I’m thrilled to share the following article from my friend Jillian Hufnagel on the important topic of goal setting for assistants. In fact, this is the first post from a guest contributor on the GoBurrows blog! 
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Jillian has been supporting executives for the past 17+ years in start-ups, SaaS, Healthcare, Education and Security companies, which gives her a unique vantage point on this topic.

Assistants frequently tell me, “I don’t have time to set goals,” or “I don’t know if I am setting the right goals,” or “I don’t know where to start when it comes to setting goals,” so I’m excited to finally have a resource to share on this issue!

This post will help you own goal setting, so listen up and apply what Jillian shares if you want to become a goal-crushing Leader Assistant.

Goal Setting for Leader Assistants (by Jillian Hufnagel)

To be a true Leader Assistant, you must own your career development and have the ability to articulate your value to the organization.

Here are three keys to doing this:

  1. Set the right goals.
  2. Speak about your work using values based language.
  3. Master your physical presence and mindset.

1. Set the right goals.

For any employee, the RIGHT goals check these four boxes:

  • Align with your organizations’ mission, vision, & values.
  • Map to the top level strategic goals (objectives and key results or “OKRs”) of your organization. 
  • They are a little scary! True growth happens through discomfort. Your goals should challenge you beyond your day to day cat herding and fire extinguishing. 
  • Each goal can pass the SMART test:
    • SPECIFIC: Is it well defined, clear, and unambiguous?
    • MEASURABLE: Do I have specific criteria to measure my progress towards the accomplishment of the goal?
    • ACHIEVABLE: Can I attain this or is it impossible to achieve?
    • REALISTIC: Is it realistic and relevant to my role, scope, & responsibilities? 
    • TIME-BASED: Did I clearly define the timeline to complete it?

If your goals address the four categories above you are on a path to success, but don’t forget you need buy-in from your executive.

Getting buy-in:

It’s critically important to discuss your drafted goals with your executive to obtain buy-in on timelines, resources, budgets, and gain their commitment to support you where needed. Live discussion is always best so you can collaborate on adjustments to the goals in a healthy way. 

Now let’s practice how to talk about our hugely valuable work as we execute on our goals and prepare for our next 1:1 or review cycle.

2. Speak about your work using values-based language.

As you are painfully aware of, many of your managers and executives don’t understand what you do all day – and they never will. Guess what – that’s OK. They’re not the assistants, that’s our superpower! 

Let’s dive in on a few ways to articulate what it means to succeed with your goals, so you can own your career development.

The fine balance of being too vague vs. too granular:

Saying “I just get things done,” or “I always figure it out” is vague & devalues the impact you make. Worse, it can lessen people’s perception of you. This is not how you own your career development.

On the flip side, being too granular will likely get you some head nodding, maybe a few eye rolls, or even glazed over faces. Your leaders don’t need to hear the 17 steps it took to book a multi-leg international trip. What they need to hear is the value you brought to the business – in terms they will understand. 

Here’s an example of a goal and how you should talk to your executive about it.

Quarterly Goal Scenario:

“Deepen my understanding of our company wide initiative to increase overall Customer Satisfaction in our APAC region so that I can best deploy my executive’s time towards this goal.”    

How you talk to your executive about it:

“Sarah, your trip to APAC is scheduled for March. Your detailed itineraries, visas, customer pre-reads, and trip post mortem are all in your calendar. Folder X also has all the documentation. You and I have time next week to review the itinerary in detail. As you know, better understanding our customer satisfaction program is an important personal growth goal for me this quarter. When you meet with the account managers to discuss each customer account for the trip, I intend to listen in on those. I will generate a list of any questions I have for you after the sessions to aid in my understanding of our program’s success. I will also attend the trip post mortem so we can apply lessons learned for your next trip.”

This scenario details the high value you bring to your executive and company, and reminds them you crushed every detail – like you always do. You are owning your goal execution, sharing progress, and driving your executive to support you each step of the way.

Grab Jillian’s FREE Goal Setting Template here!

Avoiding the task vs. outcome trap: 

Tasks are “what” you did. An example of discussing a task sounds like:

“I organized the supply closet & secured a new break room vendor.”

Articulating the value of the task you accomplished sounds like:

“I increased efficiency & saved the department money by organizing the supply closet and securing a new vendor for break room service.” 

See the difference?

Be prepared & specific:

When in a 1:1 or a review conversation, never ask “How am I doing?” as this will most likely lead to a generic response that is neither specific nor actionable. You will both walk away feeling like that was another meeting you didn’t need to attend.

Be proactive. Come prepared with your list of goals & status to completion. You will lead the conversation on roadblocks, delays, and successes. Call out what you are learning, observing, and how you are growing.

Don’t hide, sugar coat, or cover up the facts. Drive the conversation on gaps in execution due to lack of budget, resources, and time. Steer towards a solution by clearly stating what you believe you will need to get the goal back on track. Ask for specific support to get things unstuck.   

All of the above cannot be achieved if you are unable to show up in a professional and thoughtful way. Let’s take a quick peek at what it “looks & feels like” to be in a highly effective discussion on your goals & development.

3. Master your physical presence & mindset.

The way you present physically will help you feel confident, and will invite respect from others. Sit tall, chin up, shoulders back, and arms open – even on phone calls – it works!

Control your body language, tone, and pace. Write out what you’re going to say, and practice how you will say it in front of a mirror or with a mentor. Say it a few times out loud to observe where you get stuck or tend to go off topic.  

If helpful, send your executive an email or document in advance about your goal progress. Ask them to review and come ready to ask questions and share feedback.

You will need to master your emotions. Get your brain away from the epinephrine (aka adrenaline) loop of fight, flight, or freeze. Right before meeting with your leader; practice mindfulness, say a positive mantra, or try a quick meditation. Force yourself to slow down in advance of the meeting.

Choose a room and seating arrangement that promotes face to face dialogue and open collaboration. Have a screen and white board available, if needed.

Bring in a stress ball, fidget spinner, silly putty, or whatever you need to keep yourself even-keeled. Ensure you have your executive’s full attention, thank them for their support, and dive right into your list of accomplishments!

Be open to feedback & questions. Context and clarity can only enhance your ability to execute and drive towards the right goals & outcomes.

Ultimately, it’s your career and YOU have to own it.

You now have new tools to set the right goals, speak about your work using values-based language, and master your physical presence & mindset.

Go forth, crush goals, and lead well! Oh, and don’t forget to download the FREE Goal Setting Template for Assistants here!

Connect with Jillian Hufnagel on LinkedIn or visit her website at jillianhufnagel.com.

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