Nina Aunula looks at the seamless professional collaboration between manager and management support professional

As a management support professional, whether you are embarking on the beginning of your career or have held your position for years, it is good to reflect on how versatile and rewarding the profession is. At its best it is an opportunity for continuous growth, on many levels, both tangible and less visible ones. I do realize, however, that not everyone is in this fortunate position, and the profession is not as well respected in all countries and areas. My quest is to raise the awareness and regard of the profession, both internally and externally, on all levels.

I have learned to calibrate my attitude and outlook over the years. At regular intervals I pause to ask myself why I am in this position today. And first and foremost, I always come back to the words in our profession: “Management Support Professional.” I am supporting management and I am a professional in my own right. It goes without saying that the personal benefits are many and rewarding, but the focus is on what I can do to make the professional life of my manager or the management team smoother and less complex. During the 30+ years that I have been a Management Support Professional, I have grown into this mindset, as admittedly it was not necessarily there in my early years. 

The relentless drive for improvement

For me this is the most crucial aspect. If I shun away from constructive feedback, I will not improve. And no matter how hard it may feel, and how grating on my professional pride, I try to remember that it will propel me forward and help me reach higher on my learning curve. When I am asked where I see myself in five years’ time, my reply is always that I want to be where I am today, doing more or less the same tasks, but so much better. And improvements, either through mistakes or other realizations, will take me closer to that goal.

I am the Executive Assistant to the Corporate General Counsel as well as assisting both the Board of Directors and the Leadership Team. I am responsible for setting up the Corporate Calendar for the company, scheduling the meeting proposals for the Board and its Committees, the Leadership Team, the Group Functions and the Business Areas. This entails a rigorous planning process, starting from the top down – taking the reporting cycle on a monthly and quarterly basis into account and ensuring, for example, that there is enough time for all parties to submit the needed input for all meetings and convening bodies in question.

I draft the agendas of the aforementioned meetings; I ensure the presenters are aware of the requirements regarding the material and that the material is submitted in a timely and correct fashion. Before each meeting I draft the minutes templates, then ensure that the meetings themselves run smoothly and that after the meetings the minutes are submitted for approval.

In all of these tasks, I have taken sidesteps, made mistakes and encountered pitfalls. Each of these, albeit painful at the time, has made me improve my processes and ways of working. I am in the lucky position to have a manager who has given me the opportunity to manage many of these tasks autonomously, to trust me to report back on anything which needs his attention or decision and to keep him updated. He is also willing to take the risk that sometimes there might be a glitch somewhere and that I will learn from it. We co-exist and work in parallel but still aim towards the same goals. 

How to start swimming when you have jumped in at the deep end

I have, during my career, found myself in the deep end of the swimming pool and felt I did not have the necessary skills to stay afloat. I have learned, however, that you often already possess the skills that are needed, you just have to harness them and know that you will get there eventually. Hardly anyone is ready immediately. Rely on your unique values and strengths, acknowledge them, harness them, and in the meantime work on improving processes to lessen your weaknesses.

If you are relatively new to the company or in your position, don’t try to improve everything immediately – there is a reason for the status quo: observe first, act later. It is good to know the existing processes where you play a part and your exact position in those processes.

Take responsibility for your position and mould it to reflect the added value you give

Never underestimate the trust your manager places in you; be proud of it. It is important to acknowledge that responsibility is not so much given as it is taken. Often there are processes which need improvement, be that in terms of speed, activity or simplification. Even processes which are yet to be defined and put in place. It is rare that anyone takes control over these issues, but if and when you do, they will quickly be recognized as yours, and as the owner and instigator you can improve them and give added value in the process.

I am a firm believer in doing more or better than expected. That, together with the correct attitude and trying to be one step ahead, are in my view the key elements to a successful career. 

Work independently towards common goals

Start with ensuring that you and your manager are aligned. Regular updates help, as they are less time consuming and disruptive and you can manage the processes better. Set the parameters: what can you do independently and what does your manager want sight of first?

Especially in the beginning, either when working together or with a particular task or process, when the learning curve is steep, ensure you are on the same page. No surprises. In any process I try to ensure that I am not the bottleneck, and that I always communicate as clearly and as timely as possible. I have found that it is never too soon to start the preparatory tasks or communication.

What can you do to sustain the professional partnership?

Your own improvement process can consist of a few relevant questions. The points I have found to be most relevant, mirroring some of our company’s key behaviour models, are:

  • To act quickly and adjust to changing work conditions or new situations.
  • To take responsibility and find a solution to propose or implement directly – rather than wait for my manager to solve the issues.
  • To make any corrections immediately and own up to any mistakes.
  • To take full accountability for all decisions and actions.
  • To openly share information and best practices.

The relentless drive for improvement also entails:

  • A willingness to learn new processes and best practices.
  • Benchmarking outstanding performance of others and making that one of the motivators for your own improvement.
  • Placing the major focus on the internal or external stakeholder’s needs.
  • Continuously striving to improve productivity, efficiency and quality.

These are a few of my thoughts on seamless professional collaboration. It is something I feel strongly about. I would be happy to discuss, or to give any further input or assistance if you find yourself struggling with these issues. 

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Nina Aunula was elected Executive Chairman of IMA (International Management Assistants) in October 2019. She has a background of more than 30 years working as an Executive Assistant or in similar positions. In addition, she was a regular lecturer for ... (Read More)

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