I recently received a request for advice from an assistant named Kathryn. She posed a typical problem that I have heard for years and I want to respond to her question in a blog as I bet many executive and administrative assistants run into the same problem. My challenge will be answering this concisely because I have a lot to say about executives and assistants meeting daily, whether it is on the telephone or in person.
I have 20 years of experience as an assistant who used to have daily huddles with my executives. In fact, I was quite young when a top executive taught me about daily huddles—how to have them; what to discuss; benefits reaped from holding our huddles. I was fortunate to learn at a young age that daily huddles or brief meetings between an executive and assistant are the most important part of the day and the partnership.
I also have more than 25 years as an executive who meets with her assistant on a regular basis. I know firsthand, as an executive, that these daily huddles are vital to team success, productivity, synergy, preventing crises and reducing rework. I am a firm believer in daily huddles, touch base or one-on-one meetings, whichever you prefer to call them. The idea is that you meet on a regular basis, in person or on the telephone.
Here is what Kathryn wrote me:
“I support a CEO and a VP, both extremely busy people. We frequently have a break down in communications because each of them assumes the other tells me what’s happening and what’s needed.
I’ve suggested daily, even weekly “huddles” as you suggest. They’ve been scheduled on their calendar as well. 99% of the time these are dismissed as not important. I’ve asked several times to have these 2-5 minute huddles and I was told, ‘I’m too busy – figure it out.’”
Unfortunately many executives are not taught or know about having a daily huddle with their assistant. So it is very hard for them to understand the value of those meetings or time spent one-on-one. I have coached numerous executives over 25 years about holding daily huddles and the first thing they tell me is they don’t have time for them. Or that when they get into the office, they are ready to hit the ground and start running. They see having to take time with their assistant as a barrier or time waster. They don’t understand what they will need to talk about with their assistant. Basically, they just don’t get it. Therefore, it takes more work on my part or that of an assistant to convince their executive that having daily huddles are critical to productivity and building the partnership.
Keep in mind that when you are trying to get someone to start a new habit, it is hard. Most of us don’t like to change the way we have done things for years or, in our mind, we want to change but just can’t seem to make it happen.
I am pleased to announce that we are releasing a new operating Guide for executives and assistants in early October. It is called Executives and Assistants Working In Partnership: The Definitive Guide. This has been a much-needed tool by executives and assistants around the world. For years executives have asked me, “Isn’t there some kind of play book or operating manual for executives and assistants? Something that tells us how we should operate on a daily basis to be successful?” No there is and this Guide is the culmination of my 25 years of coaching, teaching, prodding, and working with executives and assistants on building strategic partnerships. A fair amount of attention is given in the Guide to executives and assistants holding Daily Meetings and Quarterly Strategic Meetings.
So, Kathryn, here is my advice.
- First, you have to get your executive to spend a few minutes with you, less than ten minutes, so you can explain the benefits (to you and him) of holding these daily touch bases. You need to help your executive see why it is worth their time; how it reduces rework and errors; how it prevents you from going down the wrong path on a project which is a complete waste of time; and also can cause embarrassment to your executive because it appears to others that you two aren’t on the same page or you are crossing over each other scheduling meetings or working on projects.
- You can say something such as, “I realize you are very busy and like to jump right into your day. I understand that you would prefer I just handle everything. Yet there are proven benefits when executives and assistants take some time to discuss the day’s priorities, upcoming schedules, projects and more. I’d appreciate 7 minutes of your time, right now, to tell you more. Would you be willing to just take 7 minutes with me?”
- If your executive says, “No” to that request, I question the type of partnership the two of you have and the executive’s level of leadership. Every good leader should be willing to take 5 – 7 minutes to hear their assistant out. If you hear, “I’m busy; not right now,” then ask your executive when he will give you 5-7 minutes to discuss this idea.
Once you have your executive’s attention, you’ll want to focus on the benefits of having daily meetings. Also be sure to let your executive know that these meetings will not take much time when you do them on a regular basis because you keep information flowing. When held regularly, they may only take 5 or 10 minutes a day. That is nothing in terms of how much time is saves you and your executive.
The Benefits of One-on-One Meetings
- Reduces stress for both the executive and assistant.
- Diminishes last-minute chaos because you are discussing priorities, which shift every day. During your daily huddles you would discuss upcoming events, projects and meetings therefore giving the assistant an opportunity to be proactive and take the initiative which diminishes last minute chaos.
- Opens lines of communication between and executive and assistant. Give each party a chance to clarify what they “think” they heard, express their ideas and opinions and work as a team.
- Decrease paperwork buildup.
- VERY IMPORTANT: Ensures both parties understand the day’s priorities
- Excerpt from Executives and Assistants Working in Partnership Guide: “During the Daily Huddle, the Executive can share what happened the night before after the Assistant left work. In our experience, many leaders still “work” after 5:00 p.m. and often late into the night. With the use of technology and the ability to work offsite independently, there are numerous things that take place long after the Assistant has left the office. Additionally, many of these leaders start their workday very early, long before arriving at the office. If the partners meet in the morning (whether in person or by phone) they are able to ensure they’re working in tandem, confirming the day’s top priorities are agreed upon, and can be proactive on any new issues that might have arisen.”
- Make working together more enjoyable. Executives and assistants are so busy that they rarely have “intentional” conversation. Yes, they talk to or at each other all day but not having conversations that are purposeful or meaningful and help build the relationship.
- Helps the executive get organized for the day.
- Increase the Assistant’s ability to effectively and promptly complete work assignments
Closing Words of Advice
You’ll also need to let your executive know what types of topics you would cover in your Daily Huddle. If you need suggestions, I list all the items that can be discussed when executives and assistants meet in my Communicating with Your Manager post.
To help make the process easier, consider starting slow with a meeting one morning a week. You might start with Monday or Friday to discuss the upcoming week.
Gradually increase meetings to two days and then three days, and so on. Your goal is to have a Daily Huddle—every day—with each other whether in person or on the telephone. Of course, sometimes this just isn’t possible. For example, if the Executive is in a location with a different time zone or headed into an early meeting or conference.
Additionally, when you get in the habit of meeting on a regular basis, less time will be consumed in these meetings as you move forward. Communication will flow back and forth, and there will naturally be fewer updates. However, keep in mind that meetings may take more time when the Assistant or Executive has been out of the office for several days.
Once your executive meets with you a few times and you have productive meetings, your executive will see the value of this one-on-one time and will look forward to daily huddles whether in person or on the telephone.