Move over…there’s a new breed of EA in town

As reported in New Zealand Management Magazine, October 2014

Technological advances, a rapidly changing global economy and shifts in business strategy, are all redefining the role of the executive assistant (EA). Today’s versatile EAs can be likened to circus performers who possess an extraordinary ability to bend and flex. Add to this the ability stand straight and firm to push through obstacles, to hit the ground running, bounce back, and renew themselves…and it’s no wonder EAs are back in fashion.

According to a recent survey of more than 500 employers:

  • 98 percent view talented administrators very differently to those of five to ten years ago, citing increased tech savviness and strategic thinking as valued traits.
  • 71% view administrators as integral team members/leaders.
  • Employers stated that an administrator’s role includes presentation skills (63 percent), client communication (59 percent), vendor management (49 percent), metrics reporting (40 percent) and team management (40 percent).

These findings have been confirmed by the employers we work with at Frog Recruitment. They are running their businesses with leaner teams and are asking more from their administrative talent. The job of the traditional secretary has evolved substantially since the days of the typing pool [or the era of Mad Men], to encompass much more than typing, filing and pouring coffee.

Today it’s all about pace and having an array of skills displayed in quick time – the ability to process information with an eye for accuracy, making quick and effective decisions, prioritise and group tasks and exercise intuitive judgments – all ‘on the fly’.

The evolution of the role is positive and there is opportunity for career growth.  It now includes role-related leadership, the management of people, relationships, projects, teams and communications.   With more to be accomplished with fewer people amidst limited resources, opportunities for eager executive assistants to fill the capability gap within organisations is there for the taking.

Through initiative and the appropriate application of cultural awareness, analysis, communication, and decision-making, I believe executive assistants will continue to transform the traditional role to one with clear strategic management and leadership responsibility and accountability.

From the sidelines, we’re witnessing the emergence of a new executive/executive assistant relationship, and it’s one that could be defined as ‘value-added’ colleagues.

Natural Managers
The executive assistant’s new role is inextricably interwoven with management and leadership tasks. Planning, coordination, project management, time management, establishing priorities, multi-cultural relationship management, financial intelligence, strategic decision-making capability, and proactive skills are the new norm.

Executive assistants are natural managers – they understand that managing is a set of human interactions, not a series of mechanical tasks. They are the local experts who have built strong interpersonal and business relationships with executives. They are being called upon to act in a managerial capacity.

Executive Assistants are Leaders
Executive Assistants may not be the CEO of the company, but they are a leader. Leadership is not about positional authority; it’s about attitude. The best leaders desire to support and inspire others, not themselves.

Executive assistants possess the confidence and capability to skilfully provide leadership support for the senior management team of which they now are an integral part.  As leaders, executive assistants cope with change, tolerate chaos and inspire others with their fervent passion, to offer their best efforts on behalf of a goal to which they are personally committed.

Virtual Assistants
The development of technology has seen a rise in popularity of the ‘Virtual Assistant’.  Using a virtual assistant can shave hours from your work week so the secret lies in knowing which tasks to delegate. Most virtual assistants are contract or freelance workers who do their jobs from home and focus on administrative tasks that are similar to those of an executive assistant or secretary.

Entrepreneurs use virtual assistants for everything from making vendor or customer service calls to sending out thank you cards to prospective clients. It’s important to build trust just as you would with a permanent employee because they become a team member who just happens to work remotely.

A New Type of Mentor
More commonly Executive Assistants are becoming mentors and coaches to individuals either within or outside their organisations. Administrators make perfect mentors to both junior and senior staff on how to juggle many complex tasks requiring time management which other staff struggle with.

The possess valuable insights into how to best structure the working day, optimise performance, deal with management distractions, negotiate with suppliers and introduce technology shortcuts, just to name a few.

Equally we are seeing EA’s work with a mentor or coach for their own personal development. They are determined to hone their skills and focus on areas for development which sit outside the core functions of the EA role, including financial skills, sales, operations or human resources.

Personal Branding
As awareness of the importance of personal branding becomes more evident, we are seeing EAs actively involved in developing their personal brand, with individuals building a memorable brand presence on social media.  EAs are ‘putting themselves out there’ by looking for opportunities to present at industry events (which comes quite naturally given EAs are the ones creating presentations for their executives!), developing forums, joining specialist groups and using various social media platforms.

Like any good brand, a personal brand is a signature. It is a flourish of personality and a stamp of authenticity.  In an ideal world a personal brand has the best of connotations – of course depending on the industry and the style of company and executive you work for.  The goal is to become recognised for quality, thoroughness, special expertise, a solid business sensibility, and a highly professional decorum.

Top Tips for EAs
Today’s employment climate, which is increasingly characterised by organisations promoting ‘from within’ in line with the trends of engagement and retention of intellectual property, presents a huge opportunity for EA’s to develop their futures.

Aligning interests with particular projects that extend to a different grouping within the organisation, creating communication elements to bridge information-flow weakness and gaps or becoming a ‘subject-matter-expert’ within a particular area, are just some examples of the scope for growth and opportunity to create a bigger impact.

Contracting and temping are continuing to grow exponentially in popularity. We’re observing people experiment with these employment options to gain new experiences and take advantage of the opportunity to ‘see inside’ new organisations.

As a result, we have seen a 25 percent increase in the numbers of temporary administrators being offered permanent positions when on assignment.  In my view, this is an excellent way for EAs to test the waters of an organisation.  As one candidate put it; “Business as usual’ means you end up getting stuck in the trenches rather than on the balcony.”

How to Get the Most out of Your Executive Assistant
As switched-on CEOs have discovered, executive assistants can do much more to help them perform effectively, beyond simply digitising what used to be paper tasks.  Modern EAs are conducting corporate research, providing advice on community outreach and even subbing for their bosses at meetings.

They increase the executive’s productivity by saving time; meetings begin on time, information is prepared in advance, travel schedules are optimised, projects are kept on track, information is filtered and distractions are minimised.  As one CEO reported to us; “A top-notch EA is crucial to me being productive.’

Three simple tips on working effectively with your EA.

  • It starts with trust – this is the main thing to establish.
  • There must be a willingness to delegate pieces of work.
  • Make it clear to the organisation, that they your EA has real authority.

 

References available on request.

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