Rethinking How To Utilize an Assistant

by Jamie Flinchbaugh on 05-07-24

The Administrative Assistant has been often referred to as a perk, rather than a crucial resource to help an organization’s effectiveness. This shift in thinking, and language, really began with the adoption of email, where communication from person to person didn’t have to be managed. This continued to evolve as other tools became available and adopted. Today, many of the things that you would consider “administrative” from scheduling to travel arrangements are so automated or simplified that it’s just easier to do it yourself. I use Calendly for most of my scheduling, and I can book a hotel from my app in less time than it would take to communicate what hotel I would want someone to book for me (which I would also do in an app, by the way, in this case Trello is my tool of choice).

If we are to rethink the role of an Administrative Assistant instead of just watch it go away, I think the first thing to do is drop the word Administrative. Instead, think about the word Assistant and then open up the parameters of what it can really be. Stop thinking about the role as a perk and instead think about effectiveness.

For perspective, look at other fields that have actually increased and truly professionalized the concept. A Physician Assistant is a great example. It requires less education, but can do the bulk of the heavy lifting in terms of daily workload, and overall this well-defined and well-educated role makes the organization both more efficient and, at least in my personal experience, also more responsive.

So one model, using the PA as the example, is how to have an assistant who acts almost as an apprentice, however will not actually ascend to the more senior role. Unless a PA is going back to school, they can’t just be granted the role of an MD. However, under the guidance or governance of an MD, they contribute a great deal and act as an assistant, and often a surrogate.

A different model to consider is to think about skill / capability gaps. We all have them. What skill gaps do you have that could be supplemented with an assistant? This is the model I choose to build around. For example, I am not good at editing, whether that is video or written content. Not only do I hate to do it, I have a hard time getting that task done efficiently, even though I believe I have an eye for detail. That’s a skill set that I fundamentally need in an assistant. This model is far more personalized to the individual and their needs, but I believe that’s the primary reason it can be so effective.

So even though the data suggests that Administrative Assistants, or Executive Assistants, are a declining “perk” in corporate America, I suggest there is both the opportunity and the need to reverse that decline by rethinking the question: what help do I need to perform at my best?

If you consider all of the answers to that question, it can range from everything to a better laptop to having a coach. Having the right assistant may not always be the answer to that question, but it should remain on the menu of options to improve performance and productivity in organizations. Having an assistant as a perk should be declining, but I propose that having an assistant to help someone be more effective should actually increase.