You realize, the traditional Executive Assistant role is dead, right?
Coronavirus has pretty much exacted Grim Reaper duties on a role that could never truly define itself nor correct its PR enough, for decades, to make it relevant and essential in the eyes of its most crucial allies.
The shelter in place mandates took away one of the most important components of the traditional EA role: visibility. The #1 complaint I'm getting in my DMs from EAs is that their bosses "have no idea what I'm actually doing," even though many are working even longer hours keeping the train on the tracks for their Execs and teams. So I thought about it. What exactly are EAs doing when they don't have the same immediate access to their Execs, aren't given the myriad of "micro tasks" that happen when in close proximity in the office, and aren't able to eavesdrop on conversations and get ahead of the asks that will no doubt result from those overheard conversations? Many EAs tell me they just feel flat. Their roles have shriveled up. Their relationships with their Execs have cooled. And an increasing number admitting to low-key abuse on video calls and microaggressions in emails that never used to happen when in the office. Worse, scores are being deemed nonessential and losing their jobs in order for companies to stop the bottom line from hemorrhaging thanks to the shutdown. So I guess my question is, "Are you surprised?"
This is and has always been the cornerstone of what I teach in my "badass EA workshops" around the world. Over the last 4 years, I have done my very best to drive this point home and really make it stick. Those who got it still have jobs. Those who didn't get it have already been shown the door or are likely on the chopping block for the next round of layoffs.
It's no secret that I believe building deep, emotional connections at work is foolish. (Grab my book. It's in there.) It clouds your judgment, pulls your focus, and sets you up for drama and massive disappointment should shit go pear-shaped at any point in time, regardless of who's at fault. Decisions, comportment, and intention should all align with THE BUSINESS and making sure the business never falls victim to individual agendas.
This is another reason I was kinda stoked when we were all banished to our homes. I have long been an advocate of remote work, leaner workforces, and tighter business operations. I believe Big Tech pulled a fast one on us by ushering in living rooms, chefs, coffee bars, acupuncture, elephant training classes, and every bullshit scheme they could think of to NO, not provide the perfect environment and bomb-ass culture within which to work, but ACTUALLY keep butts in seats longer than the 8-hours our parents were accustomed to. It was a tactic, people! #wakeywakey And instead of it creating an environment where super-focused, distraction-free, low-key AI-accurate work could get done, it became an environment where a myriad of personal issues tanked productivity. Misogyny due to sausage factory hiring practices. Racial inequality and imbalance due to every recruiter being a 20-something hair twirler named Hannah or Chad unconsciously putting forth candidates that looked like them, spoke like them, moved in the same circles, and fit a template created by their own unconscious bias. Gender inequality due to C-suites filled with dudes, mostly older and White, who preached the gospel of meritocracy ad nauseam, but don't actually provide the opportunity for people who don't look like them to swim in the meritocratic pool. So instead of business, innovation, and growth ruling the headlines, more and more the conversation was dominated by the numerous abuses, inequities, firings and throne acquiescence exacerbated by these non-business focused, college ragers masquerading as places of work.
Being banished to our homes really allowed business to hit the pause button and take a cold, hard look at itself. And I'm convinced it didn't like what it saw. All of the seams were exposed. All of the abuses of the companies' funds were brought out into the light. And every bloated title, every non-essential role, every ridiculous expense, etc. was front and center to be picked through over the past 3 months of exhaling we were all afforded by Coronapocalypse. And the layoffs have been coming fast-and-furious as a result.
Working from home pretty much leveled the playing field in such a way that personality, cronyism, bro-hoods, race, gender, disability, were no longer or far less relevant in the conversation than the bottom line. The beauty of a balance sheet is the numbers don't lie. No matter how and with whom you fill your ranks those numbers will tell you whether or not you're succeeding or failing as a company. It's pure facts, zero emotion. This long break allowed companies to look at every role within the organization and assess value over a period of time. And this is when shit gets real. If the delta between a "good hire" at the time and the value provided over time didn't result in a cash-positive outcome, you can bet that "good hire" then is now a "prudent relinquishing of duties."
Executive Assistants, globally, have fallen asleep at the wheel. We have been the lowest-hanging fruit for decades anytime there were serious downturns in the market. I have preached, ad nauseam, for the past 4 years that if EAs don't find some way to provide tangible value to their companies, Execs', and teams' bottom line they will be the first to go. Additionally, I have been the Black Paul Revere screaming "AI is coming! AI is coming!" doing my best to shake EAs into survival mode while watching them roll their eyes, leave shitty comments on my articles, and continue to boast that their calendar wizardry, "soft skills," and seamless travel itinerary prowess will always make them relevant and indispensable. Mmmkay. So I "retired" from being an EA, started 3 business of my own, made a mountain of popcorn, champagne in hand, and am now kicking back watching the sobbing masses exiting the building, getting all up in my DMs, with a big, flashing, neon sign above my head reading, "I f*cking told you so."
Like I said above, the traditional EA role is dead. Dead. Dead. Dead. Dead. Dead. Dead. Dead. Companies harshly affected by the shutdown are now turning to AI solutions like Free Slurpee Day at 7-Eleven. They are mandating their leaders to start "doing your own calendar and booking your own flights," and insisting they keep only the EAs who have inserted themselves into the conversations, KPIs, OKRs, and leading projects directly affecting the company's bottom line, and cutting those EAs made redundant by AI.
AI has been ready. Just chillin' in the cut waiting for the chance to get in the game. COVID-19 just gave big business the excuse it needed to roll it out overnight, recoup millions of dollars in expensive headcount using #becauseCOVID as an excuse, and see how it shakes out. And what EAs also need to accept is that these jobs are not coming back. That's it, kids. The jig is up. What once was a cushy, Groundhog Day, 6-figure reality is now, for many, a scramble for survival.
For those EAs still with jobs, I implore of you to completely flip the script on your current role, specifically if the majority of your responsibilities can be achieved by a bot. And do it fast!
Here are a few homework assignments that will pay BIG dividends if you can pull them off:
We're officially out of excuses, kids. I liken the EA role to the trajectory of a pop star. They come through drippin' with swag, drop a hit song or two, make all the money, collect all the babes, and get really comfortable in that financed mansion in BelAir. And then, at some point after doing all these world tours they realize they're kinda broke and not sure why. They then start researching THE BUSINESS and find out that all of those advances the record company handed over with a smile are now coming due...with interest. The deal they originally signed without actually reading the fine print and the numerous addenda since has now given the record company a majority of the profits from not just record sales like in the old-timey days, but their merchandise sales, media appearances, any deals that include their likeness (now owned by the record company for the duration of the contract...and beyond in many cases), charging for ALL expenses incurred including paying everybody on their tour FIRST, from the graphic designer who designed their tour flyers to the roadie doing their mic checks every night to the lunch they had with their multi-millionaire record Exec whom they thought would be picking up the check given they kinda work for the guy. NOPE.
If you're not treating yourself like a brand and the CEO of your own, mini organization you are officially a SUCKA. And just like a pop star who's out of hits, you will be nexted like yesterday's news with zero f*cks given. Wanna know how pop stars like Madonna, Elton John, Cher, Tina Turner, and The Rolling Stones stayed relevant for decades? It's because they took the time to understand THE BUSINESS, master their brands, and the game. They leveraged their power, influence, and networks. They learned the numbers. They started businesses, merged into companies, endorsed brands leveraging their influence, and figured out how to outmaneuver the very people who made them famous...who, ironically, were expecting them to be cycled out at some point.
Wisen up, kids! We are in a completely new era, and a majority of you are still languishing in the previous one. If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result, then most of y'all are insane AF. And, I'll repeat. MOST OF THOSE JOBS WILL NOT BE RETURNING. They are gone. Forever. #becauseCOVID #becauseAI So whatchu gon' do? It's time to either figure out a new professional direction by leveraging everything you've hopefully learned as an EA (like I did) or level up 10x so that you can truly compete for the few, remaining EA roles which will now look much more like strategic partnerships than "task-doing."
Let this be uncomfortable. Let this feel non-empathetic and insensitive. It's my lot in life to call BS and challenge you to THINK and treat yourself like a priority, not a pawn. This is what I've seen for 27 years as a top-flight, C-suite Assistant and what I see as a newbie CEO whose name the entire world will know in the next 5-7 years. It's time to wake up, level up, boss up your knowledge and business acumen, and MASTER THE GAME. Or prepare to experience a whole new level of disappointment on the heels of a pandemic, financial crisis, racial unrest and a spanking new version of business erected overnight with your role excluded from the conversation.
Still, think I'm an alarmist? Mmmmkay. I'll be right over here watching...and enjoying my popcorn.
Phoenix is coaching and supporting American billionaires, CEOs and executive teams in tech, retail and banking for over 25 years. He also founded and created MEGA Assistant University, a revolutionary skills and mindset “boot camp” for top Executive and Personal Assistants who want to level up quickly and begin forging a mutually successful business partnership with their executives and teams. Phoenix holds a Bachelors of Arts in European Studies/Civilisation from Trinity College Dublin.