Q & A with Jan Jones: How Can Executive Assistants Be Successful at Goal Setting?

In this article, author Jan Jones discusses goal setting with your executives, and why we feel inspired to make New Year’s resolutions.

FlyPrivate is a proud partner and associate of Jan Jones. Jan brings valuable, actionable information to executive assistants across the globe. We hope you enjoy her blogs as much as we do! 

FlyPrivate: Our readers are curious about your opinion on New Year’s resolutions and goals. They want to know if you did annual goal setting with your executives and discussed how you were going to work together to accomplish those goals.

Jan Jones: There’s a reason we set goals at the beginning of the year. A new year brings hope and expectation. We feel revitalized, fresh and ready to take on new challenges and opportunities. The start of a new year is a time of promise for a new beginning – an entire year brimming with potential to fulfill our plans, hopes and dreams.

We set goals to achieve a particular purpose. Take your time and make sure you are going after what you really want. You want it because you feel your life will be better for having it, whether it’s a personal or professional goal.

Are you going for a short-term goal, or setting the intention for something that is longer term and life changing? What action steps are you going to take for accomplishing your goals? Get specific with those details. Measure your progress and visualize the outcome. Whether it’s short term, or long term, set a goal that means something to you, something you are passionate about. That’s what will carry you through when your motivation starts to wane, or the goal seems too far off. Feel the exhilaration of achieving the goal. Studies have proved conclusively that feeling the exhilaration of it in your body, as you visualize the goal, will help you to manifest it. I can attest to this personally, and I know many of you can.

Goals can be started at any time. You don’t have to wait for an auspicious moment like the New Year, or the new moon. The working relationship between my executives and me was constant back-and-forth communication throughout the day. We did not wait for the New Year to talk about strategy, goals and objectives and how they would be achieved. These were ongoing conversations throughout the year, and we made the necessary adjustments as situations and circumstances changed. We functioned at the speed of business. I was always on my toes, tuned into my executives, ready to respond when they called out my name for the seemingly 100th time that day.

My goals were discussed during my performance review, which was typically held on the anniversary of my employment, not at the New Year. My bosses would share or reiterate the direction for the company, discuss my performance during the previous year and how they viewed my participation going forward. They would ask me about how I saw things, how I felt about my progress, my key goals for the next 6-12 months, and my longer-term aspirations.

One of my very favorite bosses would say to me every year “Anything you want to do in this company is fine with me” – a clear message that I was not confined to the role of executive assistant, if I chose to pursue another opportunity in the company. This is an important message for executive assistants to grasp. You always have options. Be brave enough to exercise them. The glass ceiling is a lie we tell ourselves to continue living with self-imposed limitations. Break free and go after what you want. It might be easier than you imagine.

For most of my career I supported the business owner, CEO, and/or chairman, so I understood that my work was directly aligned to the strategic direction of the entire company. But that should not preclude assistants who don’t serve that level of executive from knowing the organization’s shared priorities, and how the assistant’s individual role must work to serve those objectives. If you don’t have ongoing conversations with your executive or team about priorities and goals, then you must begin setting aside time for such discussions so you are in sync with your department and your company’s strategic plans.

If you’ve never had such a conversation before and are nervous about it, approach it casually. Start by asking some basic questions about how your department’s objectives line up with the overall objectives of your company. Tell your boss you want to understand how what you do at the department level serves the company’s strategic plan. What are some of the goals we are trying to achieve? How can I help you to meet those goals? This will help you to understand what you are doing and why you are doing it. You’ll get much more satisfaction from your work, and develop your understanding of business practices. Becoming an integral part of the business could be a worthwhile goal for you in 2022.

Even prior to the Covid lockdowns, what I saw in the relationships between executives and assistants is that their communication was becoming more and more remote. By remote I don’t mean the location, I mean even in the office, there was less and less interaction. The jobs of the executive and assistant seemed divorced from each other. One of the secrets to my EA career success was consistent communication with my executives. Being around my executives is how I learned to think and act like an executive. I saw, I heard, I observed, I implemented. If you are to serve effectively as your executive’s deputy, you must remain in the loop. That means very little lag time between decisions being made and you knowing about them, so you can take charge and execute accordingly.

I was pleased to hear from Adam Fidler, the UK’s premier trainer and educator for executive and personal assistants, that EAs are telling him that a major objective for 2022 is to “Find more time to spend with their executive, having their 1:1 meetings more regularly. With working from home, and a busy recovery from Covid, firms are trying to recover from 18 months of inactivity. While everyone is busier than ever, they are not so ‘connected’.  Jan, you and I agree that working online and working from home isn’t effective in building the relationship between the executive and EA. I tell EAs that in the current climate, when they’ve been out of the office for up to 2 years, in some cases, it really is crucial they find time to speak with their boss face-to-face, or even meet informally in person, perhaps over coffee, just to catch up and keep the relationship connected.

 “Instead of being an extension of their executives, unfortunately, the lockdowns have made the executive assistant an extension of software programs and computers. For 2022, we must immediately start to rectify this situation. I keep emphasizing that the role of the EA is relational. It’s about people, and getting on with others. This is constrained enormously when you don’t have face-to-face time. Not being in the office for almost 2 years is far from ideal for developing the relationship. How can you know your boss’ priorities when you don’t talk and share together? This is why I emphasize that in 2022, assistants must insist on frequent 1:1 meetings with their executives.”

Adam added that another essential goal for 2022 that assistants have shared with him is they want to know more about the business more generally; the commercial context and wider objectives of the firm.  Since developing that knowledge takes time, Adam advises that getting out and about more, with cross-functional projects and matrix working, is essential in 2022. He said,  “To use my own phrase, it’s about ‘being strategic.’ I continue to be alarmed at how many EAs recognize the importance of this, but either don’t know how to approach it, or simply don’t do it.”

Someone determined to set a new direction and make the most of her opportunities in 2022 is Aalaa Aljar, executive assistant to the CEO at APM Terminals in Bahrain. Aalaa told me “Nowadays, employees require more from their employers than a fair salary. They want to be treated well and they want their employer to care about their physical and mental wellbeing. What I’ve learned from my role as an executive assistant is that before I make demands on my employer, I have to be clear about what I want, and communicate it effectively. So one of my personal goals for 2022 is to improve my work-life balance by transforming my mindset and taking action in that direction. I will take my vacations and make time outside the office for family and loved ones. I will prioritize my health and make certain I stay hydrated, eat well and avoid skipping meals.”

Aalaa added, “As someone with a high regard for her role, I am always available to offer necessary support to help my colleagues. But I understand clearly that I must set boundaries and communicate them. For me, being available means doing what is expected of me with love, while enjoying the journey. I challenge myself to execute routine tasks with creativity, adjusting the targets I set for myself if it is necessary. To make sure I am able to have my work-life balance and enjoy my time outside of work, I will make sure to communicate clearly to my relevant team members and managers that I will be away and engaged in personal activities. This will help to ensure they manage their expectations and understand and respect my personal time.”

Ratna Sreerangam is an executive assistant with strong strategic and creative thinking. Focused on solutions, he is always considering how to enhance his company’s brand and be of service to their clients. For 2022, Ratna discussed with his company founder how to take control of the customer experience issues their clients are having with outside providers, as a result of the pandemic. Seeing the potential for using their company’s industry clout, Ratna is developing a system to help their customers get their issues resolved. A lofty goal, and not easy by any means, because the issues are directly between their clients and the providers. Ratna will have to do a lot of investigating, negotiating and coaxing to meet his objective of getting resolution for their clients. Projects like this will create massive goodwill towards his company, because they are going out of their way to help their customers. Ratna has seen the problem and has proposed a way to fix it, even though it will take tons of additional time and effort for him to get that project completed successfully. This is how a dedicated executive assistant thinks and acts like a business owner, finding solutions that will create long-term relationships and loyalty with customers.

Years come and go. We set goals and make resolutions. In a matter of weeks or months the best intentions can fall by the wayside and we drop back into our old habits, attitudes and behaviors that don’t serve us, but we find hard to let go.

So why bother with goals and resolutions? Because life is about aspiration. When you stop reaching, you stop growing. When I have a goal I’m passionate about and determined to achieve, I have no problem sticking with it and often it materializes ahead of schedule. Feeling excited about your goals generates energy and gives you momentum. You’ll feel like you are thriving again. You’ll find the whole tone of your life is more upbeat and your outlook is positive and optimistic.

When I’m working on goals, I measure my progress frequently. It creates a sense of achievement to see that far-off goal coming into view. If it’s what management guru Jim Collins calls a BHAG (Big Hairy Ambitious Goal), I set manageable milestones. For me, that’s the key to sticking with it and not ending up frustrated, because I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. Break it down into manageable pieces, and set specific target dates. If it’s a time-sensitive goal, I keep up the pressure, but if it’s a nice-to-do goal, I cut myself a bit more slack, if there are other more pressing matters to deal with. If you’ve not had success with achieving big goals, try breaking them down into more doable steps that will lead to the achievement of the big goal. Maybe give yourself some extra time to achieve it. Soon you will confidently go for bigger and bigger goals because you’ve mastered the process.

Don’t overlook asking “Who?” Who can help me to achieve my goals, whether they are work-related or personal? You don’t always have to go it alone. You’ll be surprised at the assets available to you with that simple question. Cultivate new connections and rekindle old ones. They may have similar goals, so you can share resources and support each other.

Decide to start 2022 by shaking off the inertia of the past 2 years and breaking free from uninspired thinking, so you can rise to the top of your game. Get back into productive habits that will serve you for the long term. Regain your influence. Reestablish your confidence and your credibility. Achieving your goals means making the invisible, visible. It will require a leap of faith, but if you lead from a fervent desire and purpose for your goals to bring lasting change in your life, that goal could be yours long before you say goodbye to 2022. Here’s to you! Happy New Year!


©The CEO’s Secret Weapon. The ideas expressed in this article and any text extracted from “The CEO’s Secret Weapon” are the intellectual property and copyrighted to Jan Jones. All rights reserved. No unauthorized usage or duplication by any means is permitted without the express consent of the author.

Author: Jan Jones

Want more from Jan Jones? Check out her Q & A Series!

Jan Jones is the author of “The CEO’s Secret Weapon How Great Leaders and Their Assistants Maximize Productivity and Effectiveness.” The book has received widespread acclaim from executives and executive assistants worldwide. Jan spent 20+ years as an esteemed international executive assistant to well-known business people, including Tony Robbins, the world’s #1 business and life strategist. Jan continues to champion the executive assistant profession with her writing, consulting and speaking. She offers timeless, practical advice that is relevant to the day-to-day role of the executive assistant. 

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Visit Amazon to purchase Jan Jones’ book and visit her website: The CEO’s Secret Weapon.

The CEO’s Secret Weapon: How Great Leaders and Their Assistants Maximize Productivity and Effectiveness

Jan Jones

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