In this extract from The Executive Secretary Guide to Creating an Internal Assistant Network, Cathy Harris explains the value of an internal network

An internal assistant network is a group of dedicated and passionate assistants that share a variety of skills, values and role functions. It requires assistants who are connected together to excel at optimizing communications, empowering each other, creating high standards, being professional and respectful, and are committed to making a tangible contribution, outside of their normal job descriptions to add value to their organizations, their peer groups and themselves.

Yes, these are special individuals, game changers, role models and legacy makers, and if you are reading this, you have the potential to be one of them.

But let’s take a more holistic view of what it really is and how you and your peers can implement this concept inside your organization. We will discover that assistant networks already exist and are being run successfully in different formats across the globe. We will also be sharing compelling case studies as food for thought.

What is an internal network?

Networking in itself means linking up, collaborating, sharing opinions, ideas and experiences, interacting with discussion and debate, and taking action on these shared ideas. An internal assistant network shares the same concept with one focus in mind, to get all the assistants within an organization:

  • to share and implement the same operational standards and to work on enhancing current solutions
  • to be contributors towards processes they are the end users of, thereby giving valuable input and recommendations to make these processes work better.
  • to create a powerful and dynamic collaboration between themselves that builds strong mutual respect,
  • to create cost-saving initiatives and projects that benefit the organization’s bottom line,
  • to build strong leadership skills within their peer groups,
  • to create opportunities for the assistants to develop on a professional and personal level,
  • to add priceless value to the support provided to the assistants’ managers and teams.

No matter which way we cut it, an internal assistant network is a powerful resource for organizational good.

An internal network is not:

  • a forum to log complaints about your managers, co-workers or peers,
  • an opportunity to host Tupperware parties and social events just for fun,
  • the hosting of social events that serve little purpose to the organisation or the assistants,
  • and it is certainly not a club for a select few!

Why would you want an internal network for your organization?

When we isolate ourselves from the opportunity of networking, we also deprive ourselves of the opportunity to learn and grow, we miss the ability to gain more insightful knowledge of skills we never knew existed, and we never really experience the effects that positive changes in how we do things can bring for us.

At the same time, this negative behaviour denies our managers better and more efficient support. Taking a narrow-minded approach to collaborating and networking harms you and your management team. So, as you can see, there is a huge need for organizations to embrace an innovative concept and a new way of working by implementing an internal network.

The Value of an Internal Network

When my colleagues and I at Discovery started our internal network over 16 years ago, we had absolutely no idea of the impact this movement would have on our peers or our organization. It was like planting a seed and knowing it will grow with maintenance, but not fully understanding how BIG this idea would grow.  Yes, risky, but we need to take risks to discover the beauty of the legacy trail we create.

I knew that our growing problems could be resolved if all the PAs were efficiently equipped with the right resources and the correct information, had easy access to these processes, and at the same time were able to build on intellectual wellness where we could provide training and development opportunities for our peers to grow and add value to their own personal contributions and that of the organization.

Communicating this was a long process of preparation and planning, putting forward proposals, gathering the troops to form a workgroup of assistants to run and maintain the initiative, and then finally presenting it to our executive and management teams, but it was worth it. I know for certain that we have contributed to there being less stress and anxiety amongst our peers, that there exists a sense of pride and belonging, workloads are streamlined and more efficient, communication between assistants, managers and stakeholders is constantly taking place, our peers are developing their skills and careers and there is a sense of unity and work satisfaction.

The culture within our organization is extremely innovative and results-driven, and because of these factors having an internal network takes some of the immediate pressures of work of an individual, because we know we have a one-stop resource and help centre to back us up and provide us with the right resources to get the job done.

We have a WhatsApp group where all our assistants are engaged, and at any given time during the course of a working day, various assistants call out for help, and get assisted almost immediately! This is one of many initiatives which drive wellness and peace of mind in our busy workplace.

Wellness presents itself in many forms, not just physically, but also psychologically, spiritually, emotionally, intellectually, occupationally and socially. All of these dimensions play a pivotal role in how we perform and contribute to our careers and society. In today’s busy, challenging, stressful and high-pressure workplace, the value of an Internal Assistant Network to the wellness of all assistants in an organisation cannot be overstated!

Extending Your Network

Once you have your internal network up and running, the networking does not stop there! In order to continue to grow and expand, you have to integrate your internal network with external networks. The reason for this is to ensure that the educational and developmental aspects of networking are not just limited to internal boundaries, but rather can expand and be exploited beyond what you just do at your own organizations.

The best way to do this is to connect, join up with and become members of networks and associations which are specific to our profession. So be careful. In South Africa for instance, there is an association that caters for all support staff and administrators – this is not necessarily where you want to connect, however, so there is a learning opportunity that exists there too.

We have to appreciate that our profession as management assistants has evolved. Yes, some of you call yourselves admins, PAs, executive PAs etc, but ultimately we are, by all measures, management assistants, as we advise management! We do not necessarily just do administrative tasks anymore, but we are also strategic partners with our managers and their teams.

When we are able to identify with the value we add to our profession, we also realize the value of being connected globally to other management assistant networks and associations.

There is HUGE value to be gained in becoming members of the various global networks. Not only do you get the opportunity to participate in training and development opportunities, but you also have the added advantage of participating on their various committees and councils. These additional “extramural” professional participation endeavours can be added to your resume, and will stand you in good stead as being recognized as going beyond the ordinary and participating in being extraordinary!

Here is a list of my personal bests (courtesy of Executive Support Magazine), so go ahead and invest in becoming an active participant, member or subscriber. There are tons to choose from; don’t necessarily be limited by country – let us think globally!


Cathy Harris is Executive PA to the CEO of Discovery Invest, with over 40 years of experience in the administrative profession. She has over 23 years of experience in the Executive Assistant profession, having commenced her career as an Office ... (Read More)

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