What you provide isn’t valuable when you take care of it behind the scenes, says Rhonda Scharf
In 1986, a one-hit wonder group by the name of Timbuk3 had a hit with a song called “The Future’s So Bright I Gotta Wear Shades.”
But 35 years later, is our future bright? We hear so much about artificial intelligence, ChatGPT, automation, independent executives, remote work, independence, and more; what is going to happen with the role of the administrative professional?
The mainstream news has been predicting a recession since the pandemic’s beginning, and it doesn’t appear as if we are in one yet. And if we do enter a recession, it won’t look like any other recession we’ve had before. Unemployment is virtually zero, and consumer spending is up. There is banking and political turmoil worldwide, but most businesses are protected. This recession will look and feel different, and we don’t know how that will impact our profession.
We Know Our Role Is Going to Change
Sticking our heads in the sand like an ostrich guarantees that our future is bleak indeed. We must use the current turmoil as fuel to grow and stretch even more. I see our future as very bright if we use this opportunity to our advantage. Not manipulation, of course, but more of an opportunity to run with. The role of the administrative professional has had many opportunities over the past 50 years, and this one is no different.
Unfortunately, administrative professional roles are among the first areas to be cut in crises. We appear to be overhead and to cost the company money instead of being an asset that either saves or creates money for the company, and that is an optical illusion we must correct.
It is time to step out of the shadows and speak up. If you want your future to look bright, it is up to you to shine a light on the value you provide.
Start by Being Visible
When my boys started university, I realized I had made a major parenting mistake. You see, my favourite household task is laundry. I love the washing, the hanging of the clothes outside so they smell fresh, the perfect ironing followed by the folding and putting in the perfectly organized drawers. I realized that this pleasure was all mine, and I did those tasks because they gave me joy. I’m sure my boys didn’t even notice what I did. I did teach my boys to do laundry, but I enjoyed doing it, so I was happy to take responsibility for this household task.
When they headed to university, I was confident they knew how to do laundry. Still, I needed clarification on whether they knew exactly what I did, especially regarding their sheets and towels. That was always my weekend task. I stripped the beds, did the laundry, and remade the beds. I rehung the towels after I washed and dried them, as it made them look and smell so nice!
When my older son, Christopher, went to university, it dawned on me about two months after he moved that he probably didn’t know that I did that task weekly and that he needed to take care of it now that he was away from home.
I had to call and educate him on what was “right.” My son laughed at me and responded, “Mom, I get out of the shower clean. Why would I need to wash clean towels?”
Parenting failure, as well as a visibility failure. The failure was that I enjoyed doing the task and did it invisibly. What people don’t see, they cannot value. What things do you truly enjoy doing, that you are happy to do, and therefore perform invisibly? Potentially a failure for you as well.
We Cannot Appreciate What We Do Not See
I am not suggesting that we announce to the world all we did each day. We do not need to say, “Just so you know, I moved six appointments today, scheduled 14 others, responded to 153 emails, took minutes during three hours of mind-numbing meetings, and had 23 complaints about other departments. I want you to know that I worked hard today!”
Being visible doesn’t mean you announce all you do. Being visible means attending meetings, being visible on email chains (not in the bcc category), asking questions to clarify your understanding, sharing your opinion or perspective, and saying what’s on your mind (without being offensive).
How often have you gone home and told your spouse, “You’ll never believe what they thought was a good idea today!”? We have ideas on what needs to be done, changed, or added, and we have value to contribute to our workplaces. You know you have ways the company can be more efficient, save money, and grow!
For our future to be bright, we need to be part of it – a proactive part instead of a reactive part. Sitting behind the scenes will not help your future; it will hurt it. What isn’t seen isn’t valued.
We Need to Be Creative About How We Are Visible
Remote work has hurt our visibility. Even if you are in the office every day, not everyone else is (therefore they don’t see you). When you are in a virtual meeting, turn your camera on! If we can’t see you, you aren’t there. Even if you don’t verbally participate much in the meeting, you need to be visible for the team to know you belong. But try to speak up, even if it is as small as joining the chit-chat and saying during a conversation, “What a great idea!” or asking a few clarifying questions during the meeting. If you are prepared for the meeting, you can ask the questions that make others go “hmmm,” showing that your perspective is valuable.
You are an administrative expert; you see things differently from everyone else at the table. You offer value by pointing out the who, what, where, and how of logistics, administration, and implementation.
When we don’t share the administrative perspective, people can’t appreciate what is involved in making it all look easy.
If you are copied on all your executive’s emails, put your email address in the cc column so others know you are receiving the information and are privy to it. Perhaps have a conversation with your executive to say, “We need to add my contact information to your signature line,” so it is very clear who makes appointments and runs the calendar.
Rhonda Scharf, CSP, Hall of Fame, Global Speaking Fellow
ON THE RIGHT TRACK – Training & Consulting Inc.
For all scheduling and information, please cc my Executive Assistant, Warren Munn, Warren@on-the-right-track.com. He has a much better sense of where I am than I do!
You want to receive all the emails pertaining to that subject so you can keep yourself informed. You won’t get any replies if you are in the bcc column.
Be willing to represent your executive at some meetings or events
If there are meetings they cannot attend, perhaps you could attend for them. This raises your profile and, therefore, your value.
Create an Administrative Professionals’ Network if you don’t already have one
If you do have one, get involved. Make your meetings and education a high-profile activity.
Get involved with high-visibility projects
You don’t need to lead them, but you do need to be on the team. This allows you to meet and network with other people who will also see the value you bring.
Cultivate a great relationship with your executive
This person has the most impact on many corporate decisions, and while they can’t always control the decisions, they can fight for you and advocate for you. Without a great relationship, there is no reason for them to stand up for your interests.
You are right if you are complaining; this all takes more time than you have. But if you don’t do it, your future with your organization may not exist. Anything worth having is worth fighting for.
The future looks bright if you show that what you do adds value to your organization. Value will stay; the invisible will disappear.