Assistants Must Excel at the Fundamentals

From Joan Burge’s new book, Joan’s Greatest Administrative Secrets Revealed (2018)

I know many seasoned executive assistants who think they do not need to focus on or pay attention to their basic skills, what is also known as the fundamentals. They feel they have been managing calendars or planning meetings forever so why pay attention. This is not smart.

For 28 years, I have been teaching assistants to pay attention to the fundamentals such as meeting planning, travel planning, calendar maintenance, organizational skills, follow-up systems, time management, and communications. Every career has certain core fundamental skills. They are the foundation on which everything else is built. I have been a professional speaker since 1990. I never take for granted the basic ‘platform’ skills I learned in the early days as a speaker. I pay as much attention as ever and have meticulously polished those basics.

You must do the same. Don’t ever rest on your laurels. The world is moving at a much faster pace today so you have to be more organized, manage your projects better, take control of calendars, and cross every ‘t’ and dot every ‘i’ when it comes to travel planning. Executives’ expectations are high today and these are the key areas they want their assistants to excel in. They include:

  • Appointment Coordination
  • Manager Support
  • Managing Office Technology
  • Meeting Preparation and Coordination
  • Office Communication
  • Problem Solving
  • Professional Behavior and Image
  • Professional Development
  • Supporting Multiple Managers
  • Task and Project Management
  • Time Management

At Office Dynamics, we are consistently surveying executives, managers, CEOs, human resources professionals, and organization development professionals on what skills, attitudes, and behaviors they look for in an assistant. Do you know what? The fundamentals always rise to the top. After that list, I see advanced competencies such as negotiation or persuasion skills. Over and over, time and again, there is proof that your fundamentals are critical to being successful in the administrative profession.

Also, when we conduct activities in our training classes with assistants and ask them what skills, attitudes, and behaviors are important for an assistant, 90 percent of the time they list the fundamentals.

I highly encourage you to become a rock star at the fundamentals. There are always new ways of doing things and you can always streamline or fine-tune your current processes. Think about how you can wow people in each of the areas I listed above.

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