Imagine the scene – you’ve been asked to lead on a piece of work, for example, compiling a report or managing a new project. You have to gather information from several colleagues to complete the work you have been given.
As the days and weeks go by, you have received most of the information you need, and most of your colleagues have been helpful. However, you still need a few key details from an individual member of staff. No matter how much you have chased for this information, the person has yet to deliver and is delaying completing the tasks.
I think we’ve all been in this position before. For Assistants, it can be difficult – the likelihood of us having any authority over this person is minimal. More often than not, they will be more senior if not working at the board level alongside our Executive. Depending on how senior this person is, it can be inappropriate to chase them continually, and the project or task grinds to a halt, making you look incompetent.
So what can Assistants do when they need to chase colleagues for work who do not report to them? Here are a few tips.
Be realistic with deadlines.
This is the first point. You must be realistic about your deadlines. Remember how annoying it is when someone asks you to do something ‘urgent’ when you both know the only reason they work is urgent is that it has sat on their desk for the last month.
If you need somebody to do something for you, give them plenty of time to complete the task, set reminders to follow up on their progress (not every day, but maybe once a week?) and ask if they need any more information from you to get the job done. If the work does require a quick turnaround time, explain why it is urgent and how it fits into the bigger picture.
Be polite and show empathy.
Let’s face it; someone is more likely to complete some work for you if they like you, so be nice! Be polite, ask nicely and make them feel like they are unique. I know that can feel like a massive waste of time but having worked as an EA, I felt the extra time to build those relationships was worth it.
I always made colleagues feel like they were doing something important when completing work for me because the task was for someone in the c-suite, or it contributed directly to the business’s success.
If you have chased the person a few times, try to show some empathy and understanding. What is the issue that is causing them the delay? Can you move the deadline, work around the problem or ask them to pass on the task to someone else? Try to find out why they are not producing the goods before you get incredibly angry with them!
Explain why it is needed and why it is important to you
As I said, when an Assistant asks for something, co-workers should assume that the work is required for their boss or their boss’s boss. Or at the very least, someone important in your office or maybe even a client. Usually, people get this and get the work done.
But of course, some people don’t manage their time effectively for anyone. So, you may find that you have to explain why the work is needed, who it is for, how it fits into the business’s overall success, and why it is important to you and your Executive.
Make the whole process easy for them.
Make it easy for them to respond to your request. If it is literally to get their approval, ask them to reply with ‘approved’. Keep your communication short.
Don’t ask them for anything other than the thing you need. If the task is complicated, why not schedule a quick follow up meeting (15 minutes max) so that you can sit with them face to face and get what you need.
Some people are much better at completing tasks if they feel the urgency or pressure to do so. It is easy to say you will do something face to face or via email and forget about it two minutes later. Arranging a meeting with that person is a great way to create a sense of urgency. Another method is arranging time at their desk so that you can sit there while they complete the work. It makes you a pain in the ass, but it also ensures the work is completed!
Do they have an Assistant?
You know how often colleagues come to you to chase your Executive for information. The same applies to other Execs and their assistants. If the culprit is a senior member of staff with an Assistant, it is worth speaking to the assistant to find out if the task is on the Execs radar and pushing them to chase on your behalf.
Back the request up with an email.
I’m not a big fan of asking somebody to do something and then sending an email to confirm that request. It doesn’t instil much trust, does it! But saying that it is useful when you have chased someone a few times, and they have told you they will complete the work by a specific date.
A follow-up email confirming the date will ensure you record that promise and something to use if they don’t deliver the work on time. For assistants, following up with an email can also ensure they have a record if their Executive has to chase on their behalf or asks why their project deadlines have not been met.
Can you copy their boss in?
Sometimes (depending on how urgent the work is), copying their boss into a chase email will get the ball rolling. I would suggest you use this as the last straw, and perhaps it is better to speak to their manager rather than copying them into a chase email.
As most of your work relates to your Executive, any missed deadlines or incomplete work will affect them eventually. Make sure your colleague is aware of this – do they really want to get on the wrong side of your Executive… and you, for that matter?