Let’s bring back administrative support staff for executive delegating. (If you’ve read my book, you know I call this “empowering” yourself and others.)
Leaders and specialized workers used to routinely be able to hand off administrative work and other tasks that didn’t make the best use of their time.
That’s hard to imagine now in today’s “do more with less” world of work. The number of administrative professional jobs is shrinking. Part of that decline is due to the belief that technology makes support staff unnecessary. After all, we can do everything from checking our messages to making an airline reservation right from our phones now. But there’s still much that technology can’t do that a skilled admin can. And assuming that your staff members can find and optimize the best technology to help with their jobs is a big assumption.
The argument has been that “the budget can’t support the overhead.” When resources are squeezed, having support staff can feel like a luxury. But take a closer look at your situation. Creating ways for your team to delegate might be more financially feasible than you realize.
Take this example: You have four sales executives, each bringing in $200,000 per year in revenue. You want to hire a full-time administrative professional for $30,000 per year plus benefits. If each sales executive increases his or her sales 5 percent annually thanks to the time they save by delegating tasks to your new admin, you’ve offset the cost of the hire. Any improvement over that 5 percent gain goes directly to the bottom line, and studies indicate that the odds are in your favor. Why? Your specialized staff members bring unique know-how, skills and creativity. Delegating the tasks that don’t require their special expertise allows them to spend more time on the activities that add the most value for you.
There are other benefits of delegating that are harder to quantify but that are no less real. With all of us deluged by email and other communications, a good executive assistant can “filter the distractions that turn a manager into a reactive type who spends all day answering e-mail instead of a leader who proactively sets the organization’s agenda.” And, in the longer term, people enjoy their jobs more when they can spend more time doing what they’re best at instead of monotonous tasks that don’t utilize their talents. Giving your team members adequate support can improve morale and retention.
Of course, sometimes it’s just not feasible to add to your staff, even when it’s clearly needed. But there are other ways to help your team do more delegating. If, say, your sales team doesn’t have an administrator, you can offer a stipend to hire a virtual assistant for travel booking, expense report filing, appointment setting and other administrative tasks. VirtualAssistants.com is a good place to start your search.
You can also support your team in delegating tasks that aren’t work-related. Today, we’re seeing a boom of service companies that help people outsource chores like errands, personal administration, housekeeping, meal planning and home maintenance. Encourage your employees to take advantage of these services by creating corporate relationships with national and local providers, negotiating discounts, offering gift cards and even including a stipend in compensation packages. You could also maintain a vetted list of local suppliers for services like babysitting or home repairs, or even arrange for a local dry cleaner to do pickups and dropoffs at your office. Helping employees delegate personal tasks like these might not seem like a business investment at first, but when you take duties off their plate — whether they’re personal or professional — you free up more time to recharge. And that ultimately gives them more mental energy for their work.
Ready to start delegating more? This self-assessment from HBR can help your team identify tasks that can be outsourced. Another exercise is to have your executives start a list of “items to delegate.” After a week or two, the length of that list can be a good indicator of the need, or a good foundation for a discussion. And in addition to the services I recommended above, check out PrepDish (meal planning), TaskRabbit (errands, chores, and just about anything you can think of), Upwork (freelancers for office support and specialized skills) and Thumbtack (home repairs). A site called NextDoor allows you to connect with your neighbors and also find referrals to home service providers. All of these are useful for delegating, and sure to inspire more ideas for helping your employees offload routine work so they can focus on what’s most satisfying for them — and valuable to you. Sounds empowering, doesn’t it?
Another benefit is who that administrative person might become. I have seen and experienced times where the administrative person grew into sales, support, or other roles. They are great hires for those roles because they have a unique perspective of the company and bring experience of that company, customers, and issues that a typical new hire does not have.
Another great article, Maura. I was so hesitant to hire an assistant, and it turned out to be the best business decision I could have made. Thanks for sharing your wisdom.