Imagine a work day where you feel like you are moving forward not treading water, your meetings are spaced throughout the day with breaks programmed in, everything you need to read for the day or week is just there for you to read, everything you need to sign is printed and waiting for you to sign, your desk is tidy and your phone doesn’t ring constantly and by the end of the day you have a plan for tomorrow. I enjoyed those days for a few years once and it was awesome.

Random topic but one I have found myself discussing alot recently with business owners who are thinking about getting an assistant. Ironically I no longer have a PA or EA (I must look up the difference sometime) but I can provide some insight into when it goes well and why, and when it can go terribly wrong and why too. In my previous life I went through 5 (yes 5) assistants in 1 year alone, then through persistence of the most senior EA in our company I employed Rachel who changed my life.

Having an assistant sounds awesome, someone to “do” things for you, thing is unless you put the work in you won’t realise the value they can bring.

It really all comes down to trust

To have a successful working relationship with your new assistant you have to completely trust this person, they will need access to your email, calendar, papers and that in itself is a massive trust hurdle. Senior Managers and Business Owners have financial, political, human resources and other sensitive information passing through their email for instance. Then at a personal level you will likely have emails from friends and family members,  things you subscribe to and all of your private “stuff”.

I can’t understate how hard this is, if the person has a different moral or ethical basis, has a different work ethic, has a different perspective on the role than you – you may find it hard to completely trust them full-stop. If you can’t trust them with this kind of information it will be hard to realise the benefits of employing this resource.

Don’t underestimate the value of the role

Like any skill based role you get what you pay for, don’t make the mistake of under valuing the role and getting someone who doesn’t have the experience you need to be successful.  I appreciate now in part the level of capability was limited by the pay structure the company had in place and therefore the experience of those we could employ possibly didn’t live up to my demands (yes I am demanding) so eventually the salary band had to be lifted. Rachel who revolutionised my life had worked with strong women before and wasn’t afraid to speak her mind (she wasn’t scared of me to say the least) some of the others were younger and inexperienced and scared to say boo to me at times. The judgement of your assistant is really important, their ability to prioritise events for you, contacts, calls etc – a skillset that develops with experience.

You can’t control everything

To get to where you are you will most likely be a control freak with a massive workload. Like employing any key resource the new person you delegate to won’t do everything exactly as you do or perhaps not even quite to your standards, work with them to get processes and systems that work for you, it may take time but it will work out if you put the effort in. Two of the assistants I had that year were both planning their wedding, and for them wedding planning came before work – so coming up with systems that worked never happened.

How to select the right assistant

Accepting what it means to have an assistant, how you have to really trust this person and pay them what they are worth is only part of the equation, next is selecting someone. This takes a level of self awareness, if you are a highly organised machine you will need someone who can click into that structure and align with you; if you are somewhat less organised and overwhelmed with work you will need someone who can put the systems and processes you need in place; think about how you respond to feedback and what style works for you; consider your ability to stick to a plan and if you would prefer to have someone who helps you stick to a plan or goes with the flow. Lets be frank, if you need an assistant who will organise you – pick someone who will organise you and accept that is who you chose ie: don’t turn round and rebel against being organised!

Come up with some interview questions that will tease out whether their work ethic, moral and ethical basis align with your own. Try to discover whether they are a gossip, or an information is power person, how motivated they are and what they aspire to achieve – are you a stepping stone or are you their career goal?

Back to the trust

You can have an assistant and not open up your email and calendar or make prioritisation decisions on your behalf but from my experience they can only be partially valuable for you, you can’t leverage the flexibility they have in their day to manage, filter, respond and react to things as they come in. I experienced the true value of having an assistant I trusted for a number of years, she completely revolutionised my life and ensured I had lunches, got to my kids hockey games, was at every meeting on time and prepared reading wise. If you can afford it and have the demand I recommend you take your time and find someone you can really trust. Happy sharing, Vic.

Thanks again to the wonderful team at dilbert.com for the last word on this subject.

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