Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Answering Reader Mail: Green EA, Green Executive

"I recently stumbled across your blog and have thoroughly enjoyed reading your posts! I was hoping that you might have insight/advice on how to create project work/better assist a C-Level exec that has never had an admin before.

I have only been an EA for 1.5 years and recently made an internal move, becoming the EA to a C-Level executive. Since we are both somewhat green, I was hoping that you might have some suggestions to spark project work (both business and personal related projects would be helpful). I am in a bit of a slump with my workload and would like to try new creative ideas to fill my plate. Thanks!"

Dear KC,

So glad you like my blog and hope I can be of help! You ask a very good question! Now's a great time to set a foundation and train your executive (if they are willing and learn to trust you) so a precedent can be set. Here are some things to work on for projects and what to figure out when learning to work with a new C-Level Executive during your first year. Be aware and mindful to ask insightful questions now over the course of many months. At the most basic level, you are there for your executive so what they prefer and what they are comfortable with is first and foremost, very important. You can suggest things or guide them a certain way, but they will always have final say.

1.Try to set up the communication of the office so your boss checks their own emails and responds, but you are in charge of all the mtg coordination, phones, and anything that happens in the office.

The point is to establish you are the gatekeeper and you are in charge of your boss' time and presence. Tech glitches happen all the time and 2 people controlling one person's calendar is not the easiest thing. The fewer cooks in the kitchen, the better. If possible, train your boss to cc you whenever something needs to be handled and clue you in on conversations so you have somewhat of an idea of what is going on. While many things are confidential, what you want to avoid is your boss double booking mtgs or not taking into consideration other executives coming to you so you can ask your boss on x, y, z. Whoever controls the flow of information, controls what happens. This also means maybe 10 min mini mtgs first thing in the morning and at the end of the day.

You want to impress upon your boss they do the leading, business strategy and run the department while you handle everything else so they don't have to worry. You do all the admin stuff, prep, and the misc tasks. They should do all the executive level work. You answer the phone, book travel, offer beverages to guests, book meetings, prepare the conference room, order food, etc...

2.Outreach and Prep

While you have the time and can, get to know the others assistants and go to lunch. Get to know all the departments you will be interfacing with. Start brushing up and training on weak areas with PowerPoint, Photoshop, business writing, or anything you can think of. Find or make an org chart so you understand your boss' direct reports and their direct reports. Start reading now about your company's mission, strategy, and goals.

3.Get your boss' personal information now.

In the event of an emergency or when family visits, it would be great for you to already know who the family members are. Names, contact information, relevant data. For example, some spouses do not share a last name. Does your boss have GPS in their car or do they use it on their phone? If not, they will expect maps printed out, etc. If you have to purchase stuff for your boss - ask to xerox the credit card, both front and back now. If your boss it absent, do they have a stamp of their signature that you are to use in their absence and only for emergency contracts and the like? Does your boss have allergies, special diet needs, medications (like epinephrine for bee stings?), or anything special you should know about? Do they prefer meetings no earlier than 9am? Do they like aisle seats on an airplane? Do they have a frequent flyer card for any business? Are there favorites of anything your boss likes - their coffee, restaurants, cafeteria lunch food, etc?


Are there projects that you foresee you will be assigned that you can start researching now? Where will you get flowers, baby gifts, birthday cakes, catered lunch, a venue for the holiday party, wine, a list of all the hot restaurants in town? Think about stuff you can discover now while you have time instead of waiting at the last minute.


Set up a great filing system now. While you have the time, bust out the label maker, order all the supplies and prep for what all the filing you will have to do. Order binders and enough office supplies so you always have some extra. You always have an extra ream of paper, extra toner ink. Once you use one, there is an extra, and you should order so you always have one in stock.

6.Cheat Sheets

Start creating cheat sheets now of the most dialed numbers, any information you will use a lot like the front lobby, the mailroom, IT, the janitor, facilities/operations, etc. The goal is to have at your fingertips information you will need at a moment's notice. Make a big binder now, even for daily information on how the office runs. If you are out sick, a temp will have to sub for you. Do they know the vm passwords? Your computer log in? A map of the building or floor you sit on, etc? What is the cut off time for FED EX? Lists, cheat sheets, binders, and detailed instructions will make things more smooth and idiot proof.

7.Get a list of VIP folks your boss will always want to be interrupted for.

Your boss has a boss and probably has a family. There will always be a handful or more of people your boss will always take a call from. Learn who those people might be, now, before someone who is important calls and you sweat it out debating whether to grab your boss.

8.Try to figure out your boss - how they like to communicate (and mirror that), their personality, and the way they work.

People generally have a preference for the phone (talking), email (writing, taking time to think, and for the paper trail), or texting (quick reminders while they are in mtgs and something comes to them). This also means when you have to go in and interrupt your boss while they are in a mtg they have a preferred method. Do they like you to whisper in their ear so they can whisper back? Do they like you to come in silently and have a post it note with a large message written on it (my preferred method)? Do they want you to take them out of the room? Are they a morning person so it's best to grab them while they are still upbeat and awake? Are they type A and super organized so they like lists printed out so they can carry it around or do they like information only in digital form? Be mindful of your boss' preferences, perks, and style of working, communicating, and handling stress, conflict, bad news, good news, etc. Your goal is to become a mini-me version of them and to make their life easier. Study and observe your boss for the best working relationship.

9. Professional and Personal assistance

Think about an entire calendar year and an entire fiscal year from your boss' professional and personal perspective. Don't forget about official, company, school, and religious holidays. Start forecasting the myriad of duties that come with different quarters of the year. Try to automate and formalize processes for projects that will repeat. Here are some examples. Every year around November I start inputting next year's holidays on the calendar including annual conventions or trade shows my boss will go to. I start putting in reminders of when I should start working on updating the addresses for holiday cards. I mark out vague time slots on when my boss will probably go on summer and winter holiday. I block out time on my calendar when I know I will have to work overtime because it's budget season. Since it's August right now, are there things you can do to help prepare for the start of the school year? Should you be shopping for Halloween costumes now online? Should you be brainstorming business gifts for the holidays?

10.Contemplate your future

If you have a lot of down time, figure out where you want to be in five years and how you may be able to take on some of those duties now to place yourself better for a future of your choosing. If you want to be CEO or CFO maybe offer to help on budgets, financials, and with Excel documents. If you want to be in Corporate Communications, maybe ask to do social media stuff or write your bosses speeches. If you want to be in Sales, maybe ask to sit in on meetings and take notes so you can silently observe. If you want to be in HR/Recruiting, maybe offer to help find interns or assistants if you will have one. Maybe you can think of activities for Bring Your Kid to Work Day. Now is a good time to establish how you want your job to unfold. Maybe you ask your boss for lunch meeting twice a year. Or you can think about yearly goals you can achieve at work. Create yearly, 5-year, and 10-year goals for yourself and how you can move up in your department or company.

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