Why we need agile Executive Assistants

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To invest in our future, we need to understand that the future of our professional role is about learning new skills says Julia Schmidt

Agility is your willingness to change, your ability to change, and the nimbleness you exhibit as you adapt to change—quickly; it is key to your future ~ Susan M. Heathfield

Every day we experience the impact of the evolution of employment and skills in the age of AI (artificial intelligence).  There is constant pressure for companies and governments to address the ways that artificial intelligence is positively changing the future of work.

The transformation of how we work embraces all industries and all jobs. Administrative professionals are not alone in enduring the impact of technology. We all need to stay alert and vigilant in a positive way. With the rise of automation, the conversations about jobs that are going to be lost must attain another dimension. Innovation and automation are showing us that:

  • Employees need to be prepared to learn new skills and embrace life-long learning
  • Employers need to offer training opportunities
  • Companies and governments need to understand where the growth jobs are, what the skills are, and where to invest and focus on job-training funding

To invest in our future, we need to understand that the future of our professional role – regardless of the profession – is about learning new skills, looking for and seizing new opportunities, and participating in continuous learning. Let us make the decision to not be a victim of future technology, but rather enjoy every new opportunity technology offers.

Technology creates new jobs and income possibilities

In the article Technology, jobs, and the future of work, James Manyika writes that even while technologies replace some jobs, they also create new work in industries that most of us cannot even imagine; as well as new ways to generate income. One-third of new jobs created in the United States in the past 25 years were types that did not exist, or barely existed, in areas including IT development, hardware manufacturing, app creation, and IT systems management. The net impact of new technologies on employment can be strongly positive.

One example of the positive impact of technology is presented in a study by McKinsey’s Paris office in 2010. It shows that the Internet had destroyed 500,000 jobs in France in the previous 15 years—but at the same time had created 1.2 million others, a net addition of 700,000, or 2.4 jobs created for every job destroyed.

Being agile and ready for emerging new roles is about understanding that digital technologies are creating major new opportunities: digitization of assets, including infrastructure, connected machines, data, and data platforms; digitization of operations, including processes, payments and business models, and customer and supply chain interactions; and digitization of the workforce, including worker use of digital tools, digitally skilled workers, and new digital jobs and roles.

Understanding the Agile philosophy

Agile values and principles were created by 17 rebellious software developers. The Agile Manifesto, also called the Manifesto for Agile Software Development, is a formal proclamation of four key values and 12 principles to guide an iterative and people-centric approach to software development.  The main goal is to improve and accelerate software innovation and allow the development process and execution to be quickly adapted, improved or stopped according to feedback from teams and customers.

For me, the Agile Manifesto can be successfully adapted to the work methods used by Executive Assistants.   Here are the four principles from the Agile Manifesto:

The manifesto is all about delivering value, owning your products, collaborating with your teams and customers, working in a multidisciplinary way, identifying new opportunities, changing priorities, creating and improving customer engagement and satisfaction, engaging team members, creating sharing and learning arenas, boosting innovation, increasing productivity and enabling an agile way to perform and create innovative products.

Today, the Agile philosophy is being increasingly used by HR teams and applied to entire organizations. It is an operational strategy to successfully meet the rapidly changing and complex world we all live in.

The Agile Executive Assistant

As an employee, we are an investment on which our executives expect a return. Our main task as Executive Assistants is to add value to the business.  The more value we add, the better the investment and the more likely our executives will continue investing in us. Our executives are our first customers. We must be committed to deliver the best products and services to our customers. Every action we perform represents a product or service that we deliver. It can be a report, travel expenses, presentation, meeting scheduling, travel planning, press release, internal communications article, project, event or meeting. The more we create measurable, positive and powerful outcomes through our performance, the more we will be collaborating to achieve impressive results.  We provide services to our customers, and in return, they pay for the product we deliver. The more successful our relationship is with our customers, the better the revenue flow, and the business will grow. This is the kind of relationship we all aspire to have with our executives and management teams.

In today’s globally competitive environment it is almost impossible to sustain competitive advantage through products or services alone. Therefore, to succeed we need to invest in people and innovation. In order to innovate, organizations require agile thinkers, quick decision-making and tenacious problem solvers. Our organizations need Executive Assistants who adapt positively and quickly to changing circumstances. Agile Executive Assistants tailor their performance and products according to the organization’s needs. That is the only way an Executive Assistant will remain an asset and continually contribute to the success of the organization.

How to ensure your agility

So, how can we deliver our products and services in an agile way? How can you become an agile Executive Assistant?

Here is my guideline based on my professional experience, interpretation of the Agile Manifesto, and experience as an employee in the IT industry:

  1. Creating collaboration arenas
  •  Be open to new discoveries and breakthroughs that can replace outdated ways of doing things with faster, more efficient methods.
  • Participate in different team meetings. Even as you are booking your one-on-one meetings with your executives, schedule time to attend the departmental meetings and stay updated about your company’s priorities so that you can easily find how you can improve your way of working to match the company’s needs.
  • Create workgroups for brainstorming. If you need to improve the way you are making your Financial reports or charts to your executive’s presentations, ask people from the Finance Department and other colleagues making reports to sit down together and work collaboratively in creating more effective ways to elaborate your reports. Learn about digital systems that can help you automate tasks.
  • Create a sharing and learning culture in your department and within your team.
  • Team collaboration must also happen outside our organizations. What about starting a network for assistants to brainstorm, exchange knowledge and innovative thinking? What about relying on social learning activities through peer-to-peer and online learning?

I have enjoyed excellent learning experiences from my workplace. We have created sharing and learning sessions where we invite a manager to explain about ongoing projects, our products, and the way teams work in different departments. This improves interdepartmental understanding, facilitates quick learning and boosts the sense of purpose. If we are not learning, we are standing still and will quickly be overtaken and left behind.

  1. Building partnerships
  •  Seize opportunities to work on cross-functional, even virtual, teams, that solve a problem or approach new opportunities. Embrace the very ethos of “constant change”. Be inspired to be more open to adopting the latest tech innovations in the future. Take the initiative to seek training and education to develop your individual capacity, and increase your skill-set.
  • Create an open conversation arena with your executive and ask for ideas about how you can become better in what you are delivering. Create a relationship that is based on business partnership, shared values and common goals. Train your executive to think about you as his/her best business partner.
  • A partnership based on shared values, cooperation, growth, effective communication and openness is crucial to help you prioritize your tasks and goals when new strategic initiatives are added to the agenda. It will allow you to fix issues faster, show work as it develops and learn together.
  • Ask your executive to keep you informed about strategic plans and problems to be addressed. You can be one of the contributors in finding innovative solutions to these problems. Make your executive understand that he is also responsible for creating an environment that allows you to maintain focus on the critical priorities and assist the team in an agile way.  Make a list of the skills you have that complement your executive’s skills. Map the new skills you need to acquire to improve the level of partnership you currently have.
  • Create partnerships with teams, colleagues, mentors, and like-minded assistants. They will allow you to proactively identify and pursue opportunities to develop in your daily work. Meet these people on a regular basis for stand-up meetings or brainstorming.

It is now time for Executives and Executive Assistants to

  • collaborate and contribute to each other’s growth.
  • generate synergy.
  • mentor each other.
  • empower communication skills.
  • build strong business partnership.
  • enable an agile mindset.

As part of our leadership training, I have a colleague acting as my mentor. This is based on the concept of “pairing” at work. We pair up to design, test, manage or simply explore new ideas together. We discuss different issues and learn from each other. We create our learning program and meet regularly in a formal and informal manner.

  1. Designing a feedback system
  •  Revise your job description; review tasks which can be added or eliminated according to the organization’s objectives. You are the first one to be interested in being in charge of your core job functions and goals.
  • Create a culture of feedback (either formally or informally) on your behavior, progress and outcomes. That is what we call performance orientation. It is crucial to create agility in changing or adapting where necessary, before you expend precious time in a task, product or service that is not going to create a satisfactory outcome. Continuous feedback is crucial for success.
  • When working on producing your products: events, reports, presentations, articles or projects, have pre-launches many times before delivering the final product to ensure that the result will satisfy your customer (your executive). Embrace a “test and learning from mistakes” mindset.
  • Be accountable for your results and know that there are consequences for met and unmet goals. I recommend that you share your accomplishments with your executive during your one-on-one meetings. Include this “accomplishments review” as a fixed part of your conversations. It will create a strong sense of collaboration. Your managers are likely to support your goal accomplishment as your success is their success. In addition, add a “actions review” routine. Go though the tasks and actions you have in your performance development plan (PDP) as often as possible. It will allow you to “adjust” the actions, modify or eliminate them when necessary in order to keep delivering according to the priorities.
  1. Mastering resilience

 Embrace diversity, change and resilience! When change is presented, it is typically better handled by resilient people. It is better integrated by people who are used to constant change, and who are not taken by surprise by the announcement or request. To master resilience you must know the WHY, the HOW and the WHAT of the business you are part of.  You need to keep in mind that the cause of change is always the necessity of improvement and development.

 Mastering resilience is about:

  • accepting that we all make mistakes.
  • understanding that we learn from our failures.
  • being able to respond appropriately to both disturbances and opportunities.
  • accepting that we cannot predict the future.
  • applying a resilient mindset in all levels of our lives.
  • transforming imperfect action into desired business outcomes as we learn from each step.
  • knowing that resilience is manifested in actions — a new contribution, a small win, a goal that takes attention off the past and creates excitement about the future.

Resilience gives us the courage to admit we need to change direction and look forward to the opportunities this will bring. Resilience is the power that moves agility.

Conclusion

The urgency of becoming an agile Executive Assistant comes from the steady march of technology and the necessity for companies to keep growing and winning the game. For employees, this means the ability to adapt and be more agile, which is becoming more important than the ability to master a job or skill. Continuous change through technological advances means that we need to always be learning. It is a never-ending process.  Learning is the only way to adapt.

Now is the time for all assistants to be agile and employable. It is about becoming adaptable in all areas of our life, and then conquering the world—the technological world.

The future of our profession is all about collaboration, active partnerships, agility, adaptability, technology skills, interpersonal skills, entrepreneurial drive and continuous learning.

Let’s create value, sustainable competitive advantage, and become winners in the marketplace!

_________

References:

  • Technology, jobs, and the future of work, by James Manyika from McKinsey and Company
  • The evolution of employment and skills in the age of AI, by McKinsey Global Institute
  • Your Organization’s Future Demands Agility, by Susan M. Heathfield
  • In The Digital Age, Employees Must Be More Agile Than Ever, by Daniel Newman
  • Agile People: A Radical Approach for HR & Managers (That leads to motivated employees), by Pia-Maria Thoren
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About Author

Julia Schmidt

Julia Schmidt is an award-winning Executive Assistant with over 20 years of experience working in different industries. She is known for being a passionate advocate for people development and in helping others succeed and embrace their leadership skills. Julia is an active networker and mentor and a proud graduate of the University of Norway with a Masters' Degree in Portuguese Language and Literature and has also studied Business Administration. Follow Julia on LinkedIn. Julia is the author of The Executive Secretary Guide to Building a Successful Career Strategy, available now on Amazon. Julia is also part of our Speaker Bureau. If you are interested in Julia training your assistants or speaking at your event, either virtually or in person, please email [email protected]

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