Ah, this quintessential Shakespearean question challenging identity and labels (posed in Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene ii, 1-2). How does this quote metaphorically apply to the name labels we attach to workplace departments? Four decades ago we called a business’ central administrative area, “Personnel”; then came Human Resources, and now many organizations have evolved this area’s label further along the “name-game” path to “People Resources” and other assorted variations thereof, e.g., “People,” (as in Vice President or Director of People).
How about the historic labels applied to certain professions within workplaces? “Secretary” is a good one to contemplate this Administrative Professionals’ Day. “Secretary” may be a dying and honourable job but the profession of “administrative and executive assistant” and “support staff” contributor is alive and kicking and growing. As long as companies need organizers, coordinators, trouble-shooters and internal event planners… they’ll need office professionals of all stripes. To keep themselves (and you!) effective, efficient and passionate about work, it’s essential to encourage and support administrative professionals’ continuous development. And today is their special day of particular honour: Administrative Professional’s Day! Whether you’ve planned something for this very day, this month, this beautifully blooming spring season, or sometime later this year…
Now is the time for all good leaders (and others)
to come to the aid of the assistant.
Now is the time for Admins to come to their own aid, as well!
Thank your lucky stars for the daily professional efforts of these (often) unsung workplace heroes, especially through the challenges of the 2015 workplace and economy. And after you’ve thanked your stars… thank them! Here are a few simple ways to do just that… this day, and any other day this year:
1. A simply articulated, from the heart and unrehearsed, “thank-you” can go a long way to motivate employees and build loyalty. It’s often said that “actions speak louder than words,” but consider this…if hurtful words can hurt then motivating and encouraging words can motivate and encourage! It stands to reason.
2. Actually ask your administrative professional staff what motivates them to reach in deep and do their very best, day-in and day-out (and then decide on at least one concrete effort or action you can demonstrate to help yield more of this desired result). Conduct a survey asking support staff what kinds of incentives they’d value most. This will show the sincerity of your interest and commitment, and give you a clearer understanding of how to most effectively express your appreciation–how to best “speak their language.”
3. Make sure your support staff clearly know they’re an important contributing part of the success of your team and organization’s efforts and positive results. When it comes to serving up team kudos for big or small victories, ensure that support staff knows that that means them, too.
4. Be specific in your praise. Don’t just say, “I’m glad you’re on our team… you always do terrific work!”; tell your support staff exactly what you appreciate. Catch them in positive “gotcha” moments and deliver your positive feedback and admiration about those moments, immediately (or as soon after as appropriate or possible). You may also consider going the extra mile with your specific positive feedback by explaining the “why” behind your expressed thanks and admiration. e.g., the time it saves you, the good light it places you in, how it frames the reputation of the organization, etc.
5. Sometimes an email may seem more impersonal than a face-to-face “thanks,” but let’s face it (no pun intended), days often get crazy busy and stopping by a number of people’s work areas to express your gratitude may just not be feasible. What to do? Sending your thanks by email is better than not sending your thanks at all. Cut yourself some slack. If an email works best for you… then an email works, too.
6. Can you spare a measly three minutes once each day? If you can… that’s all the time it takes to write and address one–only one–handwritten note of thanks. If you make this part of your daily practice (thanking, each day, just one more person who is part of the success of your team, organization, even external clients, etc.), just imagine how many deserving people you could thank over the course of a business year. Buy a good stash and variety of “thank-you” cards so that they’re always on hand and so that you can always choose just the right one for just the right person. And handwrite them. Handwritten notes are fast becoming more touching, impressive (and, quite frankly, gob smacking!) to make your point of thanks because, in these always crazy busy days, so few of us take time to write and mail them.
7. Too busy to face-to-face chat with the people you wish to thank (support staff and otherwise)? Can’t imagine emailing without a decidedly official business reason? Place an unexpected voice mail phone call (during off hours) of “thanks!” for that honoured person to receive first thing next business day. Connecting verbally–even if it’s a recorded version–adds your personality and warmth to your expressed appreciation. And, who knows? That person receiving your recorded thanks may just decide to archive it for playback on a particularly challenging workday… when they most need a little reminder of, “Why do I do this job, anyway???”
8. Be playful and fun! Present support staff you wish to thank, with small certificates of appreciation. If you’re an “Aw, shucks” sort of person, this may be a good way to get across your deep and sincere thanks, yet still keep it light.
9. It’s spring! How does your garden grow (even if your name isn’t Mary, Mary and even if you’re not “quite contrary”)? I remember a very dear and sweet manager–from my very first fulltime work experience–who, each spring, would bring in for all the women, huge bouquets of lilacs from his fabulous garden. Favouritsm or sexist you may say? Maybe. But we all loved those springtime office lilacs, men and women, alike. Whether it’s a huge lilac bouquet, a dainty collection of lilies-of-the-valley or a single flower from your garden, throw in a quick verbal, “thank you” with the floral thanks, and, presto… another sweet and memorable way to say thanks! Just make sure the flowers are from your garden and not picked from your neighbour’s!
10. At the end of my keynotes and workshops I often provide participants with personal reflection time to answer these three goal-setting questions: “Because of today, what one thing will I STOP doing? What one thing will I START doing? And what one thing will I CONTINUE doing, because it works for myself and others?” If you are in a position of leadership or management, ask your support staff these same questions and encourage them to feel confident and comfortable sharing their honest responses, e.g., ask them: “When it comes to helping you do your job well, what one thing do you need me to stop doing? start doing? and continue to do? If they do feel safe and comfortable sharing with you, you may find you become a better leader for implementing their suggestions and ideas.
11. As corny and “parent-like” as it sounds, how about remembering the basics of “please” and “thanks?” Many busy people–especially those who feel entitled by position or rank–either forget or consciously neglect to say “please” and “thanks” because they feel it’s the other person’s professional responsibility to do as they’re directed, regardless of your manner of asking. Be that as it may, P’s and Q’s should always be in-style. As two particular mono-syllabic nanosecond sounds coming out of your mouth, its amazing how much mileage you may garner from “please” and “thanks.” Social niceties do belong at work, too. Perhaps these days, more than ever.
12. Take a moment. Take an interest. I often find it amazing that it takes one of my professional development silly little workshop ice-breaker games (called Liar, Liar), to help teammates–who’ve worked together, in some case, for years–discover neat, weird, wacky, unusual or impressively noteworthy information about one another. Take a moment and take a genuine interest in your colleagues. Ask some appropriate information-sharing-type questions every now and then. Get to know your coworkers’ interests, hobbies, etc., well enough to present an especially meaningful, small, yet thoughtful, gift or token of your appreciation occasionally.
And, lastly, Lucky Suggestion 13: If you’re in an official position to do so (or to influence) provide support staff with new opportunities. “When you’re green you’re growing. When you’re ripe, you rot!” Most people don’t want to rot in one position, doing the “same old, same old” job, day-in and day-out for the next two decades. Even if some individuals clearly know they do not want to climb the organization’s career ladder–are basically happy to stay in their current position for the foreseeable future–most people, including EAs, admins and other support staff, want chances for training, cross-training and a little variety. They’d still be honoured and flattered to participate on special committees, e.g., a Professional Development Staff Day planning committee, etc., where their talents, ideas and suggestions get noticed and included. They’d probably also like to attend professional association meetings and represent your organization at civic and/or corporately sponsored charitable events, etc., occasionally, too. Just ask them and see!
Chapter Two of my first book, Getting Passion out of Your Profession: How to keep loving your living come what may, focuses on Projecting Professional Self-Worth, and includes three of my all time favourite quotations which, when considering championing the worth and value of our administrative professionals–especially this week–are very timely, indeed.
As is our confidence, so is our capacity.
Use what talents you possess; The woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best.
–Henry Van Dyke
Think enthusiastically about everything, but especially about your job. If you do, you’ll put a touch of glory in your life. If you love your job with enthusiasm, you’ll shake it to pieces. You’ll love it into greatness. You’ll upgrade it. You’ll fill it with prestige and power.
–Norman Vincent Peale
Whether or not there is a “rose” among your support staff, and whether or not you’re in a position of official leadership and influence, make this day, this week or any other time this year, the time to encourage executive assistants, administrative professionals and other support staff in your workplace to increase their confidence and capacity, acknowledge the value and contribution of their “songs,” and honour the importance, prestige and power of their essential positions.
And, my very last word, remember: every bird likes the sound of its own song, as the old saying goes. So, for goodness sake know your executive assistants’, administrative professionals’ and support staff members’ names!