How to make an impact on Managers who claim to be ‘self sufficient’……
So you’ve been given a new Manager to look after? Perhaps it’s in addition to one you’re already looking after, or perhaps you’ve started a new role and they’re your new boss. We’ve all worked for the demanding types before, but what about the ‘light touch’ Managers that claim to be completely self sufficient and that don’t need much assistance at all? Our role as an EA is obviously to completely support the Manager above us with whatever they need, but if they’re not that great on the delegation front it can leave us twiddling our thumbs wondering what to do next. Now every EA role is obviously different and responsibilities vary, meaning that the Manager you’re there to support might only make up 20% of your role, with the remaining 80% dedicated to running the office or supporting the team. Many Managers will intentionally act less demanding to free you up so you can support the rest of the team and do the general office administration, and in those cases it’s fine. But when you’re employed to support a Manager/s as the primary function of your role and trying to extract work out of them is like trying to get blood from a stone, it can sometimes leave you wondering your worth and value in the company and the team. Although, for some assistants, when discovering they’ve inherited a Manager of a light touch, they’ll fist pump the air and jump for joy that they don’t have to have to deal with the added stress of running around after someone demanding! But how does that make you look as an EA, just accepting their lack of delegation and essentially enjoying the ‘holiday’ that you’ve been given? They may think they’re doing you a favour by claiming to be ‘easy’ and saying that ‘they don’t need that much help’ and perhaps you do see this as a bonus, but sorry kids, I hate to say it, but this is not beneficial to you or your brand, by any stretch of the imagination. It’s never a good look to be sitting around twiddling your thumbs because you’re light on with your workload. It’s not even a good look to be seen not equally supporting the multiple Managers you assist. Unless you’ve been given a break down of how you should slipt your time, each Manager should be supported equally and done so with the utmost professionalism. Anything less and it will start to impact your reputation.
Now for these so called ‘self sufficient’ Managers, you’ll find that all they ask you to do for them is manage their (light-on) diary, book their travel and do their expenses. But to me that’s not acceptable. Does that sound like a partnership to you? To me that sounds like the work of an Admin Assistant, and if that’s what they want, then that’s who they should employ. You need to prove your value and your worth as an EA and everything that you’re capable of. If you’ve got previous experience that’s valuable, then it’s time to showcase it, even if you think it won’t be accepted or taken seriously. So what can you do to have them take you seriously? Well fortunately there are some tactics that can be used, most of which I’ve listed below. If you follow this formula, unbeknownst to them, you will secretly training them to be the Manager of your dreams, where you’re practicing that equal partnership you crave and where you feel valuable and worthy, not only to them but also to the company you work in.
Take it all in and observe
It’s really important when taking on any new Manager to have your period of ‘observing’ and ‘absorbing’. There is no point being like a bull at a gate and charging in and trying to take over, especially when they’re not keen on utilising you. It’s important however, that you communicate that this is what you’re doing. The last thing you want them to think is that you’re just sitting back to and doing the bare minimum. Explain at the start that you will observe the way they operate now and then make some suggestions for improvements, or what you can take over and have delegated to you. Don’t do this for more than 4 weeks at max however, and I would say 4 weeks only for brand new jobs. For an existing job where you’ve just taken on a new Manager as an addition, I think a week of observing is more than enough. Watch how they manage their diaries, how they manage their inbox, what they’re filing system is like, and their forward planning. As self sufficient as these Managers think they are, they’ll usually be awful at forward planning and mainly because they’re doing everything for themselves and just don’t have the time. Forward planning is the perfect task to offer to take over. Forward book team meetings, team offsites/dinners, conferences etc etc. Create a yearly planner for them with all the necessary events/meetings and deadlines that are crucial to do their job. Additionally get to know their team too, observe the interactions there and if there are any efficiencies that could be created. Perhaps they don’t have formal one-on-ones in the diary and the team just barge in and interrupt when they want? Or perhaps the Manager isn’t fulfilling their duties at performance review time? Just watch and observe and make your list of everything you could be doing and present it to them for discussion. They’ll be impressed on what you’ve picked up and were probably unaware that they even needed assistance in these areas.
Even if you’re told they’re not required, having a daily one-on-one is a good habit to get into with your Manager. If anything it will make you front of their mind and not just the ‘go to’ person when they need something. Even if it’s just 5 minutes each morning, ensure that it happens. And if they’re reluctant to diarize them or ignore them when they are in the diary, just keep pushing for them to happen! The aim here is to get your Manager working with you in that partnership from the get go. Any Manager that just comes to you in a time of need is not utilising you to your full value. To busy for a one-on-one? Hit them up on email then, or call them. Obviously you need to pick your times, but taking a ‘no’ on the one-on-ones is not an option, sorry.
So you’ve managed to pin them down for a one-on-one. Having a Manager that claims to be self sufficient can be impossible to extract work out of. Whether they’ve always looked after themselves, or their new and never had an EA before, it’s actually up to you to help guide them and to display what you can do to assist them. It’s actually not acceptable to be told every day, “No, nothing for you to action today, I’m fine thanks”. And what’s even more unacceptable is for you to accept that statement. My suggestion is that at your daily one-on-one you sit down with them and have the write out a To-Do-List for the day/ the week. Then have them delegate a certain percentage of the list to you. Obviously there will be things on there that only they can do, but that’s not to say that you can’t assist with certain elements of the task. For example, they may need to set Sales appointments for the week – could you do the calling? could you pull the details out of the CRM system for them? perhaps suggest the best times in their diary? perhaps prepare the sales collateral they need to take to the appointments? Just because they think things are quicker done by themselves, once in a rhythm with you, they’ll actually find working as a team will knock things over twice as quick. This really is the best tactic to extract meaty tasks out of them, but ensure you’re clear on who is doing what so nothing slips through the cracks.
Sometimes I feel like a broken record with piece of advise, but really is the key to any good relationship, in the workplace or otherwise. And communication in this respect should always be a two-way street, where you are both telling each other what’s working, and what’s not; what could be done better; where there is room for improvements and where there could be systems/processes implemented to streamline things more efficiently. You will find your way when working with a new Manager, and like anything, this will take time, but it’s vital to communicate along the way so that you do in fact find your way, and don’t just come to a point where everything just falls apart or something slips through the cracks because you thought they were supposed to be actioning that particular thing, and they thought that you were! It’s really important that you set at the start who is doing what, or are you both going to be doing them? If you can, try and convince them to hand the diary over to you completely as we all know how complicated things can get when two people are in their trying to plan things! The same applies with email. Agree who will respond to what so that emails don’t get left un-actioned. If it helps, keep track of what they haven’t responded to or what they’re expecting a response to and do the follow up. Once you find your rhythm together you’ll be like a well oiled machine, but you will need to put your ‘convincing hat’ on to convince them to allow you to take over some of these things.
Still no traction?
So you’re a few months in and nothing seems to be working? They’re still clutching the cards close to their chest and giving you nothing? Well my advice here is just to keep at them in the hope that maybe one day they’ll budge. Be completely professional and ensure that you’re crossing every ‘t’ and dotting every ‘i’ on the things that you do do for them (diary, travel, expenses etc). And ensure that the bigger tasks that they do hand over to you, even if they are a rarity, are done with complete proficiency, quality and urgency to show that you are in fact good at what you do. If you give up on them because you’re sick of the rejection and do everything for them half-baked because you think they don’t care, you’re only creating a rod for your own back. And remember, there is always the little things that you can do for them that don’t require any thought or instruction at all – get them a coffee everyday, offer to get their lunch, tidy up their office when they’re not around, get stuck into their filing, or even magically make that jug of water appear on their desk each day morning to ensure they’re getting their 8 glasses a day! If you demonstrate your initiative and show that you will just get on with things without instruction they are more likely to see your benefit and maybe one day have a light bulb moment that they’re not utilising to your full potential.
Supporting multiple managers has become so common for EA/PAs these days, and although you may sigh under your breath when you’re told you’ll be supporting somebody new to the team, think of it as a challenge and an opportunity to show them how valuable and good at your job you really are. Remember, your perception is your reputation and your reputation is your brand, so ensure you’re showcasing your value to everyone, including those that think they don’t need you! #fromEAtoBusinessPartner