Managing expectations


I was recently discussing some of the harder areas of the role with a fellow EA. She mentioned that she was never 100% sure what her boss expected of her and whether or not she was delivering. I must admit I was quite shocked that such an experienced assistant would struggle with expectations but the more I thought about it the more I realised that assistants hold themselves to very high standards so most of us will wonder if we are exceeding expectations at some point in our career. I know I certainly have!

Here are my tips on managing, meeting and exceeding your manager’s expectations!

What exactly is expected of you?

To manage your manager’s expectations you firstly have to know exactly what is expected of you. The very first step is that you have a job description that covers all of the skills and tasks that your boss requires of you, this unfortunately is very very rare! Job descriptions for assistants are sketchy at best and often have a phrase such as ‘and anything else that might be needed’ or ‘and ad hoc duties’. If you have a detailed job spec this will really work in your favour. If not it is really worth asking your manager if you can flesh out a few more specific tasks. Do this tomorrow, don’t wait for your next performance review.

Communication will always be key!

As I’ve always always said communicating with you manager is key to EVERYTHING! It is especially important when it comes to managing expectations. You must have regular and face to face contact with your manager. If you do not it really will jeopardise your working relationship because how will you know what your boss is thinking and what is expected of you?

A continual dialogue is so important

Don’t make the mistake that you and your manager are on the same page! It’s hard enough being on the same page with your friends and family let alone your work colleagues! The only way you can ensure you understand what your boss wants from you is to continuously communicate with them and have an open and honest dialogue. It is in your best interest to understand their priorities and align your goals with theirs.

What are the specifics?

So your manager has given you a project, you will need to know the specifics so that you can deliver what is expected. Make sure you ask them the following:

  • What are the objectives of this project?
  • Is it an ongoing project or is there a deadline for success?
  • If you have a deadline, is it realistic?
  • What are you being judged on here?

Don’t let your manager get away with vague instructions. This is so important because it is so easy for them to do. You are there to support them so they may spend less time explaining what they need from you than they would do with your colleagues. Always define the specifics back to your manager (either with a follow up email or during the initial project conversation).

With long term tasks, such as diary or email management do the same thing, define exactly how they want you to manage their correspondence and calendar. Again have this conversation immediately if you haven’t already – how else do you know if you are meeting their expectations? If you have been working with your manager for a while it is always worth having a review meeting to suggest new ways of working and any best practice you have picked up from colleagues or previous roles you’ve been in. Suggest this to your manager and work in ways to ask specifically what their expectations are!

Evaluate and Re-evaluate!

During your working day it is always worthwhile keeping your your manager in the loop. Let them know if you have hit any obstacles, what you are doing to overcome them and any progress you have made. Adjust what is required of you depending on the feedback you receive from your manager. Don’t constantly seek approval but do evaluate their expectations based on the ¬†everyday conversations that you have.

Invest in your relationship

Again this is something I’ve mentioned in previous posts. It is definitely the case that the better your relationship the easier it is to manager your boss’s expectations. Invest time in getting to know each other, go out for the occasional coffee and do ask about their life outside of work. Also appreciate their sense of humour and laugh at the occasional joke (even if you have to force yourself!)

Are the expectations realistic?

This is when having a good relationship with your manager comes into its own because it can be hard to speak up when expectations of you are unrealistic. It is important that you do stand up for yourself. It might feel uncomfortable to begin with but it will ultimately help. You don’t want to fail in meeting their expectations because you haven’t been honest with them. If you do have concerns that you won’t be able to meet deadlines plan an alternative approach and discuss that with your manager. Don’t bury your head in the sand and just hope to get through everything

Also think about the best time to raise your concerns, having an awareness of their moods through the day will help you pick a good point to discuss any issues with them.

Have a contingency plan

I know this can be difficult with all of the work that most of us have to get through in a day but I do think it is worthwhile having a little contingency time in place everyday so that you can manage any urgent requests that come from your boss. If you can drop everything and help them immediately you will really exceed their expectations. If that contingency time isn’t used then you have some extra time to play with each day, yay!

Be proactive

Proactivity will always be a central skill for assistants and again it is very important when you want to exceed expectations. Do be self motivated and go the extra mile for your manager. Be helpful and easy to work with. One little tip is to always ask your manager if there is anything more you can do for them before you go home at the end of a working day. It is a nice way of showing that you are thinking of them when obviously you are really thinking about going home. If there is anything they need you to do at least they have delegated it and you can deal with the request first thing in the morning. Do think to yourself ‘what can I do today that will make my boss’s job easier’.

You want your boss to have high expectations!

There is nothing worse than having a manager that doesn’t expect much from their assistant. Trust me, it is like an up hill battle trying to convince them you can do more. Having a boss that expects great things from you means that you can perform to a higher level and you can really excel in the role.

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