How the Best Executive Assistants Set and Hit Their Goals
We get asked about Executive Assistant goal setting a lot, both in our EA communities and by our members, and it’s a surprisingly controversial topic. It usually comes up in one of two ways.
It’s either –
I’m an Executive Assistant. Should I start thinking about setting goals for myself? Does goal setting even apply to me? What do the goals of executive assistants even look like?
Help! My boss just asked me to set goals for the first time and I have no idea where to start. What are executive assistant goals?!
Depending on who you ask, goal setting for EAs is either pretty darn important, a useful exercise but not critical, or…a complete waste of time.
Having worked closely with so many Executive Assistants, we’d argue that goal setting isn’t merely a useful exercise for some Executive Assistants, it’s actually crucial to success in the role.
As we’ve found in our most recent State of the Executive Assistant report, the EA role has steadily increased in scope. Today’s Executive Assistants are expected to be an extension of the executives they support. This means that in addition to performing administrative tasks like calendaring, booking travel, and organizing events, many oversee functions that used to be the purview of HR, finance, or operations. We’re talking onboarding new employees, solving IT issues, managing Perks, and even directing office culture. (We’re guessing you can relate to this.)
Executive Assistants are likely also expected to offer high-level strategic counsel, and find new ways to help move the business forward. This might mean implementing new technology or processes that provide a measurable boost in efficiency or impact the company’s bottom line.
Which is why goal setting is so important. In order to meet these elevated expectations and perform new functions, Executive Assistants need to constantly up their skills and knowledge. Goal setting is the perfect way to be clear on your executive assistant objectives & make sure you’re constantly augmenting your abilities and continuing to add value for your executive, and ultimately, for the business.
Of course, goal setting for Executive Assistants come with its own unique set of challenges.
Liza Goldberg – who moderates our Executive Assistant communities and is a former EA herself – breaks it down like this:
“Goal setting is particularly hard for executive assistants because so much of the job is reactive. It’s hard to plan when you don’t know exactly what you’ll be working on. The other tough part is coming up with new goals. While the job is dynamic, sometimes it also feels like you’re doing the same things every day – scheduling, event planning, organizing, etc.”
To show us the way, we’ve also enlisted the help of our Executive Assistant extraordinaire Valerie Gomez. Valerie is an experienced Executive Assistant who has held Administrative and Executive Assistant positions at places like APD in Texas, and supported various executive and HR functions at large and small companies alike. She recently took on the challenge of goal setting in her own career and weighs in with her top lessons and takeaways from the experience.
Before we get to the specifics of Executive Assistant goal setting though, let’s first take a look at general goal setting best practices.
Goal Setting Best Practices
Time for some real talk. Goal setting is hard. Take New Year’s resolutions for example. Research tells us that only 8% of people achieve their New Year’s goals – aka, 92% of people who set them fail epicly. And that’s of the roughly 50% of the population who set them in the first place.
But don’t be discouraged. Failure is almost always a result of goals that don’t make sense, aren’t achievable, or for which there’s no plan to actually make sure you get there.
And because you’re reading this post, this WON’T happen to you.
No matter what your position, there are a handful of tried and true goal setting strategies that will boost your chances of success.
1. Set a Theme
Point your goals in one direction by creating a theme. A theme unites your various goals and ensures they add up to a coherent whole.
Your theme might be “A Better You,” “Time Well Spent,” or “Connection.”
The theme “A Better You” might inspire goals around professional development or health – or both. Likewise, “Time Well Spent” might help you become more efficient at work, but it might also inspire you to carve out quality family time or set aside time for friendships or dating.
2. Set 5 Goals Max…
One key to achieving your goals is to make them achievable. That starts with the number of goals you set for yourself. You can’t achieve 25 high-level goals – or even 10. We recommend you start out with 5. Focusing in on a just a few important goals will drastically increase the likelihood of success.
3. … At Least One Goal for Each Area of Your Life
Professional goals are huge, but our lives aren’t separated neatly into silos. When our personal lives, health, and even spirituality are in a good place, we set ourselves up for professional success too. The flipside is also true – when our health and relationships are in shambles, it’s much harder to be successful at work. That’s why it’s important to address more than just your professional life when setting goals.
We recommend starting with the following:
- Professional – goals that augment your skills, or that move you towards the salary or title you want
- Relationships – goals around staying connected to family and friends, or improving (or starting) romantic relationships
- Health – goals related to fitness, wellness, nutrition, and mental health
Using your theme, come up with at least on goal in each of these three areas. You may also want to include spirituality or even creativity if these are important to your overall fulfillment.
The point is, when an area of your life outside of work isn’t where you want it to be, it tends to impact your professional life as well. Make sure you address all areas that are important to you in your goals.
4. Attach a Why to Each Goal
You’re much more likely to follow through if you have a strong reason pushing you forward. Ask yourself, why is this goal important to you? It can be as lofty as wanting to lead a more fulfilling life or making your future self proud, or as pragmatic as increasing your salary so you can travel more. Figure out the reasons motivating each goal, and make note of it.
5. Make Sure Your Goals are Compelling
Ultimately, these goals are for your benefit and no one else’s. If you don’t get excited thinking about them, you won’t act on them.
Do a gut check. Ask, do these goals make you want to get up an hour earlier, or do they kind of feel like a drag? Do you avoid thinking about your goals, or are they always top of mind? The answers to these questions will help you decide if the goals are strong enough.
6. Make Your Goals Specific & Measurable, and attach Deadlines
Failure or success should be obvious. In fact, it should be a yes or no question.
Fitness provides a good example here:
“I want to get in shape,” is not a good goal.
“I want to lose 10 pounds in three months,” or “I want to run a six minute mile by June,” are better. Notice that these goals are specific, measurable, and have a timeframe. They create a clear benchmark, and whether or not you hit that mark will be easy to determine.
Likewise, “I want to get better at my job,” is not a good goal. “I want to earn a professional certification by the end of the year” is better.
“I want to network more.” Not good.
“I want to make one new professional connection each week for Q3.” Now we’re talking.
You get the idea.
7. Write them Down and Keep Them Visible
Succinctly write down your goals (and your Why), and keep them visible. Life will distract you. Make sure your goals are present to constantly remind you.
Write your goals on post-its and keep them on your desktop monitor. Post them on your mirror at home. Take a screenshot of them and set them as your phone background. Either way, make sure they demand your attention.
8. Write the Next Action Step for Each Next Goal
Now that you know your goals, you need a path to achieve them.
The first step is always the hardest. Figure out what that is and commit to taking it. Start with that first step and build from there.
9. Find an Accountability Partner
Just as your more likely to follow through when your goals are compelling, you’re also more likely to follow through when you have someone holding you accountable.
Pair up with someone and check in at least once a month. Break down your goals into concrete steps and track your progress against them
As a general rule, your partner shouldn’t be your executive… and maybe not your spouse or significant other. A trusted colleague or friend is a better choice. It should be a peer you trust, but who won’t sugarcoat things when you need some tough love.
Advanced Goal Setting Tips for Executive Assistants
So those are the basics, but as we’ve mentioned, Executive Assistant goal setting is a little different. There are some unique challenges that you have to consider.
So what are those challenges, and how do you account for them?
To answer these questions, we asked our own expert Executive Assistant Valerie Gomez to walk us through how she approaches goal setting. We also tapped into our Executive Assistant Facebook Community for the goals on which they’re currently focusing. Here’s what they had to say.
The Challenge of Executive Assistant Goal Setting
So what are these challenges? Valerie describes it like this –
“No day is the same. What you’re working on changes constantly – it’s almost minute to minute. And sometimes you just have to make magic happen.”
According to her, this means Executive Assistants should set “goals around skills and tactics to deal with the reactive nature of the job.”
Focus on New Skills and Knowledge
As an Executive Assistant, proactively picking up new skills is critical to success. The key here is to focus on a few specific skills and the means of acquiring them
Here are a few examples from our Executive Assistant Community:
- Shari: “I’m going to be taking writing classes to hone my writing and editing abilities.”
- Mariëtte: “Setting goals to learn WordPress website management, email marketing management (MailChimp, AWeber, Constant Contact, etc), social media marketing management, and graphic design (using free software like Canva and PicMonkey)”
- Monika set a goal of “taking a project management course” to refine her ability to keep big tasks on track and moving forward. You can take courses like this and even earn certifications at local community colleges.
Start with Observation
Another unique aspect of the Executive Assistant role is that while you’re always primarily supporting the needs of your executive, you are also increasingly expected to add value in a broader, more strategic sense. Before you can do that, you have to identify opportunities for improvement.
Valerie emphasizes the role of observation –
“I’m often just looking for areas where we can improve, how we can improve the client experience or the overall guest experience in the office. That’s how I determine many of my goals. So for example, there’s the onboarding process. I noticed there was some obvious room for improvement – specifically for new hires, we could be more streamlined with their experience as they walk in the building for their first day. So I set a goal to suggest a certain number of improvements to HR by a certain date.
Take a Cultural Temperature Check
In many offices, Executive Assistants are also in charge of maintaining the office vibe or culture. Goal setting can help here too, but knowing what goals to set again requires determining the team’s cultural needs. According to Valerie, there’s no substitute for rubbing elbows with coworkers.
“Just walking the floor, making sure I temperature check what people are doing and that they need in terms of the vibe. More often than not, they will tell you when they need something, and you can develop goals based on that.”
- Have lunch or coffee at least once a week with a team member from a different department to gauge their sense of the company culture. At the end of the month, identify three things that are working well and three areas for improvement (with suggested solutions).
Consider Both Personal and Company Needs
Valerie also does a great job of reminding us why Executive Assistants should focus both on the trajectory of their own career as well as that of the company as a whole. Only focusing on your own career is a misstep to avoid:
“There are people who are just focused on their role. They think, ‘I need to succeed in my role,’ and that’s it. But, it’s not just about me. The way I see it, I want to find every opportunity we can improve in every department. It’s about getting to know the department heads to see not just what I need to learn for myself but we what I can to do to help the company improve as a whole. I really love SnackNation as a whole. I came to work here because I love the company’s mission. I’m a part of moving that mission forward, so I set goals that reflect that.”
Executive Assistant Heather posted a great goal related to this idea in our Facebook Community. She set her sights on “memorizing more of the company org chart. I manage 3 execs (sales, marketing & engineering). I want to be able to recognize every team member by the end of the year.”
- Identify three team needs that are within your control to address. (Snacks in the office? A security system for checking in guests? A better process for booking conference rooms?)
Develop Leadership Skills
We sometimes assume that leadership skills are reserved for managers or C-level executives, but leadership skills can be a key to success in the Executive Assistant role as well.
Don’t believe it?
There are actually underlying similarities with an Executive Assistant’s role and that of any manager or leader.
It all comes down to service. The best leaders don’t merely assign and delegate, they serve others. They provide support by clearing obstacles, articulating a vision, and helping everyone move towards a common goal. Leaders have to be great communicators, observers, and motivators. They need to be able to solve immediately pressing problems, but also think about the long term, big picture.
Which, of course, sounds an awful lot like the best Executive Assistants.
No matter what your intended career path, leadership skills can be hugely beneficial, and there are ample opportunities to lead as an Executive Assistant.
- Community member Sandra set a goal to “Work on developing my leadership skills,” while fellow Executive Assistant April Maroney set out to read the book Governance as Leadership to give her a leader’s mindset in her role.
Find a Mentor or Join a Community (Ours!)
No matter what your career goals, support from people who have been there before is invaluable. We suggest either finding a mentor or joining an online community where you can crowdsource ideas, seek advice for tough situations, or just find support and encouragement when you need it. Our Facebook Community is always full of lively discussion.
These are also the reasons why Valerie is setting specific goals around networking this year.
“I definitely want to attend more conferences. I found a blog post with a list of upcoming 2018 Executive Assistant certification classes and meetings. I spoke to my boss about it and I am in the process of putting a list together of the ones I want to attend. That’s one of my goals for this year, to talk to and network with other Executive Assistants and learn from them.”
- Attend three professional networking events or conferences this quarter, and have at least three meaningful conversations that results in a follow up email or phone call.
- Find a mentor whose career path I want to emulate.
Another key area of focus is with dealing with stress. The job is rewarding but doesn’t come without its fair share of stressors. That’s why Valerie has set goals around meditation:
“Meditating will help big time. I set a goal to meditate every morning at 8:30, and it’s helped me become calmer and just not be so anxious. It’s good to step away from your work, meditate for a while, just to take a step and relax.”
- Meditate daily for three weeks (ten minutes twice a day) using a meditation app. Jot down stress levels at the end of each day to track progress.
Hopefully, we’ve made the case that Executive Assistant goal setting is a critical step towards unlocking your professional potential.
Have you tried to set goals in the past? What worked? What didn’t?
Let us know in the comments.