Communication is a cornerstone of any relationship—at least any good relationship. So why do so many executives rely on casual, on-the-fly exchanges with their assistants?
“A lot of executives don’t do regular meetings with their assistants. And there are a lot of excuses for it,” says Joan Burge, an administrative trainer CEO of Office Dynamics.
“The main excuse, assistants say, is that their executives are too busy for regular daily huddles with them. They don’t understand that they’ll be able to help their executives even more if both sides are committed to daily huddles.”
On days when she’s not traveling, Burge holds a five- or 10-minute huddle with her executive assistant, Jasmine Freeman.
Here’s how they make the communication work:
1. Keep your agenda consistent. Example: Talk about your tasks, your boss’s tasks and any other follow-ups that need to happen that day. Decide who’s taking the next steps on any calls, e-mails or calendar items.
Look at the calendar together—Burge and Freeman look three to five weeks ahead—to see which trips or meetings are coming up and what sort of prep work is needed now.
2. Be proactive in between the daily huddles. “Execs don’t like always asking, ‘What’s going on?’ If you’re a great assistant, you’ll just feed that information,” Burge says.
“When I’m traveling, Jasmine will send me an eight- to 10-bullet recap at the end of the day. Even though she communicates throughout the day, she’ll do the recap, which is helpful for me.”
3. Stay organized and concise. “Executives don’t like it when their assistants are bumbling through papers,” Burge says. “If you want to get those meetings and keep them, know exactly what you’re going to talk to your executive about.”
4. Go easy on your executive. If you’re not doing daily huddles now, realize that it may take time to develop the habit. Ask for a Monday morning huddle to preview the week. Once that one-day-a-week meeting proves valuable, suggest meeting two or three days a week.
5. Ask better questions. Freeman suggests, “If your exec isn’t giving you a lot of information, ask, ‘Is there anything more I can do with this to free up your time?’ A lot of times they may think of something they weren’t giving you.”
Burge adds, “Jasmine is good at finding the right questions. I remember the first time she did it. Someone was requesting paperwork, and I knew I’d need to do it when I got back into town. She said, ‘What can I do to get this started?’ instead of ‘What can I do to help?’ It made me realize that there were steps she could take.”
6. Make it a habit. The hardest part, says Burge, is sticking with the daily one-on-ones, rather than slipping back into old patterns or resorting to e-mail.
“You can’t clarify things on the spot if you’re using e-mail. And meeting face to face, you create the human moments that build the relationship. You don’t get that with e-mail,” Burge says.
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