So, you have recognized your need for an executive or administrative assistant. You have identified the perfect candidate, made an offer, and they have accepted the challenge. Now you have to successfully onboard and train them. Admittedly, this is the hardest part. It is difficult on a number of levels. First, you don’t have the time. If you did have the time, you probably didn’t need an assistant to begin with. Second, this is likely a new world for your assistant. Even if your new assistant is familiar with the commercial real estate industry, they are not familiar with working with you, or how you do things.
The good news is that when it comes to onboarding and training, each of the brokers and assistants that I spoke with did it exactly the same way and all were successful. I learned many years ago that if you want to accomplish something difficult – the best way to avoid mistakes (and the quickest way to success) is to find someone who has already accomplished your goal, learn what they did, and copy them. It’s called modeling, and it works. If you follow these examples, I am confident that you will be on your way to higher productivity and eliminating stress in your life.
The keys to successfully onboarding an assistant are: attitude and expectations. Understand that the first six months or so will be an investment. Do you remember when you started your commercial real estate career? Were you productive right out of the gate? If so, you are an anomaly. Most of us were not productive for 12 to 24 months. Your assistant is drinking from the same firehose you drank from. You will need to lower your expectations and be patient. Each of the teams I interviewed said it took six months just to figure out how best to work with each other.
During the first month they sat in the same office together, and eventually the assistant would begin answering incoming calls and taking messages. This is where you will be really glad you put the emphasis on chemistry, character, work ethic, drive, and the ability to pick up new things quickly. Everything you do in the office will be done together. This is the best way for them to learn how you do things; and learn your systems, utilities, and processes. They will study manuals and eventually be more proficient than you are in these areas. It’s all about OJT or on the job training.
During this time, you are both figuring out the best way to communicate and work with each other. Your assistant is learning the language of real estate, and there will be some hiccups. Consider these opportunities to learn and move forward with greater efficiency. Also during this time the trust level will be growing for both of you. You will begin to trust them to handle more and more responsibility, and they will come to trust that you will reward them appropriately for the value they add. If you do that, they will continue to find ways to add more value.
They will read contracts, LOIs, proposals, etc. – and ask a lot of questions. You must give them permission to make some mistakes, but not to repeat them. They should ride markets with you, and you should point out everything that you are learning as you go. Eventually, they will attend meetings with you and take notes. Basically, they will be your shadow. If they are not licensed, they will be studying to pass the licensing exam as they have time – and at night. As they become proficient at any task, they will own it from that day forward. They will know where you are in every transaction at the same level as you do. After about 8 to 10 transactions, they will be able to manage them largely without your involvement. As I mentioned in an earlier installment of this series, one assistant I spoke with effectively managed 35 transactions simultaneously on top of her many other responsibilities.
After about 6 months of OJT, your productivity should be at an all-time high; and you will be spending the majority of your time on the high earning activities that drew you to this business to begin with. By the end of a year you won’t know how you got along without your assistant. Be prepared for them to outgrow the position at some point. Don’t worry if that happens because if you promote them, they will be the best person to train your next assistant.
There are three other important keys to success and creating a highly effective team. The first one is to communicate. Number 2, is to communicate often. Finally, don’t forget to communicate. In the beginning, you should over-communicate. For the teams I spoke with, the first 2 hours of each week is spent setting the priorities for the week and blocking out time for the highest priorities. After that, it’s time to divide and conquer. At the end of the week, they spend time reflecting on the week, and they also communicate throughout the week. It is not uncommon for them to email at night and on weekends if something comes up that the other should be aware of. The assistant is not, however, expected to handle things on the weekend unless it’s an extreme emergency.
In honor of all of the amazing administrative professionals out there, we hope you have enjoyed this 4-part series! In case you missed the first three installments, here they are again: