Distinguishing the difference between a PA and a business partner has become clouded, claims Adam Fidler. Here, he details why the term doesn’t apply to PAs or EAs.
I’ve got a bit of a bugbear at the moment, and it’s the title ‘business partner’ when referring to PAs or EAs. You’re not business partners, and the title is incorrect for many reasons. Where has it come from, this referring to PAs as business partners? I think it’s come from the US, but let’s go back and understand, first and foremost, what ‘business partner’ really means.
From a theoretical perspective, the title was created by David Ulrick in 1997 to redefine the role of human resources professionals; hence the role ‘HR business partner’ was created. The HR business partner model, which now applies to other functions, such as finance business partner or risk business partner, means the job holder sits outside the core business – and is ‘called in’ to give advice when required, but then sent back to the support function they came from, when their job is done. Many PAs in large firms will know this – their bosses often ‘invite’ the HR business partner along when they need HR advice.
The role of the EA or PA, however, can never sit outside the core business, which means you sit alongside and shadow your executive or the team you support. So, the business partner model, if researched, doesn’t match what we are now trying to achieve with the status, inclusivity and adoption of the PA/EA being an integral part of the management team.
But aside from all of that, the title business partner to me has a different connotation, and it drives the wrong perception when applied to PAs. The title partner or even business partner means you have an equal stake or share in the business – so it’s common for an entrepreneur to refer to his or her business partner; meaning they share the business with them, including being responsible for profit, loss and taking joint responsibility for the company’s success.
With the best will in the world, PAs and EAs even at the highest-level, don’t have an equal responsibility for the business. If your CEO leaves or gets the sack, you are not responsible, nor are you accountable if the company doesn’t make a profit. So, on many levels, business partner to me for EAs and PAs, just doesn’t apply. I can see why it’s been brought about, as we strive for a greater definition of what EAs and PAs really do, and to align their roles more strategically.
But, it would be much safer, and more appropriate, if we stuck to the term business manager. My teachings and talks about the world have brought me into contact with many executives, many of whom laugh at the title business partner for their assistants. We have to remember that working in partnership with someone is very different to being their business partner.