From little things big things grow…are you overlooking support staff?

There is nothing that gets me fired up more than a company that ignores the importance of support staff and the role they play in an organisation’s success. I see it every day in recruitment.

A company hiring a Receptionist recently said “this is the least important role in our company; just send us some CV’s”. Where do I start with this? The Receptionist is the first person your clients see and speak to, financially, this is still a $60K – $80K decision (salary + on-costs + training time + recruitment fees) and if your company is anything like mine, this is the training ground for internal promotion and future top talent! Get this hire wrong and you will potentially lose business and harm the company’s reputation. On the flip side, if the Receptionist is smart, competent and professional – this reflects that your business is smart, competent and professional.

Every day companies are missing the importance of getting these administration and support roles right. At Entrée Recruitment, my current PA started as the Receptionist and another is now a Consultant – all groomed and trained from the front desk.  Think of the recruitment costs I saved, the culture fit I already had right, the reduced risk of a new hire and the delight in providing career development. A bigger picture perspective rather than this is “just the Receptionist” can give you a long term competitive advantage.

One of the most frustrating support roles to recruit is a Personal Assistant or Executive Assistant.  Typically they support a Senior Executive such as General Manager, Director or CEO and such an important role needs to be given the recruitment attention it deserves. Unfortunately, what generally happen is that it is delegated to HR to ‘find some resumes’ and the Executive only gets involved in the last interviews declaring that “no-one is suitable” and there is “no chemistry”.  Gee I wonder why? You didn’t get involved from the start, you didn’t meet the Recruiter and you didn’t give a personal briefing on your requirements. It is virtually impossible to recruit a PA for someone you haven’t met.

To get this right and save you time, money and long term headaches with hiring the wrong person means committing to the process upfront like you would to hire a Senior Executive. 

  1. Personal briefing – meet the Recruiter who will be recruiting this role for you. Ensure they can demonstrate experience recruiting similar roles, are knowledgeable of the market, salaries and can recommend a proactive recruitment strategy.  It’s okay to have HR involved, but the person this role supports must be at the briefing.
  2. $ – commit to paying top dollar for this recruitment, like you would for an executive recruitment campaign. You get what you pay for, so a resume  flicking race by 4 different recruiters is not going to deliver you a top notch candidate. Your role also loses its ‘exclusive’ factor when every Recruiter in town all ring the same candidates for the same job….”what’s wrong with this role?” “they must be desperate” will be what goes through the candidate’s mind.
  3. Realistic expectations – don’t expect international experience, shorthand, board experience and to pay $50K.  Experienced Executive Assistants will save you money and increase your productivity – pay for the privilege or reduce your expectations.
  4. Honesty about your strengths & weaknesses – being honest with yourself and the Recruiter about your leadership style and what has frustrated previous Assistants is a good thing! It will mean that the match will be more accurate and your new Assistant knows what they are in for. If you are like the famous Adelaide business owner who likes his highlighters lay out in particular order for a board meeting – tell us! If you want your coffee cup pre-warmed and stirred in an anticlockwise direction two times – we need to know (yes that was a Partner in a law firm!).
  5. History – what has/hasn’t worked in the past – think of your best Assistant in the past – what made them so effective? What has completely frustrated you about others?  Be clear on what you want to see in your next hire.
  6. Training – not all Assistants will do things the same way and of course as Leaders we like things done differently to.  Assistants can’t read your mind – tell them early in the relationship how you would like things done and always correct them if you want something different.  Don’t hope it will get better – it won’t.  Training from day 1 is essential to develop and nurture a great working relationship.
  7. Invest in time & feedback – would you let a senior manager go weeks on end with no feedback on their performance, especially if they weren’t meeting your expectations? Of course not, you would probably have a weekly meeting and give them specific examples of what is working and what isn’t.  Do the same with your Assistant – feedback is the only way people will keep doing the things you like and stop doing the things you don’t.

Over the years my best Assistants became business partners – a person I could trust, make decisions in my absence and rely on to help improve my business results. The worst Assistants took up my time, created more work for me and clashed with the rest of the team.

I have learnt that support roles are critical to business results, workforce harmony and leadership productivity. Invest upfront, get the fit right and never underestimate the power of an effective Assistant.

Can you easily re-call your best & worst Assistant? Tell me – I would love to hear!

One of my best EA hires – Niamh – congratulations on the birth of your little boy George this week.