31 October 2009

A twelve step program to survive as an Admin

My grandson has started walking. He turned 1 year old on October 8th and shortly after that he just took off. He has a unique way of walking. He takes about 12 steps, squats and rejoices in his accomplishment, then he gets up and walks another 12 steps and squats again to repeat the process. He loves his newfound freedom and spends his days going back and forth from one end of the room to the other exploring as he goes.

I know the newness of it all will be gone soon and it will just be a normal thing that he is a little walker, but for now it is cute to see him learn this new skill. When I told my boss he said it must be my grandson's version of the 12 step program. I laughed, but started to think how the 12 step program has been such a help to so many people. There are 12 step programs for many groups designed to help people, so why not for us. I recently met with another administrative assistant and as we were discussing an upcoming admin conference, we started to talk about our role and how we are the do-all and go-to position in our offices. How do we keep it all together? I wrote what I thought would be a good 12 step program for our profession:
  1. Be clear on what your role and responsibilities are and if you have questions about your job, ask to get clarification.
  2. Respect your boss as a person, but also because of his or her position in the orgranization.
  3. Make a decision to listen to and hear what your boss has to say.
  4. Regularly evaluate your strengths and weaknesses.
  5. Admit your mistakes and try to learn from them.
  6. Schedule meetings with your boss regularly, but at the very least annually, to identify areas that need improvement and also for encouragement in areas you are doing well.
  7. Come up with a plan on how you are going to improve in the areas you identified as needing improvement.
  8. Treat your co-workers with respect.
  9. If you have treated anyone unfairly, take the time to apologize and try to make things right.
  10. Accept that you can't do everything yourself. Don't be afraid to ask for help and guidance from others.
  11. Maintain a good work/life balance.
  12. Review these steps regularly and practice them in your day-to-day work life.

11 October 2009

That is not in my job description...

We have all heard it from our colleagues at one time or another when they do not feel a certain job is their responsibility. And sometimes it isn’t, but from my experience if you read an administrative or executive assistant job description there is usually a phrase something like this, “providing administrative support.” But what does it mean exactly and does that include everything?

Providing administrative support is a big statement and can be anything from arranging a meeting, making a reservation at a restaurant for a business luncheon, bringing items forward for action, following up for your boss, making travel arrangements, data entry, taking minutes, drafting letters, preparing correspondence for distribution, typing reports, proofreading documents, organizing a filing system, photocopying and assembling documents, faxing, scanning, organizing events, managing information lists and the duties can go on and be varied from office to office and from job to job. In my experience I have found that providing administrative support is whatever is needed to support your boss and make the office function efficiently.

What might be considered more than what your job description requires is running personal errands for your boss, but even then it depends on your working relationship with your boss and the requirements of the job. Some people hire a personal assistant to do everything for them. In that case personal errands would be part of the job. Many stars hire personal assistants who do everything from arranging dinner engagements and parties to bringing the children to daycare. That is why I suggest when you go to an interview you should ask questions and find out exactly what “providing administrative support” means. Most assistants however will know that their jobs can change from day to day depending on the need and personally that is what I like about it. I am not stuck in a job description box. At times I have been pushed to do something that I didn’t think I could do and found it was something I really enjoyed, such as minute taking.

Providing administrative support can even lead you to another area of work. I know of three administrative assistants who have taken on the challenges of doing different types of work within their admin role and it has led to a new career. One assistant was very good at technology and was always finding solutions to software problems. She very easily moved into the IT field and is very good at her job and her administrative background makes her a favourite among the other assistants because she knows what we are trying to accomplish and can help us get there. Another colleague worked in an accounting firm and volunteered to take on some small accounting jobs to get her feet wet. Her office encouraged her when they saw her knack for numbers and she pursued further education and is now a junior accountant. Another woman started as an executive assistant, moved into the communications field and became the director and now owns her own business.

Whatever you are doing as an administrative assistant, don’t be afraid to try new things and expand your knowledge. I find that generally administrative assistants are good in a lot of different areas and are in a unique position of being in a close working relationship with management that could open doors to new work experiences and better overall job satisfaction.

There are some assistants however who enjoy the organizing and the business of being an administrative or executive assistant and they are good at their job and get great satisfaction in what they do. They don't want to change their career and that is all right too. A strong administrative assistant provides a solid backbone to any office and are the go-to people and provide a needed service.

Whichever way you decide to go, the possibilities are endless on what you can do, so don't get boxed into "that's not in my job description" or you could miss out on a satisfying job experience.

What if I have too much to do?
There is always the possibility that it is not that you don't want to try something new, but your plate is too full and you just can't take on anything else. This also can be a problem and should be handled with your boss.

I find making a list of everything you do and determining how much time you spend on each task can help you, but can also show your boss what your workload is and your capacity for taking on new tasks.

Prioriting your work can also help to show your boss what is the urgency to some of the work you are doing and what is getting left behind because of it.

It's all in how you handle it and how you present it to your boss. "It is not in my job description" comes across as whiney and it looks like you don't want to do your job. If you approach your boss in a professional manner with the problems clearly set out and possible solutions, it will come across much better.

6 October 2009

When you suspect a co-worker has a substance abuse problem...

A person I worked with had a problem with alcohol and the whole office knew about it except me. I can't smell so I didn't notice what the others did, but in a way that was a good thing. It seems as soon as we tag someone as having an alcohol problem, we don't seem to see anything else about the person, just the problem.

I sat next to her and worked with her for a few months so got to know her. I thought she had the potential to be a great assistant except for her low self esteem and she would put herself down when she made a mistake. I tried to encourage her, but she couldn't seem to see her own potential. One day she just up and quit. I was mentioning to some colleagues that it was too bad she left as she could have been good with some encouragement. They seemed surprised that I didn't know she had an alcohol problem because they told me you could smell the booze off her every day, but of course I hadn't noticed.

I know another assistant who is a recovering alcholic (I'm told you are never fully recovered) and she said I could share some of her thoughts below:

"There absolutely is a stigma still attached to being labeled an alcoholic or a recovering one.. it requires a firm culture that discusses recovery openly and strongly support it -both in action and written policy. This is usually a lot of "talk" in companies..but little real support for it... in my experience.

Most alcoholics are under the perception that no one notices and that they are very clever in hiding their drinking.. does the company have random drug testing.. ? This is one way to snag folks.. One of the biggest issues surrounding substance abuse in the workplace are the lies required to keep up the front that everything is ok. It impacts memory, ability to focus and TRUST. Co workers and employers will eventually stop trusting your word and believe your ability to complete the job and work with others... I am not sure about tell tale signs.. One for sure.. is tremors in the morning.. if their hands shake and they usually do not rally much before 11am.. but some alcoholics are VERY functional.. One item I've noticed is mood swings...

I guess from a personal perspective.. my advice when you suspect a co-worker has a problem with drug or alcohol is to alert HR...but have some specific examples available. Their supervisor should be noting if they are late often or have too many sick days. If I felt really compelled to talk to them.. my approach would be.. something along the lines of.. "You seem like you have a lot on your mind lately and seem kind of distracted.. is there anything I can help with.. ?" Or, if they put you DIRECTLY in a dangerous position because of their drinking/drugging- as in they come to pick you up for a meeting drunk- you absolutely can confront them then.....

As a recovering alcoholic myself.. I feel comfortable asking people if they are ok..because I've been in recovery a long time..and my anonymity is not as vital to me as helping others.. but that is an individual choice. Usually recovering addicts or alcoholics can sense a peer within their firm.. but really it does become the responsibility of HR and the firm to handle the issue with the employee.. and hopefully, they have supportive procedures and policies in place to help them..."

My father was an alcoholic and I now work for a not-for-profit that does research into substance abuse issues so I hear and read a lot about it, but I am certainly not an expert.  My purpose in posting this article is to bring this topic up for anyone who is strugging with this problem or knows of someone who is. http://www.peacehealth.org/kbase/topic/symptom/alcpb/overview.htm

4 October 2009

Confessions of a Micro-Manager

Who would want to work for a micro-manager? Someone who is on your back for every little thing. Did you do this? Did you do that? And always checking up on you. Working under those conditions would make anyone nervous and question whether you are the problem and maybe you just can't do the job. Here are some reasons I think managers can get possessive:
  1. I'm not sure I can trust you. Your boss has to trust that you will be able to get the job done in order to reliquish some of their control.
  2. Do you know what you are doing? A manager has to have confidence that you know how to do your job. If they don't, they will hover until they are sure.
  3. This is the way that it is done. Some managers like to have things done their way and if you don't do it their way, they think you are doing it wrong.
I never wanted to be a manager. I had been for a short time years ago and thought it was just something I was not very good at, but years later, I became a manager again. I was nervous about it because I didn't think it was something I did well. I also worked by myself for many years and wondered if I would know how to share.

So how did I handle it the second time around? I admit it -- I micro managed and for many of the reasons I mentioned above. I just did not have confidence that this person was going to be able to assist me. You have to have the right fit in a job to make it work. I don't think it is wrong for a manager to ask themselves some of the things I noted above, but I think the answer lies in how you handle it.

Some managers don't want to deal with the situation so they let it go on and continue to micro manage, but that doesn't help anyone. You are not doing the person who is working with you a favour if you don't deal with it because perhaps they would work better with someone else or in another position. You are not doing yourself a favour because believe me, being a micro manager is hard work. You feel you have to do everything yourself and you can easily burn out. The best situation is if you work together as a team, but how can you get there?

If you are a micro-manager, ask yourself if there are areas you are trying to hold on to that could easily be given to someone else and then try giving over a few duties. It might seem hard at first and you can put some task reminders in Outlook to help you keep track of what needs to be done, but once you see the job is completed, try to give a few more things away. You will see it makes your work life much easier.

Hire smart! Make the interview count and ask the right questions. Ask yourself what things really matter to you and ask questions to bring those things up in the interview. It is good to get expectations out right away and then the person applying for the job will know what is going to be required of them and evaluate if they think they can do the job.

Here are some things an assistant can do to help their boss have more confidence in them:
  1. Repeat back what your boss asked you to do so they know you understand the request and ask questions if you don't. You should never be afraid to ask questions. I always appreciate it when people ask me questions because it reassures me that the person is on the same page as me when we have had a chance to discuss it.
  2. Have a pen and paper handy and write the task down. I always have more confidence something will get done when I see it being written down.
  3. Once you have completed a task, send your boss a quick e-mail to let them know you have done it or cc them on your email. It might seem unnecessary to you at first, but in the long run will help the situation. It saves your boss asking if you got it done and in time they will not ask because they will just know you have handled it.
  4. Take initiative and do some tasks that you know need to get done. Show your boss that you want to contribute to their success and to the organization.
Your boss may dislike being a micro manager as much as you hate working for one. It's worth trying to work it out. Since I've been on both sides, I thought I would share.