Credit: Wikipedia

In a biography of Elon Musk written back in 2015, there is a story about how Musk stopped working with his longtime executive assistant. Apparently,  after she asked for a raise, he responded by testing whether she was truly useful to him or not.

According to the biography, Musk’s assistant Mary Beth Brown asked Musk for a raise after she been working with him for 12 years. Musk responded by telling her to take 2 weeks off, during which he decided he would carry on without her help, to determine whether she was truly useful to him, and whether her contributions were actually contributing to the success of his position.

When Brown returned after 2 weeks, Musk told her that he had no more use for her. Although Musk offered her a different position at Tesla, he never again permitted her to work as his assistant ever again.

This may seem like a pretty extreme reaction to an employee asking for a raise. Some might say that he could have easily told her “no” instead of reassigning her duties, but it raises an interesting issue: should you periodically evaluate how useful your assistants or employees are to your business?

Evaluating Duties Versus Roles

Most business owners fall victim to the assumption that they need help by hiring employees traditionally in support roles, such as assistants, executive assistants, administrative assistants, receptionists, secretaries, and other support staff. But, as we approach 2020, the world is very different today than it was when these positions first originated.

Historically, assistants were employed to take dictation, type documents (because most business owners were never trained to type), make copies, answer phones, serve as operators in patching through phone calls, or keep a calendar.

However, through technological advances, many of these duties have been either phased out of industries, or no longer a part of the way many businesses operate.

In addition, fundamental changes in  how coworkers communicate with each other, and how businesses communicate with their clients has contributed to the feeling that these positions may be remnants of a way of doing business that is no longer the norm.

Are your Employees truly committed to the success of the Business?

So what should assistants be doing to be truly useful to your Company?

Let’s start with the Company’s goals.  Are your business’s assistants cognizant of what the Company wants to accomplish? Do they see how they fit into that larger picture? Are they interested in carving out a place for themselves to grow in contributing to the success of that overall picture?

Or, are the type of employees who see their function as going no further than the tasks that they are assigned? If you don’t give them specific assignments to do, one after another, would they be perfectly content to do nothing all day, using that time to check their phones and diddle on social media and the Internet?

“But good help is expensive, and beyond what we can currently afford…”

I know, I know. The problem is, that there is always a tipping point by which the business may actually be wasting money hiring at a certain wage level, that results in hiring employees that are not very interested in the success of the business, rather than spending a little more that might attract employees who can and are interested in actually contributing to the success of the business.

It is always beneficial for businesses to reevaluate their operational needs, namely, what support services they actually need, whether the effort necessary for those job duties should be spread across two or more employees, or whether job duties can be combined into fewer roles.  There is no reason why different duties must necessarily be assigned to different individuals; and no reason why duties that do not take 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, cannot be easily combined with other job tasks.  In addition, spending a few dollars training certain individuals on how to fulfill additional responsibilities could help identify employees who may not be as committed to the overall success of the business as others.

In a few months, it will be autumn of 2017  – a full 10 years since the economic recession that is dramatically affected the way millions of businesses across the country do business. The days of coasting comfortably have been over for quite some time, and increasingly, employees at all levels of an organization, whether assistants or otherwise, must take extra steps to show how valuable they are to business. Otherwise, as the saying goes, “no one is indispensable.”

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