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The Changing CEO: Associate Relationship
by Andrew E. Schwartz

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Imagine a partnership at work. One member is outlining the agenda for the annual stockholders’ meeting, the other is managing the logistics. Their interaction might go like this:

"And then the Chairman will speak for about 20 minutes or so.”

“What about a projector with slides of new product and the new facility in the background?”

“Good idea, the Chairman can be pretty dry sometimes. Will you arrange that?”

“Certainly."

“Then the V.P. of marketing will give a presentation of this year’s marketing strategy. Also, there needs to be enough copies of the annual report for everyone attending.”

“I’ll give the V.P. of marketing a call and ask him if he needs any other materials for his presentation. I’ll also be sure the printer knows how many copies of the report must be delivered directly to the meeting.”

Does this scene characterize the relationship with your associate? Your boss?

The last decade has brought many changes to the traditional boss/associate relationship. We now see powers and responsibilities delegated to “executive assistants” that only ten years ago would have been the sole province of the boss. And there has been a corresponding rise in the prestige and influence of those associates chosen to fill such positions. The fact is that fewer women are willing to be career associates.

Qualified associates are hard to find and even harder to keep satisfied for any appreciable period of time. The most talented and enterprising are voicing the same concerns as a burgeoning number of their fellow employees: “What are the opportunities for growth and advancement?” That has become a popular question. Women who were associates in the 1960’s are now managers and vice presidents who function as role models for the current group of associates. On the other hand, some corporations continue notoriously resistant to employee advancement from clerical positions, leading to frustration and lowered incentive for people in these posts.

Many employers still tend to underestimate the necessity for skilled employees on their clerical staff, and to ignore the talents of those who are already doing the job. Like teaching and nursing, secretarial work is seen as a “women-only” job. Secretarial competence has been overlooked or taken for granted. Now that clerical workers are insisting on adequate compensation for long hours — and on raises that reflect their acquired skills — employers increasingly find themselves thrust into situations where they must re-examine the structure of these jobs.

Two avenues present themselves to employers who are trying to adjust to the “shifting sands” of the current job market. First, jobs may be redesigned so that associates feel better, more fulfilled, and more fairly compensated for their level of skill — while doing them. Second, the position of associate can become an acknowledged “stepping stone” position, a training ground for career advancement and upward mobility for those who have the desire and talent.

Ideally, the associate must be acknowledged as an integral part of the management team. When the boss drafts a letter, it is the associate who checks it for spelling, correct grammar and punctuation and types it up accurately and neatly to present a professional and appropriate image. He or she must also make sure of details such as researching to whom the letter must be directed for maximum effect and assuring its timeliness. Boss and associate are responsible for different parts of the same project—a team effort, a partnership. In this case, the boss initiates the action and the associate follows it through—both acts are essential to success.

In a true working partnership, both individuals feel confident of the talents contributed, and both feel respected and appreciated. It is a given that the associate views the boss this way or at least acts in a way that implies it. To reap the potential benefits of a boss-associate partnership, it is becoming more important that the boss cultivate ways of showing the associate that the road travels both ways. Higher wages, of course, are the most immediate incentive in attracting and motivating a skilled associate, but it is not by any means the only factor. In the case of clerical work, some relief from routine may be as great an incentive as a pay increase. For example, more interesting and decision-oriented types of work could be delegated to those associates who have shown themselves capable of handling it. Many employees are interested in the acknowledgment of their contributions and visible enhancement of their prestige in the corporate structure.

Ultimately, the key to managing a associate is the same as that of managing any employee: Reward efficient action and allow the person to grow to the extent of his or her own gifts.


Andrew E. Schwartz, CEO, A.E. Schwartz & Associates of Boston, MA a comprehensive management training and professional development organization offering over 40 skills specific programs and practical solutions to today's business challenges.

Copyright, AE Schwartz & Associates. All rights reserved.
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