This year, Joan Burge, one of the first ladies of the Administrative Profession, celebrated the 20th year anniversary of her Annual Conference for Administrative Excellence. Joan wanted to extend the celebration beyond herself and the longevity of the event. She wanted to celebrate the individuals who have made the event a true success for the last 20 years so she reached out to her attendees and asked them to help her celebrate them in the form of an essay competition.
Assistants accomplish amazing things all year long, often without recognition or fanfare. Each Assistant has at least one accomplishment that really stands out. For example Joan asked them things like:
•What is that special something you did to make someone else’s life easier?
•Have you had a big aha! moment?
•Did you accomplish a goal you set, like going back to school?
•Did you make a big presentation or speak to a group for the first time in your career?
•How about implementing a time or money saving process?
•Did you and your leader commit to ongoing daily huddles?
•Were you a mediator between other Assistants who weren’t getting along?
This audience deserves recognition! Assistants are so humble that they rarely tout their successes.
Joan says “My biggest encouragement to the Assistants I speak with every day is ‘let your light shine big and bright, as it will inspire other administrative professionals to do the same.’”
Here we share some inspirational extracts with you from three of her top submissions for her “Celebrating You” essay competition.
Chris Buchner, CEA: The Winds of War
Tension was brewing. Frustration was mounting. Civility was falling to the wayside. Sides formed and walls were quickly building. An internal civil war of sorts was imminent and needed to be addressed.
I work in a satellite office of a large corporation. Much of our work is directed by our out-of-state headquarters (which is generically, ambiguously and sometimes ominously referred to as “Corporate”). Even so, we have a certain amount of autonomy locally as we are “boots on the ground”. My leaders are charged with making decisions every day based on a specific set of criteria. They review submitted information and using this established criteria combined with personal knowledge and judgment, make a determination. Periodically their determination can be appealed. When appealed it goes to a Corporate team for review. This is when the issue started to emerge. The Corporate team uses a different set of criteria in their determination. This can result in an appeal being overturned.
At the local level leaders were growing frustrated at having their determinations overturned and by the mixed message an overturned appeal was giving to our community. At the Corporate level the reviewers were growing frustrated that the determinations at the local level were “wrong” or “inappropriate” and were suggesting or implying that the work was subpar and needed improvement. Frustrations were mounting and each side dug in their heels believing they were right. Conversations and conflict became heated and the issue escalated to the highest ranks of the company. Meetings were scheduled and both sides vehemently defended their point of view and pointed fingers at the other side. My manager was fully invested on the side of the satellite office, however he fully comprehended the corporate stance. Additionally, he was quite aware that there would be no “winner” as each side had a unique and non-overlapping role to fill.
The conflict raged in an unhealthy way and top leaders were engaged to assist in resolving it. A Senior Vice President (SVP) asked my manager to write an overview of the conflict to summarize the situation so all parties could review it from a common ground. He hesitated. He expressed concern that he was emotionally entangled, a little bitter and reluctant to write it because of the company-wide scope of scrutiny it would get. And so he hesitated.
A couple of days later the SVP asked for his summary. It was now due and yet unwritten. My boss was frustrated and faced writer’s block. I have written several communications for my boss in the past. I offered to write the summary. I felt I understood both sides and could express the current state without emotion. I also thought I could offer a solution of sorts. I told my manager I would put together a draft for him to review, edit and improve. Time was now ticking – his direct manager wanted to see it before it went up the chain. A national call was scheduled for the next morning and all leaders and peers would be on the call. Pressure was mounting.
I outlined the summary. I started with simple statements of facts presenting the position of the satellite office. Then I moved to presenting the position of Corporate. In both, I validated their processes and work as essential and necessary. I then acknowledged that both were distinct and separate processes and they were correct and well performed by both. That was followed by statements that the two do not and, most importantly, would not overlap in scope or mission and that it needed to be acknowledged by all parties. Finally, I offered as a solution the need for both sides to acknowledge and validate each other’s work and move forward with respect. Each needed to focus on their own process and workflow, and perform it to their best ability. Both needed to cease criticizing or trying to guide the other’s work. Both were correct, both valid, both essential and both would always remain separate and distinct.
My manager reviewed it and made one minor edit, then forwarded it to his manager (and up the chain). The next morning the national conference call was hosted by the SVP. My boss attended in his manager’s office so they could take the call together. After stating the purpose of the meeting the SVP started outlining the situation. My boss’s manager leaned over and tapped the boss’s arm and said incredulously “he is reading your summary”. Sure enough, the SVP was reading my memo as if he were talking. Participants did not know he was reading as it sounded like he was simply summarizing the situation. He went through the entire summary and then sought and gained consensus from all sides.
By putting forth a clear, factual and non-emotional overview that validated and emphasized the separate but distinct roles each group played – we were able to set aside the emotions and territorialism that had developed. Everyone was validated, everyone understood their role was important and distinct, and everyone left with ground rules on how to move forward.
My manager received an email from the SVP with three simple words: “Exceptionally well said.”
Cassandra Fey: Meet you at Admin Corner
I’m sure most companies have guides or handbooks for their administrative personnel that help them with their daily tasks. They might even have a separate internet/intranet site specifically for the administrative personnel with useful tips, tricks and other resources. But really, how effective are they? Are they being used? Are they up to date? Well, five years ago the answers to those questions at my workplace were not so positive at our company consisting of about 60 administrative/support staff personnel. We had an Administrative Office Handbook (AOH), but it was extremely outdated and didn’t provide step-by-step instructions on the few topics it contained. We also had an intranet site, the Admin Corner, which was outdated and provided limited resources that were seldom used. The need for an overhaul was crucial and that’s where I came in.
I had only been with our company for one year (in a five-year project position) when I went on maternity leave. My sister was hired to fill in for me during my absence. I finetuned my desktop guide, which was a document outlining all of my duties. In addition, I had created white papers for each of the duties which included step-by-step instructions, resources (eg procedures, forms) that were hyperlinked, the subject matter expert and other information relevant to the task. Everything was available in a binder with tabs and also electronically. The white papers and resources were even hyperlinked within the desktop. My goal was that my absence would be seamless and my sister would be successful.
During my absence, my desktop guide and white papers received positive attention and spread like wild fire. They were being utilized by many people. At the time, I didn’t think any further than the benefit it made to my sister’s success and others who inherited the information.
Upon my return, I was hired into a new position (permanent, rather than project) and was excited for the opportunity! Unfortunately, after only five months in the position I left from the stress caused by my manager and its effect on me and my family. Hearing of this, my mentor, Tanya, from my previous position, hired me to support her and her boss. He was the Vice President of Engineering and she was his executive assistant. My primary focus would be leading the efforts in creating a new AOH, backed by a team that provided input and peer checking.
Because our field of work is procedurally driven, it was crucial that I researched all procedures, forms and work instructions to ensure alignment in creating the white papers; there was no room for error. The project continued to grow daily as different items were brought to the surface in need of improvement. After seven months, I had created 42 white papers for the AOH. I also created or revised existing documents that supported the white papers and included them as reference documents. The white papers each included the topic’s subject matter expert, extension, hyperlinked procedures, hyperlinked forms and other hyperlinked reference documents. In addition, they had step-by-step instructions for several tasks related to the topic. Basically, each white paper had everything you needed to know or reference related to the topic.
Our Admin Training Matrix, which is used when training new administrative personnel listed by priority of topic, was updated to reflect all of the added sections from the revised AOH and was now a usable tool for training new administrative personnel.
A table of contents was created to include each section of the AOH and the contents within each white paper. An index was also created to help find which white paper you need according to the task.
Finally, the Admin Corner was revised with an entirely new look. The page focused on all of the AOH topics, with the table of contents, index and an option to provide feedback. Separate hyperlinks were added for frequently used links and need-to-know documents that aren’t referenced in the AOH.
In November of 2008, Tanya and I presented the new AOH, Admin Training Matrix and Admin Corner to all of the administrative personnel on site. The response was overwhelming! This was something we’ve never had before – and it started with giving the extra mile in helping someone be successful!
Knowing what a useful tool this was for the administrative personnel, I wanted to take it one step further and reach out to more people. In the last year, the name was changed to EN Central and was promoted to all employees. Managers and supervisors were trained on its content and new employees are now directed to the site to help when learning the ropes.
Looking back, leading this project was one of the best professional experiences I’ve been a part of. I gained experience and knowledge on all of the processes and had the opportunity to work with different people and work groups. I am humbled knowing that every day EN Central is being used and it’s helping employees achieve so much more.
In addition, the project was having a positive impact on my career. Two years later I was hired as the executive Assistant to our Vice President of Nuclear Generation/Chief Nuclear Officer as the youngest executive Assistant at 26 years old. I’ve continued to grow by staying tuned into current practices, procedure and process changes and, most importantly, relationships with my co-workers.
My passion for helping people hasn’t changed. I’m not afraid to take on projects, for being that person who always steps forward to help, and to speak up when change is needed. I encourage others to be that person – to turn your small project into something big that will help others.
Pam Mitchell, PMP, CEAP: Let Your Light Shine
During my STAR Achievement, Level II training, we utilized The Contemporary Star Performer workbook. Throughout the program, each of us had been challenged to ask ourselves to live up to our potential, to see beyond what we were currently doing, to visualize what we wanted for ourselves and our profession – both personally and professionally. The program offered us an opportunity to evolve into the professionals that we all know we are. To ask that critical question “What if…?”
In the workbook on page 12, as an activity, our group was asked to create a list of changes minor and major, personal and professional, over the past five years. I gave this a great deal of thought, and included things like children/grandchildren moving; healthy lifestyle/weight management; emotionally accepting and managing changes. But when it came to a major professional change, I wrote two words – acquiring PMP (Project Management Professional). Although I had been thinking about it, taking classes, and planning for it for almost a year at that time, it was the first time I had actually “written it down”. By taking this very simple, unassuming step, it suddenly became real to me. I remember thinking with absolutely no hesitation, I had written it down – I didn’t even have to think about it, I knew what the answer was. These very simple two words were followed by these notes handwritten on pages 12 and 13 of my workbook.
- Fear of failure?
- Fear of success?
- Means change, seek to see change as positive.
- Ask yourself “What’s the worst thing that could happen?”
So, I asked myself, what next? If I wrote it down, it was true. Now, how was I going to act on it? What actions would I take to follow-up with on this thought? Being the PM I have always been, I set out to “make a plan”. I actually collected requirements; created a project charter document, met with my manager, and had her sign off on my plans. My project plan outlined acquiring my CEAP certification for myself and many of our staff members while also identifying and creating an online Microsoft training program.
From the CEAP project, I built upon this foundation, and created a secondary plan to acquire my PMP. Again, I collected requirements, created a project charter, established a timeline, defined budgetary requirements, executed a plan, monitored and measured my progress, etc.
Both of these project profiles were used and submitted as project requirements for my PMP exam. I spent the next six months:
- collecting, auditing and documenting more than 7500 hours, from 27-plus projects over the past six years;
- implementing a self-study program, building upon the educational credits I had earned at UofL (University of Louisville) in the Fall 2012;
- and submitting all the necessary requirements to the Project Management Institute in an application to be considered for the PMP exam.
My application was approved. Next I scheduled my exam for June 11, 2013. I took two vacation days off for the exam, and didn’t even tell anyone. My plan was if I passed, then I would proudly announce and celebrate. If I didn’t pass, I would quietly restudy, reschedule and not have to explain a lot of details. I am proud to tell you that I passed – the first time. I could hardly believe that it had happened.
After 18 months of planning and preparation, I achieved my goal of acquiring my PMP that I had written on page 12 of my workbook so many months before. But it took my participation in the CEAP program for me to “write it down”, make it real, and to have the confidence I needed to “reach for the stars”.
So what does this mean to me today?
I’m not 100% certain.
Where will I go from here?
I’m still figuring that out. Going back to the beginning and asking those simple questions about change… and reminding myself that “The pain of every change is forgotten, when the benefits of that change are realized.”
What doors will open for me going forward?
With both my PMP and CEAP – I believe I can do anything I set my mind to.
I’m currently looking for ways in which I can apply my knowledge and skills on projects at Hillerich & Bradsby – events; space planning; reorganization initiatives; travel programs; process improvements etc. Being in a hybrid role as an executive professional and PMP I have both the flexibility to stretch, grow and gain confidence with my PMP roll, while having the security of full-time employment, benefits and salary. I also believe as I continue to gain broader experience and develop my skills, I will continue to increase my value to organizations.
I have joined professional groups, nationally and at the state level. I’m getting involved with my PM peers on educational projects and I’ve recently been asked by my former instructor from UofL to speak at his upcoming classes, to share with other adult students sitting where I sat 18 months ago, involved in the PMP training classes about how I approached acquiring my PMP. And to share with them my ideas, motivation and the plans I used to become a PMP. I feel both nervous and honored that he would ask me to be a part of this program, but I also have the knowledge that through the CEAP program, I am so much more prepared and capable of taking this next step.