Real Partnerships explores the dynamics that make for a successful business partnership between administrative professionals and the executives with whom they work. Today we visit with Debs Eden, PA, and Nigel Ramana, Group Managing Director EMEA, Opus Professional Services Group.
Debs Eden has been a PA for many years, and you may already have read her Real Careers profile on this site. Away from Opus, she is the Founder of the Bristol PA Network and is heavily involved in the PA profession, especially in the west of England. She often blogs for Bristol PA Network, or writes pieces for her LinkedIn profile.
Nigel Ramana is one of the founders of Opus and he’s grown with the company. A multiple internal award winner, Nigel’s extensive experience, entrepreneurial spirit and sense of humour make him (in her words) the ideal foil for Debs. Here’s a look at how these colleagues within a rapidly growing, global company have already forged a successful partnership, based on a shared understanding of company culture and mutual respect.
Qualities and Characteristics
What are the qualities or characteristics you most respect in your executive/principal? I have so much respect for the fact that Nigel has a real entrepreneurial spirit and is dedicated to the business. He leads by example; he is approachable and also has a wicked sense of humour. He’s courageous – he once admitted to me that he hates networking, but he stepped outside his comfort zone and came to a Bristol PA Network event with me. The PAs loved him!
He leads by example
What are some of the most important qualities or characteristics you seek in an assistant? Reliability and availability. I need to work in the knowledge that Debs would be available to action/book something accurately, even if there is a time difference because I’m on the other side of the world in Sydney. With me and other Directors regularly in Australia, the Middle East and USA, Debs operates in this manner on a regular basis.
Recruitment and Building the Partnership
Nigel, what most impressed you about Debs during the recruitment/interview process? Debs oozed loyalty and professionalism, always speaking highly of her previous employers and experience. Even more importantly, she displayed a willingness to change and adapt to a new environment which I believed key to our unique culture.
Debs oozed loyalty and professionalism; she displayed a willingness to change and adapt
Many high performing assistants see the recruitment/interview process as a two-way street, in which both parties can assess whether the partnership will be a good fit. Was there anything about the process or Opus that particularly stood out for you, Debs? Yes, their willingness to meet me more than once. I was approached via LinkedIn, which allowed me to research the company thoroughly; that’s when I discovered Opus was #2 in the Sunday Times Best Small Companies to Work For awards 2015. What I loved about my first interview was that it focused heavily on culture and fit; it was clear that I was expected to know how to do the job already, and so we didn’t go down the competency route (very refreshing).
The interview: I loved that it focused heavily on culture and fit
Following my first interview, I arranged a second interview. Prior to the second meeting, I also had a phone call to answer my first impression questions. I then requested a third visit, this time to meet more people and really ask the questions we sometimes forget … questions about staff retention, how staff treat each other, etc. I was REALLY keen to ensure that I liked and respected Nigel because the relationship has to establish trust very quickly (and, even after all that, I still took the job!).
How long did it take before you knew you’d secured Nigel’s confidence in both your abilities and your business partnership? Longer than I expected, but this was very much down to the fact that I am the only PA the company has ever employed; once Nigel realised he could trust me, we were off and running! Now it’s a case of gradually prising tasks from his plate.
What are some of the most critical skills Debs brings to the role? People skills. Debs deals with our people on a day to day basis and has an uncanny ability to learn what they like/need, meaning she customises her approach to each – meaning they are continually satisfied with the work she produces.
Deb’s people skills are critical to the role
Setting the Groundwork for A Successful Business Partnership
What early conversations do you remember as setting the tone for a successful business partnership? Our early conversations were around the history and culture of the business and future growth plans; it was important for me to quickly learn what makes the business successful. Once I knew this, it was up to me to flex my own style to fit in.
It was important to me to quickly learn what makes the business successful – and to flex my own style to fit in
Please tell us about any key questions you raised early on in your partnership to help establish a solid understanding of needs, preferences and expectations. I always have a conversation with a new boss about open communication – it’s the one thing that can make or break a relationship. Nigel and I were lucky (or perhaps unlucky) in that we worked on a grievance case together very early on. It allowed both of us to see how the other worked, and how we dealt with a very difficult situation under the toughest of confidential constraints.
What key conversations early on in your partnership set the tone for success? What makes Debs’ work more impressive is that she wasn’t really given much information in early conversations. It was a new role which had not been hired before so it was difficult to set any expectations, and so it was over to Debs to make it work!
While some business partnerships are strong from the outset, others are forged through experience. If there was a key turning point in the level of confidence you have in Debs, or in delegating to her, can you tell us how this unfolded? The organisation and subsequent slick running of our annual end of year managerial conferences. Spread over a number of days involving “decision makers” within the business, these conferences are used to shape targets and strategy for the next year.
Please tell us about a turning point or event in your working partnership that deepened your sense of team, and/or loyalty. I am pretty certain it was my organisation and attendance at EIGHT full day meetings where the senior team mapped out plans for 2016. Nigel and I were the only two people who attended all eight meetings (pretty grueling); I also prepared Nigel’s slides for the final meeting. Once we’d wrapped up and settled back into our daily routines, I found a gift on my desk one morning, followed by a short email from Nigel thanking me … it made me feel so appreciated and was very thoughtful.
A Representative of the Executive, and the Organisation
Nigel, does Debs typically attend business meetings with you, or on your behalf? Yes, to both. She has established a sufficient level of relationship with many other meeting attendees that means her presence is widely accepted.
Debs, what steps have you taken to ensure that, when you attend business meetings with or on behalf of Nigel, other colleagues in attendance understand and respect the nature of your participation? I’m very confident in my abilities as a PA and I attend every meeting as an equal to my colleagues.
Nigel: We meet one on one roughly two times a week.
Debs: If Nigel is in, then it’s face-to-face; if I don’t need an answer right away, I’ll text him. If we use email, it’s straight to business, and we answer each other promptly. Funnily enough, I don’t think I ever ring him!
Professional Development and Performance Management.
Debs, how has Nigel supported your professional development? He comes networking with me!
Nigel, do you follow formal performance management protocols with annual/cyclical reviews, or have the two of you adopted a different approach? Debs has not yet been in the role for a year so this does not yet apply, but there are regular reviews and catch ups.
Is there a single business/partnership practice the two of you have incorporated that others might benefit from adopting? Handing over 100% control of the diary and trusting Debs that she knows what is important, what can be moved and what is/isn’t business critical
Impact on Organisational Success
How has Debs impacted your capacity for success, or the success of your organisation? Quite simply by allowing me and other directors to concentrate on what we are good at doing.
Also coming up this week from Debs and Nigel: Evolution of the Profession, and Building A Successful Career
In part two of my interview with these professionals, they offer their insights on a range of topics. From the evolution of the Assistant’s role to education, professional development resources, and on to how an Assistant can best support an executive during times of organisational challenge, you’ll find it here.