Help your organisation to achieve its strategic objectives while creating a more fulfilling and rewarding working environment, say Tricia Madden and Stevie Eason
In today’s highly competitive business landscape, companies are constantly seeking new ways to optimise their business operations and stay ahead of the competition. That said, while improving the bottom line with efficiencies and productivity, it is equally important to ensure that employees, an organisation’s most valuable asset, stay fulfilled in their roles and careers. A happy and motivated workforce will continuously drive engagement and success within any business.
In the following paragraphs, we explore ways and methods, underpinned by essential values, that provide a roadmap to creating thriving business support communities by professionalising all that they do, from procedures all the way through to functional leadership.
What Are the Building Blocks to Success?
It is essential to have a unified, collaborative business support team that provides high-quality and professional service to its internal and external clients with an established management team structure that partners with the business. This ensures that services delivered meet specific needs. Have the bigger picture at the forefront of your mind. Use a holistic approach to ensure that all relevant departments and key stakeholders are involved in the decisions and outcomes – obtaining the buy-in from the start. With continued collaboration, the investment will be more successful.
A visual of the total cost base for the community, potentially through centralisation, ensures that the operations are efficient, which reduces vulnerability and helps with being correctly set up and fit for the future. Importantly, it also enables fair and consistent salaries, rewards and benefits.
Additionally, a consistent and consultative approach to performance management by an experienced and informed central management team, having a structure where the needs of the employees are fully understood and championed and the true value of the employees is recognised, is crucial. Clearly defined performance management processes that are fair and transparent, which provide employees with clear expectations, goals and feedback, are another essential piece. All of this results in a more positive and engaged workforce, where employees feel inspired, valued and respected for their contribution to the overall success of the organisation and are rewarded accordingly.
It’s essential to have a clear business strategy for the whole community that aligns with the organisation’s goals and objectives to ensure that everyone within the team is clear on how their individual goals, and their team’s goals, contribute to the overall success of the business.
In our experience, it helps to have a board-level contributor who has experience and knowledge of the Assistant profession and has the influence to make change happen. Clear and open communication to all stakeholders is also key. We all know that when communication is weak, unhelpful speculation takes the lead, causing discontent as the trust and morale of the workforce takes a significant dip. What is clear is that administrative staff are the backbone of any company, with insight into how things work at the sharp end.
On many occasions, we have attended board meetings where discussions on non-administrative processes are debated with no thought on how the administrative community are impacted or, indeed, how they can actually support the initiative. Unfortunately, all too often it just doesn’t occur to heads of other functions (until it is pointed out) that this important community can assist with implementation, test piloting and positive communications. We know that this influential community are fantastic change enablers and ambassadors who land positive developments within their organisations.
Staying ahead of the advancements in technology is fundamental. This involves incorporating technological processes that take on the burden of the more mundane tasks, supporting Assistants so they can utilise their skill set to maximum effect, adding the best value to their executives and teams. Think about how the profession has advanced over the years. It’s important to keep ahead of the game and know what technology is out there and what the future administrative professional looks like. Standardising processes and documentation across the board also helps establish and escalate the company’s brand in the market.
Having data in good order is essential to running successful administrative operations. This means knowing the skillset, experience and knowledge of the whole community, as well as understanding what and where tasks are done to clearly visualise and articulate where individuals and teams add the most value. Just because the same tasks have been done the same way year in, year out, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is the best way to do it or that value is being achieved.
We have found that by really understanding the full capabilities and skills of the community, we have been able to unlock hidden talents and potential. Creating a tailored and specific learning and development pathway can drive a high-performing culture, which in turn enhances performance and provides greater opportunities for personal and professional development and advancements. Career paths that best suit the goals and aspirations of that individual are identified and defined.
All too often we hear from Assistants that administrative roles are considered a ‘back-office overhead’. We have heard from many CEOs that this is now becoming an antiquated view which is thankfully being eradicated. Don’t get us wrong, there are still dinosaurs out there who have not moved on, so it’s important to tackle your organisation and hold them to account for unconscious bias towards support roles. If Assistants are equipped, in all that they do, with knowledge of the value they contribute and how it is aligned to the wider firm’s strategy, it is easier to break down those biases.
Fair and transparent reward and recognition is also essential to managing a motivated administrative community. This means that employees are treated fairly and consistently, that there is equality in the workplace and that reward remuneration systems are transparent and fair to avoid uncertainty and discontent. The need to have or develop policies and procedures that promote fairness and equality is essential. Having open and honest dialogue on performance, measured against clear and agreed goals and criteria, certainly helps managers and teams understand how decisions are reached, reducing any ambiguity.
When the time comes for a company to take a serious look at what support resources and talent they have, and/or what they need, it’s time to start planning to have the right people in the right places doing the right tasks. Recruit or reduce? Develop or stabilise? Centralise or create silos? Promote or demote? These are, of course, all very important strategic decisions and changes that will have an impact with differing outcomes. For some, it can be just a few or all of these things and more, but what is equally important is having people on board that fully understand the business, the role, the challenges and the highlights to ensure that informed decisions are made.
One thing’s for sure: it is very daunting to know where to start, and a high number of CEOs would rather put this important piece of work on the ‘too difficult to do’ pile and settle for the status quo than start planning for what their company needs from their Assistants and administrative support in this ever-changing, technology-driven environment. It is inevitable that companies need to evolve over time, so embrace the change, don’t be afraid, work it to your advantage, and have the role that motivates you. Change is the opportunity to develop and progress.
Have a voice. You are the professional expert in what you do and how you contribute to the overall success of the business. Build a future that professionalises the EA and administrative roles. Be proud of your profession and know your worth. Your executives or those you support will change over time, and they will have their own agendas, so it’s important that you are happy and fulfilled within your own career and embrace each opportunity to learn and grow.
In our 40+ years of experience working in large global firms and smaller UK-based firms, we have had the pleasure of working with over a thousand Assistants and hundreds of business support managers. We have led a variety of teams and exciting and fulfilling projects and programmes to ensure that businesses understand what talent, resources, systems and processes they currently have in place, and what they actually need for a successful, career-driven and motivated workforce falling within this framework. We’ve learnt a lot.
Remember, when embarking on any change of this nature, it’s vital to work closely with stakeholders and teams to understand their unique challenges and opportunities, their vision and their goals, and to identify areas where change would be beneficial to the business, the employees and their bottom line, ensuring that these building blocks and any customised solutions can be established and drive the desired results.