Optimal executive assistant to executive ratio. How many is too many?
Efficient growth is more about just being efficient. It’s about understanding and prioritizing solutions for your startup. This is not an easy feat, especially for a company with high ambitions for rapid growth and countless options and ideas. In our experience, efficient growth means bringing in support in the form of an executive assistant.
Just like efficiency is not enough to grow, having an executive assistant also requires support in vetting, training, onboarding, and constant feedback to ensure success. Having the proper technology and techniques is also fundamental for an EA to thrive in supporting your executive team throughout your growth journey.
In the executive assistant business, this question never fails to arrive: how many executives can my EA work with? This is a legitimate question based on three scenarios that we’ve seen in our experience supporting startup executives. You might identify with one or several of them:
- An executive has a lot to delegate, even if they can’t realize it. Oftentimes this happens because they might be unaware of the delegating party’s proficiency.
- The executive recognizes how much she needs an EA but also needs to share the budget with another department.
- The executive is very aware that their support will limit to one or two areas exclusively and can definitely share an EA with two or three other executives.
Table of contents:
- How many executives can work with the same EA?
- Optimal performance 1:1
- Favorable performance 1:2
- Special case: EAs working with 2+ leaders
- Your EA team should grow as your team grows
- Finding support as you grow
How many executives can work with the same EA?
As this article is being written, we are working with over 50+ executive assistants that support executives from US startups. From our extensive research and proven/disproven hypothesis, we’ve come up with an optimal performance ratio and other available options that will make working with an executive assistant more effective.
Our research led us to understand the factors that mostly influence this ratio. We’ve discovered four: the workload amount, the level of support required, expectations about the EA, and headcount.
In our experience, Series A startups tend to need more support as they have high-functioning executives wearing many hats. Whereas startups Series B+ are still in need of support, it’s usually focused on administrative tasks such as calendar management and meeting scheduling given that executives are doing less tactical work.
With these four factors in mind, we’ve defined three scenarios for the executive assistant to executive ratio: Optimal, favorable, and special cases. Keep reading to understand each scenario in depth.
Optimal performance 1:1 ratio
This is the scenario of an executive assistant working exclusively with one executive. It’s suited for executives who have significant needs that most likely include operational processes besides administrative tasks. Some of our customers on the 1:1 ratio delegate full HR processes to their EAs, besides calendar and email management or travel planning and expenses.
This scenario works great with executives who are looking for direct time savings and need to focus on their most strategic priorities. A 1:1 ratio ensures that there are no constraints in capacity allowing for a full delegation of tasks whether admin or operational, in either order of importance.
From our experience, this optimal performance ratio of 1:1 is usually great for leaders in C-Suite roles and/or VP Operations/Talent.
Favorable performance 1:2 ratio
This ratio refers to an executive assistant that supports two executives, as opposed to one 1:1 ratio. It’s recommended for executives that have administrative needs exclusively (such as calendar & email management, travel planning, expenses management, meeting support, and team engagement) with no need for support in operational tasks. This is our most popular method of supporting executives.
As the executive assistant will be working with two leaders at the same time, it’s crucial to clearly define the scope of work that can be performed for each executive. Defining clear boundaries will make the working environment more effective and will derive in healthier relationships, leading to longer retention.
This favorable performance 1:2 ratio is usually great for VPs or Heads of departments. We’ve also seen it work with CFOs, CTOs, and CPOs in any combination. A great example is working with one executive who has a lot of meetings and needs support in calendar/email management while the second executive doesn’t get too many emails but does travel a lot and needs travel planning and expense keeping besides email/calendar management. Both combined and working with a great executive assistant with high organizational skills can be a win-win situation.
This ratio is a great option for smaller organizations with restrained budgets, or smaller organizations with lighter workloads.
Special case: EAs working with 2+ leaders
Our third scenario involves one executive assistant working with 3 or more executives at the same time. In most cases, this approach is not recommended unless executives have very limited needs such as calendar management exclusively. In this case, an executive assistant would be in the role of an administrative assistant, which differs greatly from an executive assistant mainly in skills, training, and responsibilities.
This scenario benefits individuals and companies with limited budgets as with their needs. As with the former scenario, great communication is a must to ensure success. Establishing clear boundaries is also necessary.
Special cases where an EA works with multiple leaders are best suited for directors, excluding C-suite roles or VPs/Heads of departments and it’s considered a short-term solution.
Efficient Growth: your EA team should grow with your startup
The goal is clear: build an incredible business with a tremendous amount of impact, as quickly as possible. Even though not all startups are to become Astera Labs (who raised $150 million Series D in 2022) they will still grow significantly in a short period of time.
Growing, of course, comes with many challenges, including talent acquisition. Given the support that executives get from executive assistants throughout the growth stages, our recommendation is to include executive assistants when you’re hiring for growth and have them as part of the benefits package of your talent acquisition strategies.
Besides being an excellent selling point for recruiting top-level individuals, having an EA improves your executives’ productivity, allowing them to focus deeply and be more organized.
The efficient growth model created by Viva is a tool to understand how startups can grow smart by bringing in executive assistants to help with the administrative (and sometimes operational) aspects of the work so executives can focus on the tasks that require 10+ years of experience.
This model suggests that CEOs have an executive assistant working in the 1:1 ratio, meaning that the EA works exclusively for them. As experience has taught us, CEOs benefit greatly from having an executive assistant starting at Series A, once they’re post-product market fit and ready to grow their GTM teams. Hiring aggressively for sales, marketing, and customer success increases the need for support not only driving that process but staying on top of everything given the increase in direct reports.
As the startup moves forward to the next stage, new hires are due. EAs are able to support executives from Series B, all the way to IPO. In the model, we’ve added a recommended approach to certain C-suite roles sharing an EA (1:2 ratio) whereas others have an EA to work with exclusively (1:1 ratio) but it depends on the workload of each role, given that every startup has different needs depending on their size, industry, goals and business model. The idea is to show how executive assistants can be part of the team as it grows supporting executives exponentially.
Finding support as you grow
As a team grows, their support should be growing with them. This is a smart way of allocating resources to where they work best, in this case, improving the productivity of the executive team.
Viva is partnering with startup executives, from Series A to IPO, to deliver support along their growth journey. Through our Customer Success program, executives have found solutions that work well for their specific businesses and have been paired with great executive assistants that are proactive and proficient from day one.
Our solution involves talent, technology, and techniques with a unique onboarding program in 24 hours or less. We have a pre-hire system that allows for a fast-paced onboarding and a previous training program of 8 weeks. This means startup executives get to work with a highly-qualified executive assistant from the day they’ve made a decision to hire one (or several!). Being a startup ourselves, we understand the value of fast and efficient growth.
Book a call to understand how this solution can be tailored for your startup.