Managing colleagues who bypass you to get to your Executive

I’m sure every Assistant will have at some point experienced a colleague who constantly goes to their Executive with every issue, question, idea before speaking to the Assistant. Am I right? I thought so! Managing colleagues who bypass you to get your Executive is a prevalent challenge that many of you face constantly.

It is annoying. But more than that, it can undermine your role. Assistants are employed to save their Executive time. If you have colleagues who don’t get that, who think they can judge when it is okay to interrupt and often disrupt your Executive’s schedule that you have spent a lot of your time planning out, they are not taking your work seriously. And that is a problem.

But, it can be managed, and we have a lot of suggestions to share with you today that will help Assistants who do have colleagues that go directly to their Executive without speaking to them first.

Why does your colleague bypass you?

The first step is to look at the root cause of the problem. Why is your colleague doing it? They know you work there, right? So why do they bypass you? It could be for several different reasons, some easier to manage than others. Here are a few examples:

  • They don’t want to bother you
  • They don’t know they have to speak with you first
  • They consider themselves friends with your Executive and the rules don’t apply to them
  • They don’t know what you do
  • They don’t value your role or input
  • They feel threatened by your relationship with the Executive
  • They are underperforming in their role
  • They want to impress your Executive / They are very ambitious
  • They are more senior than your Executive

As I said, some of these reasons are much easier to manage than others, but the first step is to understand the colleague’s motivation. Why are they acting in this regard? Once you know the issue a little more, you can take the next step and get them to start talking to you first.

Do they know what you do?

Often colleagues who do bypass you are not terrible people. They just don’t know what you do and how much value Assistants bring to the table. Most often, they don’t have an Assistant themselves. So if you have a colleague who clearly doesn’t understand that they should come to you first, a friendly reminder is needed. It is best to do this in person.

Next time they wander past your desk or pop up in your Executive’s emails, ensure they understand that you manage your Executive’s schedule. It is a difficult job. There are lots of moving parts. Your colleague has to check with you first before they take up your Executive’s time. As an Assistant, you see the complete picture and understand your Executive’s priorities. Your colleague doesn’t and shouldn’t assume they are a priority.

You want to maintain a working relationship with your colleague, so it is worth approaching the conversation openly. Colleagues who often bypass Assistants don’t trust that the message they need to get to the Executive will be heard unless they deliver it themselves. Make sure they know that they can trust you to do your job and that the message will get in front of your Executive at some point. The trust you build up with your colleagues underpins your authority.

When to make your Executive aware of the issue?

I think it is worth making your Executive aware of the issue pretty quickly. I know Assistants don’t like to bother their Executive with minor problems like this, but it can escalate and undermine your role. If a colleague also wanders into your Executive’s office unannounced, you Executive might wonder why you didn’t intercept them.

So I would suggest you make a small comment in passing at your next 1-2-1 meeting. Let them know you’ve noticed a colleague who is bypassing you, and if for any reason it happens again, can your Executive loop you in or let your colleague know they should come to you first. Again, reiterate you are there to free up your Executive’s time, and colleagues who go over your head challenges that role.

If the matter persists and the colleague is a repeat offender, you may need more support from your Executive. But communicating the problem to them and making your Executive aware should make the problem go away much quicker.

Consistently communicating your role

It is essential that you consistently communicate your value and that you are visible. Colleagues who bypass you undermine the value you bring, so you have to call them out on it.

Set expectations with colleagues, including your Executive. Their behaviour is counter-productive, and ultimately they are not operating as a team player.