The Ghost of Secretaries Past

“He may act like he wants a secretary, but most of the time they’re looking for something between a mother and a waitress” says the office manager in Season One of AMC’s Mad Men.  


Hopefully, this is an outdated view of the role of personal and executive assistants and executives realise the enormous contribution assistants make towards their productivity.


According to research published by the Harvard Business Review, an executive whose compensation package is £1 million and working with an assistant earning say £80K breaks even if the assistant makes the boss 8% more productive by saving five hours in a sixty hour week. In our experience a good assistant saves much more time than that!


So if a good assistant is critical to making the executive more productive, why do so many organisations not take the recruitment of this role more seriously?  Executives frequently tell me horror stories of assistants they have worked with and my first question is always “How involved in the recruitment process were you?”  Unsurprisingly, the answer is almost always “not much.”


Perhaps more than any other organisational connection, the relationship between the executive and the assistant is based upon ‘chemistry’.  Chemistry is nebulous; it is the unspoken connection based upon subtle cues, judgement, emotional intelligence and culture.  Chemistry cannot be manufactured.


Our experience proves time and again that assignments that do not involve the executive from the very beginning of the process have a significantly greater chance of failure.


We frequently hear ‘my assistant simply doesn’t understand what I want’.  This is a classic symptom of a lack of chemistry and emotional intelligence and it is almost impossible to create if it didn’t exist at the beginning.  So if executives no longer view assistants as “mothers or waitresses” isn’t it time, therefore, to get involved and take the selection process seriously?


So if executives no longer view assistants as ”mothers and waitresses” isn’t it time therefore to get involved and take the selection process seriously?


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