Strategic business partner or back to the typing pool? The choice is yours says Kathleen Drum
Lucy Brazier gives a wonderful talk about the future of the administration profession in which she discusses a trend that is beginning to show within business; our roles are dividing into one-on-one executive assistants – acting as strategic business partners – versus the modern day equivalent of the “typing pool”; a group of administration professionals who provide diary and travel management to a number of executives, in a reactive role with limited autonomy. There will be little, if any, middle ground. Being a good departmental Assistant will no longer be good enough.
If you think your role may be heading towards the typing pool, but you would much rather be a strategic business partner, here are some steps that can raise your profile and start you on that path.
1 Know your organisation
When was the last time you looked at your company website? Do you know the latest products and services that your business provides? Start with reading the information that is available to the public and look at your company as a whole. We are often so focussed on our own departmental targets and goals that we forget to look at the bigger picture. Read your company’s annual report and the latest press releases; look at the company mission statement and values, any advertising or recruitment posts and check out LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. Try and get a flavour for the business – what’s working well? What is the management team’s current focus? Are the sales team working on any new products or initiatives? Make a list of any queries that you have and then start finding out the answers. This could be as simple as asking your Executive! Start small and embed what you have learned.
2 Plan your path
Once you know how your team fits into the big picture, you will be able to see more clearly why company goals and targets have been set the way they have. Then you can drill down to your team and your Executive’s goals. The better questions to ask: What gives your Executive sleepless nights? And what could you do to help change that? Think about how you could help your Executive manage her priorities and be the best that she can be. This is the time to look at the gap between your current situation and the skills you will need to become a strategic business partner. Research any course you might need or books you could read. Set up a meeting with your Executive to explain that you want to provide more comprehensive assistance, and outline what you want to do and what training you will need.
3 Formal (and informal) learning
If you need formal training, ensure you are aware of your company’s policies regarding training courses and study leave. Create a business case – if budgets are tight and your company won’t stretch to fund the course you need, you could negotiate time off instead and fund the course yourself. How about e-learning as a cheaper alternative to classroom-based courses? If that fails, there are plenty of free online resources, courses or books that can assist you, as well as informal discussion groups.
4 Increase your visibility
Now is the time to increase your visibility and presence within the organisation. As well as asking your Executive for answers to your queries, cast your net wider amongst your colleagues. Cultivate both your internal and external networks and engage with other Assistants to learn about their roles and share best practice. Volunteer to assist at company events to meet others outside your usual sphere of influence – not only will you meet colleagues from other departments, but you will also increase your working knowledge of the company. Always look at the potential of any volunteer opportunity from the point of view of your current role – does it add value? Will your Executive be able to see the value? It can also be just as important to say No to opportunities that don’t fit with your current goals.
Becoming a strategic business partner is a journey not a destination. If you truly wish to continue on this path, it won’t happen overnight. You will need to be “always learning” (both formally and informally) and be in it for the long haul. Yes, it is more work and more commitment in the short term – but anything worth pursuing usually is. Remember too – the alternative could be the typing pool!