handle, #demolishnegativeEAPAstereotypesforgood. Re-educating is up to US, and nothing will ever change unless we are bold enough to stand up and make it happen. So I encourage you to join this movement and help to re-educate others. Re-post my posts to your own friends and followers and spread the word of the busted myths associated with our roles! If enough of us can spread the word then we can ultimately re-paint a new image of ourselves as leaders and managers in our own right, and managers of our Executives, as that is what we really are.

But there are other things you can also do within your own circle to re-educate your family and your friends, so that they start to understand what it is we REALLY do:

1. Talk about your role - Speak up, tell stories and get creative!
Although our role is hard to define and no two days are never the same, it doesn't mean we can't talk about what happened in our lives on any given day so that others understand better some of the challenges we face. How many times have you caught up with friends or family and you're asked the obligatory question, "how's work?" and you respond, "yeah busy, as always, really busy!". But that's where you stop. Mainly because so many things happened that you wouldn't dare bore them with all things you've been asked to do this week, and nothing really happened of great significance (in your eyes) so you find yourself asking them instead 'how's work going for them?'. And the particular accountant or lawyer you're speaking to starts talking about some big case they're working on and how they're working around the clock because of a particular challenging client that they're dealing with etc etc etc. Sound familiar? And as they're telling this to you, you're thinking to yourself, my job is JUST as challenging. But the thing is they'll never know that, because you didn't speak up. So I challenge you the next time someone asks you 'how's work?' to actually tell them. Tell them how your boss sent you out on a mission to find a venue for an off-site for 150 people with a 3-day turn around, and all because of the need to get the team together after some team announcements. Or maybe you could tell them about how you were up until midnight the night before last working on some PowerPoint slides for your boss because he/she insists upon leaving everything to the last minute, even though you had been asking them about them for weeks? Or maybe you could tell them about the training you had to coordinate for 1000 people ensuring that every single on of them completed it within a set time frame and it was you that had to follow up every individual personally? Get my drift here? We get asked to do such a variety of different things, that to us don't seem that mind-blowing or interesting, but it all comes down to your words and how you describe it. So speak up, tell stories and get creative the next time you're asked 'how's work?'.

2. Call others out - Be bold enough to defend the role
Have you ever been in a situation where you find yourself at the butt of a joke about 'secretaries' and how we just make coffee all day? You know that its just a joke, but behind every joke really is an element of truth, especially when we get represented this way on TV and in movies. And we really have two choices when put in these situations, we can laugh and say nothing, or we can speak up and call the person out on it. Now you might think, 'well come on, it's just a joke, lighten up!' and you may very well find yourselves on the end of that response. But if you really want others to value what you do, then be prepared to stand up for yourself. You don't have to be rude, but instead maybe just re-direct the joke and ask "is that really what you think we do?". Many a time I've found myself asking that when put in that situation and then asking them something 'stereotypical' about their job instead. Nobody likes to be stereotyped as we are all individuals, so instead hand out a taste of 'their own medicine' as the best remedy for unnecessary jokes.  

3. Share positive stories - Online and verbally
Often enough there will be really great articles shared online about how wonderful EA/PAs can be, and the one that springs to mind here is the one that did the rounds recently about how Richard Branson said he wouldn't be where he was today without the help/support of the assistants he has had throughout his career. And it's all very well for us to 'like' these stories and feel all warm and fuzzy inside about it, but rather than just keep stories like this to ourselves, share them around on your social media with bold enough headline posts that encourage your friends to open them and read them, and I'm talking about friends here who aren't fellow assistants, and have no idea about the role and all we do. Similarly, if you hear a good story about how a fellow assistant was recognised for their good work, then share it with others and spread the word. Others might deem your 'stories' as being insignificant, but who cares, you're doing your due diligence to the role, so tell your stories with pride.

They're just 3 of the things we can all do to start re-educating others towards this common goal and movement, and I encourage you to do them. Together we can make this role truly great for all that do it and #demolishnegativeEAPAstereotypesforgood !!!!


Friday, 7 April 2017

The Truth about Trust: Why the relationship with your Executive is incomplete without it

Trust in relationships
There are many elements that contribute to building a solid relationship between an executive and their assistant. Trust, loyalty, honesty, communication, visibility and respect are just some of the those pillars that prop up relationships, regardless of whether they're of the workplace or of the heart. But just like making a cake, if you leave out just one ingredient, it's likely you'll have a pretty average tasting cake on your hands. And the exec/assistant relationship is no different. If one of those elements is missing, the result will be a pretty average working rapport, which is less than ideal for both parties involved. But some of the elements, similar to the ingredients in a cake, carry more weight and more importance than others. Like the flour in a cake, for example, trust would have to be the most significant element of all in a working relationship. And if trust is absent, like flour being left out of a cake, you quite literally are going to have a hot mess on your hands!

The impact of trust being absent in a relationship will always ultimately deem it ineffective and inefficient. If an exec doesn't trust their EA in what they ask of them, then they often will feel the need to micro-manage their every move, which in effect is a complete waste of everyone's time. And when the role of the EA is to lighten the load of the executive, it bears the question why they have an assistant in the first place. Understandably though sometimes exec's do deal with matters so sensitive that it is risky to share, but an assistant should be seen as a confidant, and a locked lipped partner - not someone who you're taking a gamble on by sharing these issues with them. But if you've never given them a reason not to trust you, then it can be doubly as frustrating as you can see that their reservations obviously stem from fear that if something should leak that it would reflect poorly on them. But the fact of the matter is, trust should not have to be earned by an EA, it should be given. And only, if only, that trust is broken then caution should be exercised.
 
As a rule of thumb, all executives, regardless of their beliefs and working style, should trust their assistant from the get go, and by all means give their EA the benefit of the doubt, always. But unfortunately this is not always the case, and time and time again I have assistants coming to me with complaints that their managers are keeping them in the dark on business priorities, that in turn are hindering them from doing their job. Or worse still, many assistants share with me stories on how they're followed up and questioned multiple times on tasks delegated to them, that they have in fact already actioned or completed. The reality is though that it's the EAs responsibility to manage their own workload, not the exec's job to manage it for them! So not only is behaviour like this frustrating for the assistant, it's detrimental to the relationship overall.

So what if you find yourself in this situation of not being trusted? Perhaps your exec doesn't keep you in the loop on things, or the don't communicate things to you to be able to do your job efficiently? Or maybe they don't give you full access to their inbox, hindering you from being able to support them completely? Unfortunately if your exec is one of those managers that doesn't just trust you from the get go, you will need to go through the motions to prove your trustworthiness. Now I don't necessarily agree with this at all, as it my belief that all execs should give their assistant's the benefit of the doubt straight up and only if there is a breach in trust, should they then act with caution. But never the less there are those managers out there that want you to prove your trustworthiness, so you'll need to think about implementing the following steps in order to improve the relationship:

1. Take notes and be organised
Often others will trust you more if they physically see you writing things down. So even if what their asking of you is something so basic or easy to remember, do them the service of writing it down or typing it on to your to do list so they trust that you will actually do what they've asked of you.

2. Establish your ways of working
A plan of the way you will work is always essential in any working relationship with your exec, even if you don't have trust issue. But when you do, its doubly as important and similar to the previous point - if they know the process that you go through to deliver on tasks that they delegate to you, they will in turn have more trust. So sit down and work out a tracking system on how they will delegate to you and how they will know once tasks have been completed.  Basically allow them to train you in the way that they want to work. This should hopefully alleviate those annoying follow ups that the micro-managing-managers feel the need to do.

3. Ask questions and seek clarity
Sometimes when you're asked to do something the delegator will have more confidence that you understand what they're asking of you if you in fact ask them questions or ask them for further clarity. Blank stares and silence doesn't put a lot of faith in managers when they ask things of you, so sometimes its best just to talk it through so they understand that you understand. Similarly ensure that they are clear with you with their instructions and their expectations, and if you feel they're not doing that, then be prepared to speak up and seek them out.  

4. Give updates
Like in any relationship communication is really important. So when tasks are delegated to you its important to provide updates on where things are at, but mainly to show them more than anything that you're all over it, you're competent and you're capable of what's been asked of you. This also gives you an opportunity to seek feedback and keep the communication lines open.

5. Be honest
The same as in romantic and personal relationships, if you don't have honesty then you don't have trust. So fess up on things that perhaps have gone wrong either currently or in the past, and just keep the communication lines open and flowing. Keep in mind that you are only human, and although we seem be super women/men sometimes, everyone makes mistakes and mistakes are there to be learnt from. And if you're a new or junior assistant, suggest to your boss that they drip feed you information  to you, so that they gradually build trust with you. More than anything things like this will create more credibility for yourself which in turn should create trust.

6. Speak up
If you want to be in one of those perfect EA/exec relationships where the exec looks to you as their business partner and values your opinion and even seeks it out, you actually need to be prepared to speak up. So when you're not feeling things are right, or you are feeling that things could be better, talk about it and speak up. Silence really gets you know where and if you want anything to change in your relationship you need to be prepared to talk about it.

7. Push to be a priority
If you feel like you're not a priority in your manager's life then this is something you're going to need to need to push for and persevere with. Schedule one on ones in their calendar weekly or daily, even if they get cancelled. You need to demonstrate your commitment to them and your loyalty and trust in them! Lead by example and hope that they will follow suit.

Although my blogs are always pointed at assistants and what they can do to better themselves, sometimes I do hope that the odd executive or manager does stumble across my articles and enlightens themselves on some of the things we all are trying to do collectively to better ourselves professionally. And if you are an exec that is reading this and you do struggle with trust and you find yourself micromanaging your assistant, let me remind you that your energy is better spent on projects and decisions that only you are capable of doing, rather than overseeing and micromanaging your assistant on things that they're more than capable of doing. You must remember that you hired them for a reason, and you saw something in them that was credible. So allow them to be the best assistant they can be by opening up to them and operating as a partnership, rather than concealing things from them and making life difficult for the both of you.



Monday, 27 March 2017

Hump Day Hints #16: Seeing double - Managing multiple managers

Managing more than one manager

In an environment where reduced headcount is an increasing pressure in business, its not uncommon for EA's to be forced to support more than one manager, often two, and in some cases even three or more! There is a misconception though that when you have more than one manager to support it means your workload doubles (or triples) over that of supporting just one. And although you have twice as many meetings to arrange and twice as many administration tasks to perform, it doesn't necessarily mean that you have twice the volume of work to get through.... and please hear me out on this one, as I know some of you probably won't agree! There is quite a specific formula when it comes to managing more than one Exec, and one that if followed, will ensure your time and workload is the same as that of an assistant who only supports one. But your time management, planning and approach to your workload is key. Some see it as a downside to support multiple managers, but that doesn't have to be the case at all. When you work in a one-to-one capacity with an Executive you are seen as extension of them and often anything will come your way, with no boundaries at all. A one-to-one scenario is often undefinable on any given day, which alone can have its challenges. But when you have more than one to support your role becomes more definable where you're in a position to call the shots, so to speak, and I'll explain why.

When faced with a scenario of multiple managers the key to successful time distribution is something I like to refer to as 'splitting'. Basically this is the art of splitting your time evenly across each of the managers you support.  And between yourself and each of your managers there should be a mutual understanding as to what your job description entails, with all parties agreeing and ensuring it is adhered to. This means an understanding of the tasks that you will perform for them and an agreement that you won't get dragged into time consuming projects and tasks that take away from what becomes your very 'precious' time. This most obviously includes personal tasks for those managers too. Your role is very much to support your managers from a business perspective and the line should be drawn there. And if you do feel you are being pulled from pillar to post and dragged into things that you shouldn't it's important that you speak up and ensure you aren't being taken advantage of.

So there are 5 areas to take into consideration when you are placed in the position of supporting more than one manager and once all implemented will make life very straightforward for everyone involved. I must point out though that it is significantly important to take the lead and very much act like a manager when you are in this position. You need to take charge of how your time will be split and how you will conduct your role. It's not for dictation by those that you support, but its something that should be discussed from the get-go with a plan laid out on the table so that there is no confusion. It takes a very strong, confident EA to support more than one manager, so if you feel like this isn't you, it might be time to take a look in the mirror and think about ways in which you can improve your credibility and brand. So when you create your plan and define your role to your managers with what you will and won't be doing for them, they will ultimately take you seriously as a manager.

1. Split your time
So the first area to nail is your time management and 'splitting' is a concept that works well with two managers, and is possible with three, but beyond that it gets messy. The idea is to divide your day up, so the morning with manager A and the afternoon with manager B. If they sit in different locations then sit with them/their teams at these allocated times. If you all sit relatively close together anyway then just allocate a half of the day to one and the other half to the other and communicate this to them so they're clear when they have your utmost dedication. This allocation of time will then form part of your overall plan. But although you are splitting your day there will obviously always be tasks that pop up in the wrong allocated time frame that can't be avoided, but I will detail later how you can manage this and approach your tasks in a consolidated fashion. 
 
2. Create your plan
The next thing to think about is creating a plan. It's important for each of your managers to know where you are and when. So if you have regular leadership team meetings that you are required to sit in on with each of your managers, then make sure this is communicated clearly to each of them and marked in their calendar so they know you are not contactable. Similarly they should also be aware when you are off site with your team, or facilitating things for your team and you're not available. This should also come in handy when managing expectations and deadlines for tasks they ask you to deliver. Anything regular, that happens weekly or monthly, devise into a visual planner that can be printed and pinned up at their desk so they can see where you are at a glance. And anything ad-hoc where you're out and not available then mark in their calendars.

3. Communicate communicate communicate
Communication is always going to be key when managing the expectations of each of your managers so you need to make sure you are organised in this respect. Set regular one-on-ones with each of them so you can communicate where you'll be and when and also advise on your workload. If they are privy to what you're working on with your other manager/s then they will be mindful of giving you things that perhaps they could handle themselves or could be handled by another team member. Also use these one-on-one times to makes sure deadlines and ETA's are well communicated on things they ask of you. Also make sure you communicate well your plans throughout the day - things like needing to leave early from their meetings to make another one of your manager's meetings; or that you've asked a fellow EA to collect their visitors from reception when you are tied up running a brown bag lunch session for your other manager, for example. And when it comes to communication always ensure all managers are present at the times of your performance reviews, so each of them can hear from you and others on your performance. This should also help manage everyones expectations.

4. Adapt your approach
Although I mentioned earlier that you should call the shots when it comes to managing your time, this should not be confused with the concept of managing different work styles and adapting yourself to fit in with them. Like looking after any manager, one-on-one or not, its important to adapt your style to fit in with them - so if they prefer having everything printed off for them, then you'll need to do that, or similarly if they prefer to manage their own in-boxes and approvals, then let them and just go with the flow. Just because you do something for one manager doesn't necessarily mean that you should do it for another. So when you first are buddied up with your manager its important to gauge their expectations on what they want you to be doing. But of course if you feel, as I mentioned before, that any lines are being blurred then its time to speak up.

5. Get organised
The last and best piece of advice when managing more than one manager is to be organised. The biggest challenge you face when put in this situation is really being in two places at once. Diaries will not always align for you, but the best thing you can do though is to be as organised as you can. So if that means arranging the catering for that morning tea so it arrives 15 minutes earlier so you can lay it out before heading down to reception to collect some guests for a meeting at the same time, then do that. Or when setting up each of the team meetings where you need to be present, plan them so they don't overlap. You're at the controls, remember that and use it to your advantage. Obviously there will sometimes be clashes that are unavoidable, but with a bit of planning and help from your fellow assistants you can manage it all. Call on your EA network to help you out in times of need, knowing that of course you will do the same for them when they need you too.

Finally, set reminders for yourself throughout the day for things you need to do - for example, mark what time you need to pick up visitors from reception, and set reminders every 2 hours to scan each of your managers in-boxes, or diarize dedicated times that you will complete expenses for each of them etc etc. Although you are splitting your time you need to consolidate the tasks that you do into one job. Its hard to manage two calendars and two in-boxes and two sets of admin, so consolidate what you need to into your own system with the reminders that are relevant to you. Its easy to forget things when you have more than one manager, so use your daily task list like a bible and set reminders for yourself to check each of their calendars each morning as soon as you arrive, sort out their meeting clashes or overnight requests for meetings, check they've got meeting rooms for each of their meetings, and that reservations have been made at the restaurant they're dining at for lunch etc etc. This may seem basic, but you shouldn't always rely on your memory to do things, especially when you have more than one to look after.
 
I'd love to hear from you all on what systems and processes you've all put in place that helps you to manage more than one manager. Supporting multiple managers doesn't have to be challenging. We are organised people and the right people for the job, so never feel daunted by something that a little bit of forward planning and a little bit of organisation will handle.