Six Principals to Successful Assistant-and-Executive One-on-One Meetings
At the heart of successful business partnership between executive and assistant is great communication
By Julia Schmidt, Chiara Agnese Azzarello, Claire Grace, Else-Britt Lundgren, Sofie Koark and Angela Parker
Many Executive and Personal Assistants know the importance of sitting with their executives to help stay informed of current business priorities, agreeing on the agenda and schedule for the week ahead, organising travel arrangements and making the workday more effective. It is about thinking strategically together and clarifying expectations.
One-on-one meetings with direct reports are necessary to align activities, delegate, follow up tasks and give feedback. These meetings should allow open communication and be helpful. They are key to productivity and successful business partnership.
I have invited five assistants to share their best practice and experiences of effective one-on-one meetings. They are Chiara Agnese Azzarello, Claire Grace, Else-Britt Lundgren, Sofie Koark and Angela Parker.
Here are six principles to remember, illustrated with examples.
- Have a schedule and stick to it
Adding the meetings as a recurrent appointment will emphasize the importance and regularity of the meeting. Having it each Monday, for example, will give you the opportunity to check what is planned and ensure that the executive’s agenda reflects the priorities of the week. As a manager of your executive’s diary, you are the best person to understand the necessity of re-scheduling a one-on-one meeting that may conflict with other important appointments that come in to the diary. So be smart and re-schedule your one-on-one when necessary. Put it in for a day and time you know your executive will be able to give you his/her full attention and listen to what you have to say. Explain the reason why you are re-scheduling the meeting. You are showing that you understand his/her priorities.
CHIARA: My weekly one-on-one meetings should not last more than 30 minutes. It has to allow time for agenda planning for the week ahead, provide visibility on my own work, receive feedback from my manager and discuss how to meet my targets.
CLAIRE: My Director and I have a recurring meeting on a Monday, which is sacrosanct – without fail we catch up at the start of the week to go through his schedule, ideally before he has any other meetings, but the time is always set aside. We both place the same importance on the meeting and both come prepared with items to cover. We have informal touch points throughout the week and speak by phone at the end of the day on a Friday. Our Monday meetings are vital, and the wider team feeds in items that they need me to raise on their behalf such as draft papers and pre-read for meetings that week.
- Make an agenda
These meetings are one of the prime times for work to be discussed and advanced. Prepare for your one-on-one as professionally as you prepare the agenda for the Executive Management Team meetings. Structure makes the meetings more effective and allows participants to come prepared. If you have an important topic for decision, make your executive aware ahead of time. You can start by letting your executive present his agenda and consequently give you tasks, ask for updates and make questions. Continue with your topics and prioritise accordingly. Ask yourself: Is it necessary to have this topic on the agenda? Is it a subject that another manager or executive can help me to solve or understand? Is the topic aligned with my goals and responsibilities?
It is also important to leave time to discuss open issues and give feedback.
JULIA: I have the privilege of working with a CEO who knows the importance of having one-on-one meetings with people reporting to her. We have one-hour meetings twice a week. She comes prepared with her own agenda and notes. I create the meeting agenda in her Outlook calendar beside the meeting invitation. (I have access to her Outlook calendar). I also add to the agenda follow up details of relevant tasks. It allows her to have access to my topics and questions in advance. In case she cannot be present, she reads the agenda on Outlook answer the questions and add information on it. It is very practical and make our meetings effective. Due to that, we often do not need to have the full hour.
- Be present
Do not schedule your meetings between back-to-back meetings. Be sure that you and your executive are able to be mentally present. Make your one-on-one meetings free of mobile phones or other distractions. Close the door. Give each other full and uninterrupted presence. Listen to each other. Ask strategic questions. Show that you are well informed about the business and industry. Use the business language. Be factual. This is a unique arena to show your engagement and receive valuable information from your executive. Take notes. It will show that you are attentive. It will keep you “present” and focused.
CHIARA: I often attach concrete examples to my strategic questions in order to get indications or feedback on "how to proceed going forward" before it becomes too late. When a one-on-one meeting lasts longer than normal, I like to "spice it" with funny quotes.
SOFIE: At our monthly one-on-one, we talk about goals and plans and what my executive is focusing on at the moment so that he can give me the ‘bigger picture’ on things. It gives both me and him ideas on how I can support and I write down all ideas and follow up on them. We also have time to reflect on things together and I can ask about my work to see if he is satisfied or would like me to improve at something.
- Make an action list
While discussing the topics on the agenda, create an action list. It will allow you to keep structure, understand the “why”, ensure commitment and summarize the actions at the end of your conversation. This is one of the best ways to prove that one-on-one meetings support proactivity and strategic thinking.
ANGELA: I always write down to-dos in red ink to set them apart from the rest of the items that were discussed. I then enter the to-dos in Outlook and assign them to the executives I support, other people or myself together with deadlines and electronic reminders. Since these electronic reminders do not always work, I follow up verbally or by e-mail to ensure that the task at hand is completed in a timely manner.
CLAIRE: When meeting with my Director I go armed with a sectioned notebook so that I can keep all my actions from our one-on-one meetings together, I then work through items and cross them through with a highlighter as they are completed. I also use a system similar to Adam Fidler’s 5 Folder System so that we can go through my ‘Boss File’. Any correspondence, papers or larger pieces of work that we review are then kept organised. For example, I will make notes on draft papers or invites to events that he receives as we go, so I can ensure that nothing from the meeting is forgotten or missed when I get back to my desk!
- Find the best way
Communicate with your executive in light of what you know about him/her. Some people like details, some like the big picture, and some people want to hear only about the bottom line. Pay attention to the person’s communication style and tailor your communication accordingly. It will add value to your one-on-one meetings. Face-to-face communication is recommended. “Body language” often provides more insight into a person than words in a text message or email. However, for executives traveling frequently, catch-ups by phone, text message or email will occur often. Do not allow that electronic communication to replace your one-on-one meetings. The more you communicate face-to-face, the more you will understand each other and find the best way to achieve the organization’s goals.
SOFIE: My executive and I communicate a lot via e-mail and text and we sit next to each other at work so we are in constant communication about current actions. For our one-on-one each month, I find that scheduling a lunch meeting away from the hectic office and having a change of environment is a positive thing. It makes it more relaxed and easier to catch up on what is going on at work and in our personal lives. The one-on-one helps to build a good personal relationship with your executive.
ELSE-BRITT: My one-on-one meetings mean a lot for the business partnership I have with my manager. These meetings, which are scheduled on a monthly basis, help me improve the administrative and strategic support I have to deliver. They allow me to know that I am on the right track. My manager coaches me and we discuss status of different projects. My manager is working from another office, which does not allow me to benefit from daily small talks with him. Our conversations are mostly via e-mail and Skype. Technology combined with flexibility make my catch-ups with my manager occur as often as necessary, allowing me to be involved, have ownership and work effectively.
ANGELA: I support the three members of the company’s management board. I have separate one-on-one meetings with them to discuss topics related to their particular area of responsibility. Since they are quite different in character, I tailor my approach to each individual according personal preferences to ensure that I get the desired result. Since they are quite busy, a fixed schedule does not work. Instead, I mainly send e-mails to present the topic at hand and suggest possible solutions for them to decide. When they are in their offices, I pop in for an impromptu meeting to resolve the issues at hand.
- Be grateful
Say thanks at the end of the meeting. Your executive’s time is precious and he/she is choosing to share time with you. The information you receive is valuable and allows you to perform better than if you have not spent this hour with your executive. Add value to your Thank you by explaining why you feel grateful. Gratitude is fundamental for building relationships. Here are some examples:
• Thank you for letting me know that you want to attend the seminar.
• Thank you for giving me the agenda topics.
• Thank you for the feedback.
• Thank you for keeping our appointment.
One-on-one meetings are powerful time to strengthen your relationship with your executive and make your work lives better.
We wish you good luck.
Julia Schmidt wrote this article in collaboration with Chiara Agnese Azzarello, Claire Grace, Else-Britt Lundgren, Sofie Koark and Angela Parker.
About the authors: Julia Schmidt is Executive Assistant and Board member of EUMA Norway, Claire Grace is Personal Assistant, Chiara Agnese Azzarello is an Award-Winning Executive Assistant, Else-Britt Lundgren is Executive Assistant & Office Manager and EUMA’s European Chairman, Sofie Koark is Executive Assistant and Board Member of EUMA Sweden, and Angela Parker is Executive Management Assistant and National PRO at EUMA Germany.
EUMA becomes IMA
on 1 February 2017
11 days 14 hours 44 min. 48 sec.