Guest Writer: Lindsay Taylor from preferred IAM training partner Your Excellency and IAM centre (delivering the IAM Level 3 Award in Professional PA and Administration Skills and IAM Level 4 Certificate in Office and Administration Management).
A few months have passed without me putting pen to paper. I don't commit myself to meet word counts and submission deadlines with articles written to meet criteria. Instead I choose to write when I'm inspired to share something of benefit to you, my readers. And this morning I am inspired. My head is a-buzzing with this article based on a presentation I am giving to a newly launched internal administrative professionals network. I've been asked to talk about my career journey from PA to PA and administrative trainer and my resulting advice to inspire the next generation and new wave of administrative professionals. I believe hindsight is a great thing and I have rather a lot to say...
My Career Journey And Advice To You
Hindsight is a great thing!
My career journey started in the 1990s. Proudly armed with a Private Secretarial Diploma from a college in Oxford I secured my first full time position as PA to the Sales Director of a leather manufacturers, Pavlova in Abingdon, Oxfordshire. The existing administrative team were well established and I wondered (with slight trepidation) how they would take to a new member to their team - “straight out of college”, young, energetic and enthusiastic.
Imagine the scene 2 weeks later when the longest standing office administrator, Glynis, was hugging me with tears of thanks in her eyes. After a half day training session with me on the new computers Glynis no longer considered them quite so “scary” and she happily gave up her typewriter knowing that I was on hand to help (she also knew Control, Alt and Delete could be put into operation!). I had been accepted as a valued member of the team.
I knew I needed to quickly understand a unique industry and the resulting terminology. Glynis was a mine of information and the “Law of Reciprocity” kicked in big time. For those of you who don’t know this Law, it’s considered one of the most powerful laws of human nature. It’s based on the premise that the good that you do for someone will be reciprocated. Helping Glynis with her fear of the new computers meant she was open to sharing her immense knowledge of the leather industry and Pavlova with me.
Employ The Law of Reciprocity.
I wanted to understand current processes and procedures and the first few weeks and months were a steep learning curve for me. I found I was slower than my normal whirlwind efficient self when things were new to me. This was frustrating. I was however aware of the “Competency Ladder” or “Learning Ladder” and this diffused some of the frustration as the inevitable “slowness” could be explained in human psychological theory. My learning and advice to you is that it’s okay to take slightly longer at something new – and each moment of practice and repetition means you are becoming more skilled and more competent. You can read more about the “Competency Ladder” in my article for Executive Secretary Magazine “Act your Shoe Size, Not Your Age”.
Understand the Competency/Learning Ladder (it's okay to be slow at first!)
There was no formal induction programme in place for new starters at Pavlova but I put forward a proposal to the Sales Director that I spend time with key personnel from the different departments to understand how each department “fitted” into the wider picture. I then put myself forward to help set up a formal induction programme for all new starters.
Already I was putting forward suggestions, ideas and proposals for ensuring a smoother running of the office. You are in a privileged position as a PA. You experience, see and hear what’s happening “on the shop floor” as well as at the Boardroom table. If you notice things that can be improved, put forward your ideas and suggestions and get the ball rolling on new initiatives. My article “Harnessing the Power of Three” for Executive Secretary Magazine introduces the IMPACT Model for formulating your ideas, proposals and suggestions.
Put forward your ideas, suggestions and proposals (with IMPACT)
I met a very special person whilst working at Pavlova – my future husband Malcolm who worked in the Accounts Department. When Malcolm and I realised our relationship was something special we made an appointment to speak to the Management Team to share this fact with them. We wanted to assure them that we were both professionals and there would be no impact on our work ethic and professionalism. And that’s my next piece of learning. Professionalism is key – you are a representative of your organisation and need to conduct yourself accordingly. When Malcolm and I married in 1992 and decided to move away from Oxfordshire, a large majority of the staff at Pavlova attended our evening wedding celebrations. We were given a beautiful monogrammed leather photograph album and, importantly for us, praise for our professionalism whilst working together.
Professionalism is key
My second position was PA to the Sales Director at Woolworths Regional Office in Hitchin, Hertfordshire. Again I embraced the “Competency Ladder” as I learned about the retail world. Every store in the Eastern Region was given a number and I can still recite those store numbers now! When the Regional Office closed I decided not to relocate to London wanting to remain local. I secured a position as PA to the Managing Director of Transamerica Commercial Finance in Hitchin, Hertfordshire. The MD was on a secondment from the US. Ron was a bespectacled wise-looking giant of a man whose untidy desk was piled high with “Big & Tall” catalogues! If I’m entirely honest, I didn’t immediately “gel” with Ron but I was determined to make the working relationship the best it could be. (I was also itching to get that desk tidied!). This is my next piece of learning. You need to have that open, honest and assertive conversation with your Executive so you can really understand what “makes them tick”. I was quite direct in my questioning of Ron as I asked him: What motivates you? What annoys you? What impresses you? How do you like to work? What would work best for you in this situation? In order for our relationship to work this initial conversation was the foundation for a successful partnership in terms of open, honest communication that ensured a working partnership that was based on respect and trust.
Understand what makes your Executive "tick"
In 1995 Malcolm was offered a relocation to Chicago in the States. Perfectly for me Transamerica made a few calls and were able to secure me an interview with their office in the suburbs (‘burbs’) of Chicago. Successful at interview, I joined a team of Paralegals and Assistants for the Legal Department supporting 2 attorneys. Whilst the position was less senior than my PA role in Hitchin, US salaries were higher than in the UK. Coupled with a lower cost of living and knowing we had 2 years to work hard and play hard, Malcolm and I had an absolute ball.
I was involved in pulling together some pretty complex travel itineraries for the attorneys and very quickly developed a fantastic relationship with Macey, the account manager at Transamerica’s corporate travel agency. Checking in with the attorneys that it was okay to do so, Macey became my own personal travel booker. Based on Macey’s expertise and recommendation, Malcolm and I would head off from our respective offices on a Friday night and meet at O’Hare Airport for regular weekend jaunts. Our mission was to visit as many major cities (and all the States) of this vast country. “Vast” being the operative word, we didn’t quite achieve this but left a pretty impressive travel footprint!. I’m proud Malcolm and I took up the opportunity offered to us and we learned so much from living and working in another country.
Take advantage of opportunities available to you
I also want to reiterate my learning that you are in a hugely influential position as a PA/ Administrative Professionals as you communicate with a vast range of individuals and experts. Tap into the expertise of those you know. Network and connect with people and expand your circle of contacts. According to research conducted by The Institute of Industrial Psychologists, 60% of your career progression can be attributed to networking (the remaining 40% is split between performance and appearance). The adage, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” stands true here.
Use the expertise of others
At Transamerica in the “burbs”, I learned a lot from one of the attorneys, Jim, who I supported. Jim was fantastic (and quite exuberant!) at giving feedback to me on work I’d done well. New to having an Assistant, I believe he was reading a management book at the time and attempting to put into practice ALL the motivating strategies he could!
Somewhere (mid Chapter 3?) Jim realised he (and me!) weren’t fully embracing the whole feedback thing. And here’s my next piece of learning for you. Whilst it’s great to receive positive feedback and praise, for true development it is better practice to ask for expansion on this feedback. So next time Jim praised a piece of work I’d done, I asked “what would have made it even better?, how would you have done this piece of work? What could I do more of next time in a similar situation or with a similar piece of work?”. Likewise Jim sought feedback from me on his work and practices and between us we strove to be the best using feedback as a development tool.
Ask for feedback as a developmental tool
Returning to the UK after our 2 year secondment in the States we gorged ourselves on the things we had missed (Cadburys chocolate, a “proper” cup of tea – and believe it or not Heinz baked beans – it’s bizarre the things you miss when you can’t have them).
I secured a position back in Hitchin, Hertfordshire for an Assurance company. Housed in an old Priory, the vaults contained an impressive array of vintage champagne. These may on occasion have been opened in the Board Room for the PAs and Management Team to sample (but don’t tell anyone). My learning here (apart from learning that I love champagne!) was the fact that I loved working for an organisation who valued their PAs. We were encouraged to provide input at management meetings and to share our ideas and suggestions for improvements in how things could be done.
There was also a fantastic CPD programme for employees and we were actively encouraged to book ourselves on training courses, workshops and seminars. I was able to keep up to date with the latest thinking and business models, I met other PAs from different organisations and different sectors. We shared experiences and the challenges and delights of our profession.
Invest in CPD (Continuous Professional Development)
So this brings me to 2007 when Malcolm and I set up Your Excellency Limited. Last year we celebrated 10 years in business. There was cake. Knowing my love of champagne, there was champagne. But most of all there was a sense of pride that we had achieved 10 years of doing what we love doing – supporting the learning and development of individuals and businesses to be the best they can be and helping them to “identify the difference that makes the difference”.
Last month the IAM was invited to attend the Environment Agency's National Secretaries Training and Development Day. This was the third national meeting of those who support their management teams throughout the 12 geographical areas they operate.
For many administrative professionals, a key part of their role is to reach and find solutions to changing circumstances to ensure the smooth running of the organisation. IAM general manager Andrew Jardine, offered an insightful presentation about problem solving (you may be interested in this blog post about problem solving).
One of the event organisers, Sue explains "many organisations, with the added pressures that modern working life bring now, operate as efficiently as possible. But this also means there is little flexibility left to deal with the unexpected. So when everything is going well the great work that keeps everything running smoothly can often be overlooked. But when this is disrupted it is often down to the quick thinking and organisation skills that are often found within administrative professionals to fix the situation. I believe this is when administrative management staff come into their own and when their skills are put to the test under the watchful eye of grateful colleagues".
The agency has been holding these meetings, not only as an opportunity to share best practice, but to recognise the value of their administrative employees and to help build confidence.
She explains that "without effective systems, an organisation cannot thrive. Administrators use their skills and working practices to enable leaders and specialists to deliver their roles well. Administrators need to be proud of what they achieve each day and recognise that they perform a vital role in their business...and maybe when appropriate, gently remind those around you of how many hours you have spent "adding value" and making colleagues lives much easier".
Prior to the event, we caught up with her to find out a little more about her career. She started in administrative and customer service roles, before moving as an office junior and later joining the Environment Agency. After studying a Diploma in Administrative Management with the IAM she secured her first team leader role, before moving into management. Throughout her career she has been responsible for a number of departments and is currently the Area Environment, Planning and Engagement manager.
Her main responsibilities now involve working with other leaders within their area to deliver priorities, managing issues and risks to agree approach and response, reviewing area performance to ensure corporate objectives are met and to look for opportunities to work in partnership with others. "I am surrounded by scientific and other specialists. It is important to do the job well, but it is also important to do the job well, but it is also important to be seen as a professional in my own right. That is why I strongly believe in continuous development and the credibility provided by my membership of the IAM".
You may also be interested in one of our member profiles.
81 per cent of large organisations that were hacked in the last year stated that the actions of their staff aided the attacker. In their latest whitepaper, QinetiQ (Protecting your organisation from itself; The threat from within and how to mitigate it), draw on the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills survey which stated that "People are the main vulnerabilities to a secure enterprise. Respondents believe that inadvertent human error, lack of staff awareness and weaknesses in vetting individuals were all contributing factors in causing the single worst breach that organisations suffered". Companies not recognising the insider threat to cyber attacks and security issues is becoming increasingly highlighted.
It states the need for cyber security is understood but there is a major gap between knowledge and action. The whitepaper goes on to highlight another survey conducted by the Department for Culture Security Breaches, despite over half of those surveyed stating they sought guidance on cyber security only 29% of businesses polled had formal cyber security policies in place or have cyber security risks documented in continuity plans.
The paper outlines that assessing the security culture within your organisation is crucial and how behaviour is similar or different across the organisation.
"Training can be crucial here to instil the reasoning behind such processes, but equally, the tenets for a good security policy can be applied to work security systems; they aren't easy to understand or implement, they may well fail". With this in mind, engaging employee's in the process of assessing and implementing process and policy may also help to develop a better culture and one that recognises the risks and how to ensure best practice of keeping information safe.
Have you had experience of a cyber security attack in your organisation? What do you think organisations could be doing better?