Are Executives Listening?

This article was written in May 2013, when I was National President of the Australian Institute of Office Professionals. In revisiting some of my ‘articles’, I felt that this message is still as relevant today as it was all those years ago. How unfortunate, that this is the case.

I am reposting today to send a message out to companies, that good staff are difficult to find, and can be even more difficult to hold onto. So if you find that as an Executive you have not invested time to review your support staff professional needs, you may find that they will be looking for ‘greener pastures’ sometime soon. It is never to late to take a step back to take two steps forward.

When putting pen to paper, or perhaps more appropriately fingertips to keyboard, I find myself pondering about the type of article that would be of interest to an aspiring office professional.  There have been many on the skills required by an EA or OP to be successful in their position, however not enough perhaps on how Executives can assist their staff to achieve excellence in their current role, whilst building capacity and confidence to support them to strive for goals that perhaps at one time, they could only dream of achieving.

According to Nigel McBride CEO Business SA, “the decisions made today will help to shape our future”. How true, this statement is as business works diligently to stay abreast of changing technology, reaping the benefits of resources for future prosperity.

We know that people are an organization’s greatest resource, not just those that create the widgets and then sell them, but also the support staff, from the person who answers the phone and greet clients at the door to the person that supports an Executive to manage their multiplicity of responsibilities. These are the myriad of support personnel within an organization who keep the wheels turning.

That being so, it is increasingly important for management to support their staff to be the best they can be in their roles, to allow them to grow personally and professionally. This will engender a mutual respect between staff and management, and will ultimately see greater job satisfaction, and as a consequence, greater productivity generated in the business arena. It is therefore of high importance that Executives understand how to utilize the skills of their staff, and actively support them to continue to grow in their roles.

Skill level requirements will vary dependent upon the role to hand.

When recruiting for a ‘junior’ position, a company looks for someone who has a ‘can do’ attitude, plus basic IT skills. Someone who will accept direction and, be open to learning the fundamentals of the business. In this instance, training is usually offered ‘in-house’ so that the person can grow within the role and come to understand how it fits into the overall structure of the office environment. Over time, their contributions become increasingly valued.

Skill level requirements will obviously increase for a more demanding role, for example an Executive Assistant, where there is a much broader range of responsibilities, further professional development could come from an external provider to ensure the incumbent is offered an ability to grow, for example support to undertake further study.

It should be noted however, that these positions are only as successful as executives allow them to be. As noted in this article “Administrative assistants are the centre of influence. Executives and individuals who work within an organization do not always realize the power and influence an assistant can offer”.

It is therefore crucial to promote a high level working relationship between office staff and management, as depending on how well this relationship operates, will ultimately deem the success or failure of administrative functions within a group, an agency or an organization. Get the wheels of admin working efficiently and effectively and you will see the overall capability of an office lift significantly ensuring the bottom line is one that the executives are happy to put their name to.

Professional Development opportunities for Support Staff

The biggest hurdle is that today’s busy Office Professionals, from Baby Boomers to GenYs are time poor, and need to be offered flexibility in order to entice them into the field of study. It is therefore important to support them in the various pathways for further education i.e. certificates, diplomas and advanced diplomas as the standard has lifted, in that a certificate is no longer enough – the diploma is the new ‘base’ level.

Personal awareness is also very important so that office professionals understand what may be achievable in their career, and start to work out what that career might look like. The question is how do we instill this self awareness, this self confidence into support staff, who are often not confident in their own abilities? This is where the mentoring of a good Executive is invaluable. Any staff member who undertakes study finds that it builds capacity and self-confidence, plus builds their professionalism as they work through the designated learning period.

Future directions – Technology, Technology, Technology.

Management who has the foresight to invest in the professional capacity of their staff, will reap the benefits for the organization. The problem is that management don’t always see the value of this investment, as the demands on themselves are extremely high. Managing down can therefore sometimes suffer as their energies are continually managing the expectations of their Chief Executive.

How do we change the perception of management that investing in staff is too time consuming and consequently not a high priority? I think that the catalyst has to come from staff themselves. We have to instill a greater sense of self worth, so that employees take the initiative and ask for support to undertake studies. They are the ones that need to be instrumental in managing their own careers.

Within the Public Service, there are hundreds, if not thousands of administrative staff within every State. It is therefore essential that they are inspired to achieved greater things, to see a valuable increase in operational efficiencies across all governmental operations. This in itself could create a new awareness of their value to any of the State Strategic Plans, a win:win situation for Government, but most of all, to their staff.

Overall, it is essential to get the message across an organization, from the CEO and across all management representatives, both within the government arena and private enterprise that Office Professionals are a highly valuable resource. Support Staff keep the wheels of organizations and the public service operating, and due to their numbers, it would be folly to disregard a strategy to raise the educational bar. In doing so, the productivity levels equating to ‘Growing Prosperity, Improving Well-being AND Expanding Opportunity, (taken from the SA Government Strategic Plan) would be well and truly achieved.

Extract from Executive PA Magazine dated June 2012According to Joan Burge-Founder & CEO Office Dynamics “Today’s office professional is dynamic, ever changing, part of the management team, makes decisions, takes risks, and participates in staff meetings. Through a manager’s encouragement, sharing of responsibility, information, and willingness to see his or her assistant as a business partner, the assistant will become a valuable asset to the manager.”

Together, Executives and their staff working together, can make a difference, its’s never too late to take action.

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