Through Exceptional EA’s Real Careers series, I count myself fortunate to have already shared with readers my virtual trips to seventeen countries, to gather insights from dozens of admin. professionals about their careers.
With Real Partnerships, we explore the dynamics that make for a successful business partnership. We began earlier this week with a look (which you may find by clicking here) at the business partnership between Lucy Brazier and Matthew Want. Today, in part two of our interview, I’ve turned to them for their perspectives on professional success.
Evolution of the Admin. Professional Role
Lucy, have your perceptions or expectations of the assistant role evolved in recent years? If so, how? I spend my life on the road talking about this. As CEO of a global training magazine for Assistants, and having spoken at over 170 events in 28 countries in the last year alone, I think I have a unique perspective on the role and campaign relentlessly for the role of the Assistant to be recognised as a profession and not just a job.
Campaigning relentlessly: for the role of the Assistant to be recognised as a profession
The role has changed totally since the recession, with Assistants picking up much of what the former middle management were doing before they were let go. Most Assistants are now doing HR, Event Management, bits of Finance, Marketing, Social Media; the list goes on, but on the whole they are not getting the remuneration or training required to take on these roles. Add to this the fact that many look after at least two Executives (I have found one Assistant looking after 15!), and it is a recipe for stress and burnout.
We need to get job roles aligned with certification/qualification and remuneration
Our friend Bonnie Low-Kramen is fond of saying that there has never been a more exciting time to be an Assistant because the role is changing so fast. I think moving forwards, the opportunities for Assistants will be enormous but right now we are in a state of flux and we need to get job roles aligned with certification/qualification and remuneration so that Assistants understand their career progression and so do the businesses. The research we conducted earlier in the year with Hays showed that 70% of Assistants don’t have a career development plan. This is shocking, not least when you combine this study with the one we ran with Avery later in the year that proved that Assistants work more unpaid overtime, take on more tasks without training and have not only the same IQ but a far higher EQ than their equivalents in the office.
70% of Assistants don’t have a career development plan
What level of formal education do you ideally seek in an assistant, Lucy? What types of ongoing professional development do you think best support an assistant’s career progression within your sector or industry? I always hire based on the individual. I look far more at what they have done and whether they inspire me as, in this business, they need to be able to inspire our customers.
We are very lucky in that Matt gets invited to take part in lots of training by trainers who write for us. I always let him attend, as he gets something different from each one and meeting his peers is always useful. He also attends lots of the events at which I speak, and our own Executive Secretary LIVE conferences and I know he gets a lot from the speakers at these.
Earning Your Principal’s Confidence and Trust
Not all working partnerships unfold as smoothly as one might like, Matthew. What steps might you take if you were not certain you had secured your executive’s confidence in your abilities, and her readiness to delegate to you? I would find out what the issue(s) may be between Lucy and me, and find out how we can best sort them out. Most of the time, if you just sit down and chat with your executive, you will find out what the problem may be – and hopefully a solution to work things out moving forward.
Nix those nasty habits
If there was a single workplace routine/habit you’d discourage an assistant from developing, what might that be?
Matthew: Make sure you aren’t the workplace gossip. I have met many Assistants who have been affected, either directly or indirectly, by gossip. Gossiping can easily go from innocent to something that could affect someone’s career or, even worse, their mental and physical health. Be careful what you say in the office and to whom you say it; you never know who it may end up with!
Be careful what you say in the office and to whom you say it
Lucy: Keeping your head beneath the parapet and expecting things to change. Assistants all over the world are working hard to make sure their businesses understand their worth. By settling for the way it has always been and not speaking up about where you are adding significant value, you are doing both yourself and other Assistants a grave disservice.
By settling for the way it has always been and not speaking up about where you are adding significant value, you are doing both yourself and other Assistants a grave disservice
Oh, and saying yes to everything! You are employed by your company to ensure that your executive(s) are as efficient as they can possibly be. If you are saying yes to everybody else who wants to throw work at you, then you are not doing the job you were employed to do and in time you will suffer from at the least, resentment and at the worst, burnout.
What would you suggest to someone who recognises s/he sometimes reacts defensively in high pressure situations?
Matthew: A couple of phrases I wouldn’t use, when it comes to something bad happening, are “I don’t know” and “It wasn’t me”. Always own up if you’ve made a mistake. If you don’t own up and get found out later on down the line, you will most likely jeopardise the relationship with your executive even more.
Always own up if you’ve made a mistake
Elevating the level of your contributions; recommended reading
Supporting your principal and organisation during difficult times
Lucy: Matt just gets on with doing all the things that need doing – quietly and efficiently. He also reminds me to eat, makes tea (which he rarely does normally!), prods me every now and again if I am losing focus on things that need to be done, and he generally goes into support mode.
So, you want to be a high performing Assistant? Here’s what it takes
Matthew: Keep on top of your game and be yourself. There is no Assistant who knows everything, so don’t pretend to. If there is something you don’t know, make sure to ask your colleagues. If you’re working as the only Assistant in the organisation, try to go networking or use social media to meet other Assistants. Networking and social media are great ways to meet other Assistants, who always make great contacts to help you advance your job role and career.
There is no Assistant who knows everything, so don’t pretend to
Always keep up to date with the latest technology trends and any other pieces of information that may help you and your executive to move forward. As I mentioned, never pretend to know everything. If you do, it may look good for a while, but eventually it will catch up with you and will most likely not end well.
Lucy: Learn constantly. There is so much information out there that there is no excuse not to. Join LinkedIn groups and network with your peers.
You need to conduct yourself like a business person and not as a sidekick
Read articles, join associations, go to networking events, push for training and find your voice. Business people speak up and are heard. This marketplace is no longer about tea and typing. It is a career and a profession in its own right, If you want your colleagues to recognise this, you need to conduct yourself like a business person and not as a sidekick.
If you are saying yes to everybody else who wants to throw work at you, then you are not doing the job you were employed to do
… and now, a note from Shelagh. Readers not familiar with some of the people and resources Lucy and Matthew referenced may be interested in checking the following links. To explore a range of resources recommended by our readers, click here for Exceptional EA’s Resources Page.
- Executive Secretary Magazine Bookstore
- Susie Barron- Stubley
- Joan Burge – Office Dynamics
- Melba Duncan
- Jan Jones – The CEO’s Secret Weapon: How Great Leaders and Their Assistants Maximize Productivity and Effectiveness
- Bonnie Low-Kramen – Be The Ultimate Assistant
- Julie Perrine – All Things Admin
- Peggy Vasquez – Not “Just An Admin!”