How can you build trust with your executive so that you’re seen more as a strategic partner, and less as a glorified travel agent?
Today’s executives don’t need a simple secretary or a walking, talking Travelocity to support their travel needs; what they need is a strategic partner. According to Chief Executive, contemporary Executive Assistants are more than secretaries. They’re researchers, advisors and partners. You can become that trusted partner for your executive, but you need to build the right foundation.
Take the steps below to set yourself up as the partner they’re looking for, or check out Savoya’s latest free resource — The Power Assistant’s Guide to Executive Travel Management — for even more ideas.
Adjust Your Mindset
Your goal in every situation must be to support your executive, enable their efficiency and productivity, and turn their vision into a reality. It’s not your executive’s job to hold your hand and make sure you’re on the right track. Their job is to be your company’s leader and visionary; your job is to make sure they have everything they need to do so.
For that reason, supporting your executive isn’t just about making sure they have what they need. It’s also about making sure they have it the way they need it. Whichever systems, processes and tools work best for your executive, that’s what you need to use — regardless of your personal preferences. You must adapt to your executive; you can’t expect them to adapt to you.
Learn Your Executive’s Mindset
Of course, you won’t be able to adjust to your executive’s preferences if you don’t first learn what those preferences are.
Your best resource for learning about your executive will be, of course, your executive. Whether you’re new to your position, or you’ve been working with them for years, learning more about the person you’re working so closely with is always a good investment.
If you’re able to, ask questions to get to know them better:
- What are their travel preferences?
- What are their communication preferences?
- What are their priorities?
- What are their expectations for you?
However, your executive may not have time for “20 Questions” in their busy schedule, so you may have to do some detective work. Your colleagues may have insights into your executive’s preferences if they’ve worked closely with them in the past. If you have access to any of their past assistants, they can be an phenomenal resource as well.
Of course, you’ll naturally learn a lot as you go — especially if you’re mindful of noting your executive’s preferences as you encounter them. But if you’re new to the role and don’t have much to go on from your executive upfront, it can be helpful to start thinking with the mindset of an executive.
To that end, here are a few of the things your executives will be looking for as you manage their agendas:
An executive has many responsibilities to juggle, and their plans may change at a moment’s notice. They need to know that they not only have an itinerary that gets them where they need to go, but that their itinerary can be adjusted at any time to let them take care of the high-priority issues at hand.
While an executive has their own busy and fluctuating schedule to deal with, the people they meet with have similar schedule challenges to contend with. When the plans of one executive shift, it often creates a domino effect. An executive needs to know that you’re capable of handling these competing schedules in a way that works for everyone.
Security and Safety
Risk, in the context of executives, is driven by both who they are and the environments in which they travel. Even if they don’t normally think of themselves as high-profile, their travel plans may increase the risks around them.
That said, there’s a vast expanse between “no risk/no security concern” and “high risk/security required” environments. Most executives live in this grey area making it critical that their assistants be observant of different risk factors and take necessary action in cases of concern.
Take the time to familiarize yourself with your security team’s expectations for your executive or with any other security-related company protocols they may be subject to. Learn how your executive feels about it all (many understand, but don’t enjoy, the requirements posed by formal security). Keeping all that in mind, pay attention to anything that doesn’t feel right or that seems to present a clear, yet unaddressed risk.
By handling these observations proactively, you play a critical role in your executive’s safety and security.
Confidentiality and Privacy
Executives deal with significantly more confidential information and have access to more sensitive systems than most company employees. In some cases, even their whereabouts and traveling companions can be the subject of scrutiny and speculation, which is why executive assistants must understand how best to maintain their privacy.
An executive needs to know that you understand the delicate nature of your position, and that they can rely on you to ensure that same privacy standard holds true across any vendors or third parties you introduce.
Efficient Use of Time
There are few people busier than high-level executives, and even fewer whose time is as valuable. An executive’s time should never be wasted on low-priority matters that could have been handled without them.
Think of your job as triaging their time. It’s well-known that executive assistants are gatekeepers to their executives. It’s up to you to step up and own that role — to be ruthless about managing your executive’s time, whether that means resolving double-booked (even triple-booked!) schedules, gracefully ending meetings that have run over, or blocking time for them to read email or eat lunch.
This responsibility extends not just to professional responsibilities, but to personal needs as well. If you know it’s critical for your executive to exercise every day or to have dinner with their kids, part of your job is protecting these priorities from competing demands.
Access to Necessary Resources
While at the office, executives typically have everything they need within reach. However, while traveling, there will be many tools and resources they’ll need that won’t be readily available — unless you plan ahead.
Prioritize consistent, honest and open communication with your executive. They need to know they can rely on you, and you need to be constantly prepared to jump in and do what is needed.
According to Executive Secretary Magazine, clear communication is key to a successful relationship between executive and assistant. You both should know upfront what the others’ boundaries are; if it’s not the right fit, you could both suffer in the long run.
For most EAs, this means that you can’t expect a typical ‘clock-in at 9 AM, clock-out at 5 PM and leave your worries at work’ type of job. There may be times when your executive is traveling on business halfway around in the world in a completely different time zone, and will suddenly need your assistance at 2 AM your time. It’s your responsibility to be on call for those needs.
One way to keep yourself ready and up-to-date on your executive’s needs is to keep their itinerary on your calendar and sign up for alerts on their flights and ground transportation. Regular check-ins via phone, text or email can be helpful as well. That way you’ll be updated in real time on their progress and will have an early heads-up if an issue arises.
If your executive has an upcoming business trip to London, it might be tempting to go online, book a quick round-trip flight, and call it a day. But that’s not enough for most executives.
When planning for your executive’s travel needs, take into account every detail from beginning to end. There shouldn’t be a moment of their trip when they have to wonder where they’re going or how they’ll get there — it’s up to you to arrange for all of it.
Traditionally, business travel includes the following booking components:
- Flights (either private or commercial)
- Ground transportation
- Reservations and registrations (such as event registrations, dinner reservations, etc.)
Before your executive departs, you should have their flights booked, their hotel secured and their ground transportation arranged. They should have details and contact information for key meetings they’ll be attending. If your executive will be traveling to several different locations in a given area, you’ll want a dependable service to get them there.
In order to make these arrangements, you’ll need to consider the following trip aspects, at a minimum:
- The purpose or objective of the trip
- The anticipated schedule
- The destination(s)
- The number and identity of other travelers involved
You may be able to gather much of the necessary information from an event description or from previous communications, but make sure to fill in any gaps in your knowledge. It’s better to get all of the details up front than find out at the last minute that your executive is bringing a guest or has to make an additional stop on the way to their destination.
Most assistants expect to help with travel booking, but what sets the best apart is their willingness and readiness to assist with all aspects of travel, from beginning to end.
That means helping with:
- Travel Preparation: Work with all involved parties to schedule and make arrangements for your executive’s trip. Plan for items they may not think to bring (this list by OfficeNinjas can help you put together a packing list for your executive). Do your own research about the event or location your executive is going to; help them be most productive wherever they’re going.
- Ongoing Monitoring: Don’t send your executive off and then forget about it; track their progress throughout their trip. Make sure every reservation you booked is providing the level of service your executive needs.
- Trip Adjustments: If your executive’s schedule changes, don’t make them have to figure out how to adjust their travel plans — or worse, let an inflexible itinerary cause them to miss an important opportunity. Be proactive and make adjustments to their ground transportation, flights, or anything in between as soon as the issue arises.
- Post-Travel Evaluation: Your job isn’t over after your executive gets back from their trip. Ask them about it, what went wrong, what they liked and what they would prefer next time. Mark this information down in your notes, and share your feedback with preferred vendors to improve your executive’s experience over time.
Step Up to the Plate
No EA gets everything right, 100% of the time. You aren’t going to do everything perfectly, and it will take time to gain your executive’s trust. However, if you lay a good foundation and go above and beyond at every opportunity when it comes to business travel management, you’ll be well on your way to a great partnership — one step at a time.
For even more travel management guidance, click the image below to download Savoya’s free ebook — The Power Assistant’s Guide to Executive Travel Management. It’s packed with advice from working EAs and industry leaders that’ll help you make that all-important jump from simple secretary to strategic travel management partner.
Image Source: Unsplash
Jordan Garner is the Executive Assistant to Robert Dobrient, Savoya’s CEO. Mrs. Garner studied at the University of Texas at Tyler, and previously supported multiple Regional Directors and Account Executives at Estee Lauder.