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The Vanity Administrative Assistant

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I know what you’re thinking. No, I’m not asking if you have an Ulla-type answering your phones, á la Bialystock & Bloom.

I’m talking about an administrative or personal assistant that does very little assisting. Do you have such an assistant? No? Then humor me and ask yourself two questions.

  1. Are you sharing your assistant with 3, 4, 5+ other people?
  2. Does your assistant double as an office manager?

If you answered yes to either of the questions, then you have a vanity assistant. Let’s examine why.

The shared assistant

I talk to a lot of people who assure me that they have a personal assistant – one that’s shared with 4-5 other execs. It was probably listed on the “perks” section of their job description. They may even have put the assistant’s contact information on their email signature/business card.

If this is you, you don’t really have an assistant. All you have is access to one. There’s a major difference there from a productivity standpoint.

If you just have access to an assistant, you’re often responsible for assigning tasks and projects to them. Sounds good, right? Well, delegating something takes a lot of work. You have to:

  • show the assistant how you prefer something to be done;
  • train and provision the assistant on your systems;
  • quality-check the assistant’s work;
  • provide the assistant with feedback;and
  • actually know what should be delegated.

That is precisely why you see a lot of people who have a “shared assistant” doing everything, save for a task or two like expenses or coordinating a catered lunch, on their own. Delegating seems to take too much time, and since the assistant is assigned to other people too, the exec just assumes that “someone else is using them.

What you end up with is an underused resource. That usually leads to the assistant picking up on other duties at the office. Like…

The assistant that’s also an office manager

So you have an assistant, who (in addition to helping you) is also responsible for:

  • Greeting visitors warmly and professionally
  • Coordinating travel accommodations for new employees
  • Ensuring community kitchen is fully stocked throughout the week
  • Organizing catered meals and other company-sponsored events
  • Coordinating general administrative activities for the office
  • Handling building management and facilities issues
  • Ordering & maintaining office supplies
  • Maintaining positive relationships with office and travel vendors
  • Maintaining and tracking office management expenses and budgets

If that sounds familiar, it’s because I pulled it directly off of an Office Manager job posting on Indeed (for Indeed’s office, no less).

If your admin assistant is responsible for all of this and working on your admin needs, there will inevitably be some dropped balls. More often than not, it’s your own admin and paperwork that will be re-delegated right back to you. (As a side note, a lot of in-house admin assistants are gunning for an office manager-type role anyway, primarily because of the unfortunate perceptions around administrative work. So you get a lot of assistants gravitating towards office manager-type tasks, which exacerbates the support issue.)

When you become your own assistant

You may be saying to yourself, “Whatever, I’m fine with doing these little things on my own.” First of all, stop talking to yourself – people are staring. Secondly, let’s revisit the goals of assigning you administrative support in the first place.

Your time is extremely valuable. Don’t believe me? If you’re an executive, consider your salary plus your bonus, and add in the amount of revenue you’re tasked with bringing in this year. You ain’t cheap.

Every hour that you spend on creating an expense report, searching for a prospect on LinkedIn, or updating your mess of a CRM is like you’re literally lighting money on fire (figuratively).

That’s why it’s not only silly to have a vanity admin, but it’s bad for business.


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“This article was originally posted by Prialto: The Virtual Support Service for Executives. Prialto Virtual Assistants are geared to actually pull your business forward and make delegating easy”

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