First Time Having an Assistant
Whether you’re a student affairs executive with administrative support or have a student assistant, establishing a relationship with your new partner is critical. For those in unions and activities, it can be difficult to give others control over tasks either because we value servant leadership or because they’re “easy wins” to check off our to-do list. However, an assistant can work with you so you can focus on other challenges and projects you were hired to address. These tips can help you begin this new partnership:
Some tasks that could be transitioned to your assistant include:
- Data entry (e.g., time sheets, expense reconciliation)
- Straightforward tasks (e.g., mailing, scanning, filing, simple proofreading)
- Screening (e.g., when people want to meet with you, reviewing the latest news of the day)
- Research (e.g., restaurant options for an upcoming department meeting, prices for staff recognition awards)
- Organization (e.g., confirming meetings for the day, reminding you about upcoming deadlines)
Set clear expectations.
Every manager has their own style and preferences and every organizational culture is unique. While your assistant’s responsibility is to anticipate needs, they can’t do that without some parameters. For instance, instead of saying, “Please don’t schedule meetings back to back,” you could ask that at a 15-minute buffer be included. Instead of saying it’s acceptable to interrupt a meeting, you might request that your assistant write what’s needed on Post-It, not discreetly whisper to you. Descriptive guidance on the front end of a relationship is not micro-managing; it’s an investment that prevents either individual from needing to make assumptions.
Withholding information hinders your assistant from being your advocate, so provide background or reasoning that will help the individual make good decisions. This might mean summarizing the politics of a committee you’re on or why a project is behind schedule. It could also be personal, like them knowing your brother has an important doctor’s appointment today so you definitely want to take any calls from him, or you’re trying to lose weight, so you’d like to protect your lunch hour to accommodate a walk.
Give feedback and make sure it is specific.
If you appreciate your assistant sharing how to pronounce someone’s name before a meeting, thank them. If you need your assistant to print your presentation notes in a larger font for readability next time, be sure to tell them.
Consider your assistant’s development.
Eliminate the image of the 1950s secretary, and instead consider ways your assistant can learn and contribute beyond clerical roles. Maybe your assistant could represent the organization at certain events, offer expertise to inform certain departmental decisions, or might be interested in connecting with other assistants and professionals from across campus. Additionally, everyone will benefit if the individual is provided with training opportunities related to new systems, software, or procedures.
While executive assistants are commonplace in companies, their prevalence varies for departmental leaders on college campuses. Each manager is often on their own to navigate the relationship and might not be maximizing the partnership to ensure both individuals can be their most productive.