Top Tips on Working with a New Executive.
When you first join an organisation, you meet your Executive during the interview process. This provides an opportunity for you to establish a connection and may relieve some of the anxiety of starting a new role, because we know that having a good relationship with your Executive is the ultimate key to being successful as a PA/EA. When your Executive decides to leave and a replacement is hired, it can bring up a whole host of emotions.
Firstly, it’s okay to be sad about losing a manager who you have worked closely with. You’ve found your rhythm working with this person and loosing that can be daunting. You may feel nervous about a new Executive coming in. Will you like them? Will they like you? Will they have a different management style? Will you click? How will they like to work with an Assistant? What will I do if I really do not get on with them? These are all valid questions and concerns that you may have with a new Executive coming into the organisation, but this is also your time to shine. It will bring new opportunities for you, so be open to these and grab them.
Trust & Rapport.
Your number one goal when a new Executive joins the organisation should be to build trust and rapport with them. We all know that a deep feeling of trust is needed for an Executive / Assistant relationship to work and for you to be successful in your role. So be honest. Give them your insights on company processes, internal connections and who they should network with. Your new Executive will look to you for guidance on company culture and what is deemed internally appropriate. They will need to understand personalities and the history of internal politics. As an Assistant, it is your job to brief them on these matters. Trust and rapport will build over time but being honest about these matters will help establish them.
Hopefully, you will be in the habit of having regular 1-2-1s with your previous manager but if not then now is a good time to start them with your new Executive. In addition to 1-2-1s, begin by having micro meetings to check-in that everything is okay for your new Executive. These will be especially important in the first few weeks of your Executive starting as it will help set them up for success and help you build a good relationship early on. It might be just 5-15 mins a day but use this time to regularly ask for feedback and check if your Executive has everything they need. Are they getting on okay with the processes in your company? Are there any system issues which you can help with? Did yesterday’s meeting go well and are there any follow up that you need to be aware of? Is there anything further that you can help with? There could be something that their previous assistant did which they have assumed that you are doing too and by having regular check-ins you will make it easy for the Executive to raise this without making it a big deal. Finally, it will also give you the opportunity to identify any gaps and quickly find out how they like to work.
Be open to change.
Just because something has always been done a certain way does not mean that it is the best way to do it or the way it always needs be done. Your new Executive may have some new ideas, so be open to these and if, having tried them, it does not work then you can then make an alternative suggestion. Equally, this is also an opportunity for you to implement some changes that perhaps your previous Executive resisted.
Get to know them.
Getting to know your Executive quickly and early in the relationship will help you in terms of building a strong connection. Find out some basics such as important dates in their personal lives like the birthdays of children, partner or parents and wedding anniversaries. Are they a morning or evening person? This will help you in your considerate-calendaring and know which time of day is better for certain meetings; for instance 1-2-1 meetings may prove to be better in the early part of the day if they are a morning person.
Find out how they like to be communicated with, emails, WhatsApp, Teams, Slack - so that you know how best to reach them. Do they prefer to get straight to the point or do they like a bit of a friendly chat?
Find out what their objectives are and how you can support them in achieving them. If your Executive is successful in their role then this should mean that you are doing a good job too.
Ask them if they are comfortable to share any personality profiles that they have completed, such as Myers Briggs or Insights Discovery, as these can help you understand what makes them tick. Equally, don’t be shy to also share your own personality reports if you have done any, as it is also important for your new Executive to know what motivates you too. It is a two-way relationship after all.
Do not make comparisons.
Resist the urge to make comparisons between your previous line manager and your new manager. It may feel all too easy to say negatively “Well, my old manager never did this, they always did it this way” because what they used to do is familiar to you and is your work-norm. Do offer insights as to what has previously been successful and where improvements can be made but make sure that these are constructive and not a negative comparison. Remind yourself that it is a lonely place at the top of an organisation. Everyone will be looking to your new Executive for leadership and they will feel pressure to prove themselves as the ‘new kid on the block’ and this can be really daunting for them in a new organisation where they have so much to learn about the business. As an Assistant, it is your job to support them in this process so be kind and don’t make comparisons or comments that are not helpful. In the long run, once your new Executive has found their feet, and they will, these comments will be perceived as being gossipy and will not benefit your career or personal branding.
Start off as you mean to go on
This is my mum’s catchphrase and never more important than when you gain a new manager. We teach people how to treat us and now is your time to set your boundaries about how you like to work and how you expect to be treated. It is much harder to break habits later down the line so set your standards early on.
For example, if you don’t want to work on the weekend, then don’t reply to any non-urgent emails on the weekend. If you start doing this, then you will set the norm and your new Executive will always expect a response from you because that is what you always do from their perspective.
If you need to leave the office at a certain time, then put it in your diary that you are leaving at 17.00 to pick up the kids / go to yoga / have a social life. Be open with your Executive and communicate “It’s 16.30, I am leaving at 17.00 to go to my yoga class, do you need me to do anything for you before I log off?” They may be more senior, but they are fellow humans and they have a life too and should understand.
Time to reflect on your own career.
Gaining a new manger is a great time for you to stop and reflect on your career. What direction is your career heading, where do you want it to go and what experience do you need to get you there? Share your career ambitions with your new Executive. Now it is the time to ask to be involved in things that may not have been an option with your previous manager. Your new Executive has the benefit of their own experience and knowledge and may be able to help you achieve your career goals.
With thanks to my new Executive, Suzanne Hughes, who joined during Corona Virus lock down in April 2020 and agreed to be my inspiration for this piece. She has been incredibly supportive and contributed to this post by offering insights as to what worked well for her as a new Executive joining the business.