A good assistant can be your most valuable asset

Do you work with an assistant? Chances are you do. In factories and offices across America they keep the workplace running efficiently, in spite of disorganized bosses, chaotic office politics and little recognition. Professional Secretaries Day, April 26, is a day set aside to thank the people who work so hard to make the rest of us look good.

I am in awe of the highly competent secretary/assistant. They typically are highly skilled professionals who juggle more than their share of tasks. For example, most of them work for several bosses (no thanks), they have to master the ever-changing political system to get anything done (since they can't pull rank), and they're work flow is out of their control (since it is dictated by other's priorities).

Many secretaries today are doing far more than typing and filing. Often, they are running sophisticated computer software, designing and writing newsletters, and supervising other office staff. So why are so many of them treated like they're on the bottom of the organizational totem pole and dead-ended in their jobs? And worse, why are some of them treated like a slave or a maid? It's no wonder it's getting harder to find young men and women who want to pursue the profession.

Secretaries and administrative assistants can be your key asset. But only if you treat them right. Here are some guidelines:

1.      Above all else, be a partner with your assistant. If she is to leverage you she needs to know what you're working on and why. She needs to be plugged into your priorities and goals so she can anticipate problems and see opportunities for you.

2.      Communicate to a fault. Hold weekly huddles to discuss work in progress to keep you both on track. Take the time to explain the political background of a project. Ask your assistant to suggest ways to approach the administrative side of a project--after all, that's his specialty.

3.      Meet with your assistant at least once a year to find out what her goals are. If she wants to stay in her profession, find ways to help her grow on her job. Encourage her to take computer classes and oversee challenging projects. If she wants to move up, find ways to give her visibility and more responsibility.

4.      Never take her for granted. Take the time to find out how difficult a task was and how long it took to complete. You may be surprised to find that the "simple" little task you delegated ended up being very complicated or a tedious waste of time. Always recognize what she does for you--especially the routine and mundane tasks you don't want to do yourself. Say "thank you" often.

5.      Give him credit. If he worked late into the night to finish a report or won back an angry customer on the phone, make sure people know about it. And if you hear a compliment about something he had a hand in, be sure to pass it along to him.

6.      Ask how you can help make her job easier...then do it. If your secretary has been asking for a headset for her phone, or a piece of software she thinks will improve her productivity, find a way to get it.

7.      Pitch in and help her. Is she swamped? Stay late occasionally and stuff envelopes with her if you must but make sure you roll up your sleeves and do your share of the work in the partnership. She'll be more willing to go the extra mile for you next time.

8.      Talk to him like a partner, not a peon. Condescending or disrespectful treatment has no place in your relationship. You're not a hot shot unless you look good, so you'd better treat the other half of your team right.

9.      Remember she has a life, too. Don't let the work pile up until the day before the deadline and then expect her to work all weekend. Why should she pay for your lousy lack of planning? If you're a procrastinator, ask her to help you stay ahead of your deadlines by giving her permission to push you when you need it.

10. Find a way to increase variable "compensation." If you can pay bonuses tied to her contribution-great. Buy her a gift certificate for a dinner for two after a big project. Pick up a little gift when you're out of town on a business trip. Go out to lunch periodically. Make her feel like she's a valuable member of the team--because she is.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
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