The Executive Assistant Guide

executive assistant

If you are lucky enough to have an Executive Assistant, the success of this working relationship greatly affects your ability to produce results.

This article provides suggestions for the range of roles your EA might play in assisting you with your work and relationships. Feel free to adapt this to enhance the specific working relationships between you and your EA.

With each task, I have suggested a role and a way your EA might consider approaching the task.  

Diary Management

Your EA’s role is guardian of your diary and time.

  1.  I want one hour uninterrupted at the start of each day for a “Strategic Projects Review” meeting. This allows me to process tasks that I have collected from the previous day. “If someone wants to see me urgently, for 10 minutes max, during this time, email me and I will let you know when I can see them.
  2. Meetings that I set up or others that I have been invited to, should be for either 20, 30, or 45 minutes. This enables time between meetings for me to be accessible, check messages, travel, etc.
  3. I want 90 minutes on a Friday or Monday to do a weekly review.
  4. Consult verbally with me or by text or email for all proposed meetings outside the hours of 9am-4pm.
  5. Print out my week prior and the week ahead for my reading pack the day before I do my weekly review
  6. The day following my weekly review, schedule 10 minutes with me where you and I discuss my priorities for the week.
  7. Prioritise desk tasks – you can use the scheduled Strategic Project Review times for these tasks. Allocate 1, 2 or 3 to each task in order of priority.
  8. Prioritise my diary on the basis of my stakeholder list and weekly priority list (more on that later).
  9. At the start (or end) of each day, schedule 10 minutes to walk me through the day ahead e.g. showing me which meetings have papers, confirming travel arrangements, conference call arrangements, lunch, etc.
  10. I rely mainly on my outlook diary – if it changes during the day hand-write the change, or text me.
  11. Use a coding systems code for my appointments as follows:
  • Internal stakeholders (OUR group/organisation) only
  • External stakeholders
  • Self time: Personal   

Process meeting requests according to the above guidelines.

The further down the organisation hierarchy the stakeholder is and the lower the priority, the more you should consider dictating terms that are more convenient to me – do this in a considerate and friendly way – not autocratic. You could consider who else might be best to meet this person where this is an option. My expectation though is that our team managers will meet with those at their level. I will meet with these people only where a manager specifically invites me to do so.  

My Overnight Pack

Here your role is the thoughtful and helpful organiser.

I use evenings to read documents and plan for the day ahead, hence the overnight pack. I often work from home at night as well.  

1. Prepare my overnight pack each day and leave it in my briefcase at the end of each day. If I am leaving directly for home from another location you will need to either prepare it earlier or send it to me.

2. The overnight pack should contain:

  • My essential reading folder
  • My non-essential reading folder. This includes magazines and other publications.
  • My day portfolio for the next day, including diary printout, meeting papers (organised in time and ordered in an easily accessed fashion).
  • A “discard” folder for unwanted papers – for the secure document destruction bin
  • A folder for you, so I can give you papers, notes, instructions, etc. to process. Occasionally you will get business cards that I have been given – add these to my e-contacts and then discard them. Include a weekly email to me of who has been added to the contacts database.
  • A filing folder for paper filing. It should always have a printout of the filing tree, so I can indicate where each document should be filed.

3. I will drop the overnight pack on your desk each morning. Occasionally you might need to arrange to pick it up from another location if I’m going to be out of the office for some time.

Messaging

Your role here is accessible message taker.

  1. All desk phone calls will be diverted to you
  2. If you hear my mobile phone ringing please take a message ‘Hello, Mary on Fred’s phone, let me take a message for Fred.’

Email management

Here your role is prioritising relationships and information management.

1. I expect you to play an active role in managing my email. This means:

  • Actively scanning emails to determine what can be delegated (and then delegating on my behalf) and/or resolve yourself
  • Identifying important or urgent tasks and if necessary putting them in a holding pattern until you can speak with me
  • Scanning my cc’d emails (which I generally don’t read – filter into a separate folder)    Be familiar with what is in each one so if we need to access them we can.
  • Archiving old emails and managing mailbox size

2. I will use category flags to mark emails for you to action.

  • The flags will be:
    • Print essential reading OR put in e-folder for me to read
    • Print non-essential reading or as above
    • Follow-up (it will be obvious what to do – e.g. set up a meeting following an email conversation)
    • File in U:\ drive (location for reference information)
    • Add to contacts – add the sender’s details to my outlook contacts   
  • NOTE: The best way to find all emails with flags for you to action is to use the Categorize Mail search folder which will search and filter the category flags from all folders.  

Stakeholder list

Your key role here is to be an accessible astute personable stakeholder connector.

  1. I will provide you with a list of stakeholders, categorised as:
    1. always accept their invitations, even if it is a LITTLE inconvenient for me,
    2. Ask me
    3. Probably no, but if it seems urgent/important/relevant then consider the request
    4. Don’t accept; either say no or delegate the meeting  

This is a guide and you should use your good judgement. For example, if a stakeholder has flown from out of town just to see me, someone on the ‘A’ list shouldn’t automatically trump them.

The closeness of the stakeholder should determine the level of care and attention you afford them. Display care and empathy for everyone, but some people you should be proactive in building your relationship with (including their EA’s). This means things like calling to discuss convenience of appointments, following up with reminders, using their names, etc. 

Filing

Your role here is systematic file manager and access oracle.

  1. Part of your role is to maintain a paper filing structure
  2. I prefer to use a “tree” type structure organised by topic or function rather than a flat alphabetical structure.
  3. You should update the file structure as things are added and include a copy in the “filing” folder of my overnight pack.
  • Some rules:
    • For regular meetings, keep 3 meetings worth of papers (i.e. once there are three sets, as a new one comes in you can throw the oldest out)
    • Keep all finance papers for 3 years (trust no one).
    • Reference material may need a purge every now and again – it is best just to schedule something in my diary: action – purge time.

Memos and paperwork

Your role here is firm personable standard setter.

  1. I would like you to QA any memos that come to me and reject any that are sub-standard – e.g. spelling or grammar mistakes, incorrect format, no recommendations or poor recommendations, lack of conciseness, etc. I don’t expect you to always know the content but I do want you to set a high bar on the other aspects.
  2. I want you to be the group expert on templates and processes to get decisions made, including to the General Managers, CE and Ministers.

Working with the team(s)

Your role here is to be a collaborative relationship manager.

  1. Nurture collaborative relationships within OUR GROUP, the branch EA’s and with my key stakeholders and their EA’s.
  2.  You should give consideration to any reasonable ad hoc requests for help from OUR GROUP but if you feel it may compromise your ability to assist me, talk to me first.
  3. My direct reports: Create a file for every direct report. Include their JD, latest and previous performance agreement, correspondence and 1:1 notes.

Expected behaviours

EA’s role here trusted ear and sought-after reliable sense maker.

  1. Confidentiality – I will share almost everything with you that is work related. You should treat this as confidential at all times.
  2. Whilst the above tasks are an indication of what I expect, the general theme is that I want to feel my EA is really looking out for me and is covering my back. This means moving beyond task based instructions and getting a sense of my priorities so you can make decisions.
  3. You are the face of OUR GROUP in many cases and represent me personally.
  • I expect that you will be:
    • Professional
    • Composed
    • Respectful
    • Considerate
    • Supportive and friendly
    • Attention to details: accurate meeting times, anticipating, and follow through with delegated tasks
    • … and firm, when you need to be.

Workflows

These are the workflows I expect you to manage and own – i.e. you need to proactively manage me and others to get the outcome.

Other quirks

Your role here is to be the organised status updater and results reporter.

  1. I don’t like clutter and prefer a clear desk and an uncluttered work environment.
  2. I like professional presentation and really dislike poorly formatted documents. I don’t mind if it is an early draft but final documents must have professional polish, without any typos or spelling mistakes.
  3. Disorganisation drives me nuts (but you’ve probably figured that out by now).
  4. Mistakes are ok … repeating them isn’t.
  5. I expect commitments to be held – if a deadline is going to be missed, tell me early. Telling me a deadline will be missed after it has occurred just makes me grumpy.

© Diana Jones  

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