When to get an executive assistant? On your first day
Most of the startup executives we onboard have never had an executive assistant. Don’t wait until you’re swamped to get an EA, because the truth is, if you don’t have one, you’re not operating to your full potential as a VP or C-Suite executive.
Table of contents
- Avoid juggling your calendar
- Be a better leader for your team
- Are you operating as an executive?
- Why don’t you have an EA yet?
- Self-assessment: Do you need an EA?
Why get an executive assistant right away
If you just got promoted to your first executive role, vice president or C-suite position, or if you’re about to switch jobs, there is one thing your CEO needs from you: to be fully onboarded in as little time as possible. Why? Because a new hire’s ramp-up time will undoubtedly keep them from reaching their full potential and that is especially important for VPs and C-Suites. The less time it takes for you to manage your new team and responsibilities, the more impact you’ll be able to deliver.
The question that remains is: How can you make sure you’re fully integrated and responsive in the shortest amount of time possible? The answer is simple: getting an executive assistant, a business partner who has your success as their main priority, someone who holds you accountable and makes sure nothing falls through the cracks.
One of our EAs helped the Head of strategic finance at a Series C startup get acclimated in her new role. She was able to set up all the different platforms used for managing travel expenses and food ordering, as well as coordinating all the intro meetings with other executives and, finally, scheduled interviews with all the candidates who would eventually become part of her team. This made her integration process as smooth as possible.
Here are three real examples that show how getting an EA completely changed the way startup executives can work.
Avoid juggling with your calendar
Most of the executives we support every day share the same struggles, one of them being calendar management. It seems that the higher your position at a startup, the more meetings you need to attend. That’s why getting an EA as soon as you start your new role is key to keeping your calendar from overflowing.
An EA instantly becomes your gatekeeper
If you don’t block off time to work on your priorities, you can quickly find yourself with a calendar full of non-important work. Nothing prevents your coworkers from finding time in your calendar and allocating it toward projects that may be completely misaligned with your priorities.
That’s why having an EA from the very beginning can set expectations and availability from the get-go. They immediately become gatekeepers of your calendar and allocate time for you to focus on your main priorities.
No more being double or even triple-booked
Between internal and external, one-on-ones and all-hands, team-wide and ELT meetings, it’s easy to get double or even triple-booked. This isn’t ideal: you end up canceling some meetings at the last minute, having to reschedule, and, even worse, wasting time.
That’s why an EA is ideal to assume this responsibility: they will accept important meetings, deflect unnecessary ones, and reschedule those that are non-urgent. EAs can even attend some meetings on your behalf.
Create some predictability
One of the productivity best practices for startup executives is to have a compartmentalized calendar. Ask your EA to group similar tasks and create predictable blocks of time. Knowing that Mondays are for internal meetings and early mornings are for deep work, for instance, tells your brain what’s coming. This makes it easier for you to adjust and stay productive for most of the day.
Maintain work-life integration and avoid burnout
Having a color-coded and fully compartmentalized calendar is only the beginning of your success journey. The real work is sticking to it. If you’re working from home at least a couple of times a week, it’s easy to see how the office/home boundaries start disappearing. If you’ve already allocated 30 minutes for lunch every day, or are supposed to pick up the kids from school, don’t take work calls during these times.
Maintaining a healthy balance between work and personal time keeps you from burning out and contributes to both professional and personal success.
One of our customers, the CPO at a Series D startup based in San Francisco, once told us:
“My screen isn’t big enough to fit my entire calendar”.
She was completely swamped from the moment she took on her new role. Her interaction with team members scattered around five time zones kept her busy with back-to-back meetings from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. and left her with no time to eat, pick up her kids from school, or get any other work done. The moment her EA got onboarded, she became the ultimate gatekeeper and introduced a much-needed structure to the way the exec worked.
Be a better leader for your team
According to Gallup, “It takes more than a 20% pay raise to lure most employees away from a manager who engages them, and next to nothing to poach most disengaged workers.” That’s why you need to be the best leader you possibly can be. How can having an EA make you a better leader?
Get to know your team right away
Whether you have 10 direct reports or a small team of 3, make time to get to know every single one of them. Learn what moves them, what they excel at, what they need guidance on, and what their preferred communication style is. Become the leader they need to become top performers. Ask your EA to set a one-on-one meeting with each member of your team and connect with them as soon as you can.
Establish a cadence for recurring meetings
Figuring out everyone’s schedules is a time-consuming task you can delegate to your executive assistant. Ask them to establish a cadence for recurring meetings you may have with your direct reports, ELT, or external parties. Have them set the duration and frequency. Most importantly: never cancel your one-on-ones. You may reschedule, but never miss a weekly check-in.
Some executives show some reluctance to invite their EAs to team meetings, only realizing the impact an EA can provide when they finally decide to take the leap. Executive assistants are experts in taking notes, refining them, and more importantly: capturing action items.
All our EAs deliver value to their executives by taking notes, spotting action items, and following up with each item’s owner. Your team will never leave a meeting without knowing exactly what they’re responsible for and when they’re expected to deliver it. e Your EA is there to make sure of it.
One of our customers, the Head of Developer Education at a Series C startup, recently became the leader of a second team and had to face a big challenge: leading twice as many people with the same amount of time. When we asked her about how her EA had contributed to that process, she said: “She is helping me keep the old team productive while dealing with the chaos of the new team.”
Are you operating as an executive?
It doesn’t matter how many meetings you attend or how many extra hours you put in. As long as you don’t have an executive assistant, you’re not fully operating as an executive because the admin work takes most of your time.
One of our customers, the VP of HR at a Series A startup, told us: “What I find myself doing is acting as a second generalist more than an executive. All of my executive work keeps getting pushed down.”
If you’re part of the startup’s leadership team and at the same time take care of scheduling dozens of meetings, taking notes, and following up on action items, do you have any free time to actually get your strategic work done?
Why don’t you have an EA yet?
Over the dozens of calls we’ve had with startup executives, we’ve learned that there are three main reasons VPs and C-Suite execs haven’t yet committed to hiring an EA:
Thinking others need an executive assistant more than you do is not helping you in any way. What’s worse: it’s hurting your team’s performance and your leadership potential. If you want to be selfless, don’t think about yourself. Think of your team.
Being independent is not the same as being capable. If you got the job you currently have, or are about to start, it is because you have the knowledge and the skills you need to deliver great results. So, don’t refuse a helping hand! You’re not only helping yourself. The entire company will benefit from having a highly productive executive.
You don’t need to do everything alone to prove yourself. Getting an executive assistant doesn’t mean you can’t fulfill your role. Having an EA is the way for you to unlock even more of your own potential.
Self-test: Do you need an executive assistant?
- Do you have more than 10 direct reports?
- Do you spend more of your day in meetings?
- Are you in charge of a global team scattered around time zones?
- Do you often lose track of action items?
- Have you stopped prioritizing personal time? (Gym, resting, family time, etc)
- Do you miss lunch on a regular basis?
- Do you often lose track of action items?
- Does dinner mark the end of your day or do you keep on working after eating?
- Are weekends truly free or do you end up working most of them?
- Do you travel constantly and plan your own trips?
- Have you noticed low team engagement?
If any of these are true, it’s time for you to get an EA. Being an executive can be very lonely, so don’t try and solve everything by yourself. Consider the idea of getting an executive assistant, whether it’s in-house, using a subscription service like Viva, or through an agency. Explore a conversation and see if that can make a difference in the way you work.
Our team is here to help you understand your options and what works best for you. Feel free to book a call with us here.