Sometimes Executive Assistants feel as if we are not being appreciated or that our contributions are not of much value. Sometimes we are seen as the person that answers the phone and sends out the mail when in fact, our jobs are SO much more important. If the energy of your Executive staff is such that they give off this infantile sentiment, it can have you feeling less than. I have been through this more than once in my career, even though I should know that my value to any company is just as high as the Exec I am working for. So, in the past (and now), when I am feeling as though my contributions are not being seen, I push myself to think outside the box. I force myself to become empowered and emboldened which has always had a positive effect on others. I hold empowering thoughts in my mind and concentrate on seeing where I can make a difference with my Exec, my department and even my company’s current picture. In doing so, two key things come to mind:
1. Let your Exec know what you are doing. You don’t want your efforts to be under the cloak of darkness. This is not the time to wear the Executive Assistant banner of “we fix everything, all the time, even things that people don’t realize we fix.” Now is the time to empower others and thus, work out loud! You want to be noticed.
2. Listen more closely than you ever have before. Pay extra attention at departmental meetings. There are usually company announcements that can lend insight into what is going on. Notice which types of meetings your Exec is taking and making. Look at industry news and see what other professionals are saying about your company or the industry you work in.
I did this and more to come up with some easy ways to make a big impact. Not only did I feel empowered, I was empowering to others.
If you notice that your company is tightening its purse strings with layoffs, cutting out holiday parties and say, cancelling business travel, look at what you can do to help save money. For me, it was taking a hard look at what was being spent within my own department and what was in my wheelhouse to change. The first was office supplies. If you take stock of what you already have, most often there are items that NO ONE ever uses. That’s why there ends up being an overflow of them. In my department, we seemingly had pencils by the thousands. So any new hire or current employee looking for a certain type of pencil was directed to the supply drawers with a smile. Unless you work in the art department, you won’t die if you don’t get your favorite pencil that happens to cost $10 more than the Number 2’s we already have.
Additionally, you can barter with other departments for items. My department had tons of colored tab dividers that must have been ordered for some project way back when. They’ve sat in our drawers for a month of Sundays. I was able to barter with another department for file folders—a quick, easy and free fix.
And what about all those wire inbox thingies that are super cheap but no one ever seems to use? Add up the cost of the “thingie” graveyard and it could feed a small country. Then there’s staples, and writing utensil holders, and inboxes, and scissors and pendaflex folders and anything legal sized. Instead of dumping when someone leaves and then reordering when someone is hired (which we’ve all done), I suggested a community supply closet where everything can be (ahem) dumped. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure and numerous times I have been able to stock an entire new hire’s desk with supplies that look virtually unused. The result: hundreds of dollars was taken off the bottom line of office supplies.
This may seem like a no brainer but the fact that you took the initiative to actually make it happen is impressive and shows that you care about the state of your company.
I also took a good, hard look at our magazine subscriptions. Working in the magazine industry, it is our job to be abreast of what our competitive set is doing. Therefore, we have magazine subscriptions up the wazoo. Fine, because it is necessary for us to do our jobs. But what’s not necessary is for us to subscribe to more than one of the same magazine—even with the corporate discount. So after looking over the invoices, I decided to suggest cutting our exorbitant subscription costs. I worked with the ladies in our library department and we went over each subscription and who they were going to. I gave everyone a print out of what they subscribed to and asked if there was any magazine they no longer wanted. I then took notice of the magazines that were piling up, like those in my boss’s office, and got him to cancel his entire subscription list. Hundreds and hundreds saved right there! Now I’m in the process of researching an online model where we can receive most, if not all, of the subscriptions digitally for a small monthly fee. This will literally save thousands of dollars. Tre cool and by the way, in asking my boss about his personal subscription list, I had to explain to him what I was doing. He was more than proud that I was taking the initiative to save the department and thus, the company, money.
Cultivating Relationships With Fellow Assistants
Most companies have several assistants that support one or more high level Exec. In the past, I’ve worked in an environment where the assistants were not willing to help one another out and had an I’m-better-than-you attitude. Working in those conditions were less than favorable. After experiencing such a lack of togetherness, I vowed to never have that sort of negative atmosphere again. So when a new assistant reached out via group email for an emergency item that their Exec was requesting (blue folders, a pen and highlighter combination) I went out of my way to assist. Even though I didn’t have the items, I still made sure to respond to the email with, “Sorry I don’t have it and no one in my department does either. Maybe you should try asking…” It just showed that I was a team player and over time, all assistants responded to outreaching emails, even if they couldn’t assist. Something so simple was truly the beginning of fostering a community of togetherness.
Every year, our bosses have an offsite where they team build and empower each other to propel the business forward with new and innovative ideas and marketing strategies. I always thought it was imperative that the assistants feel the same comradery and evolvement. During my review, I echoed this sentiment and let the other assistants know I was going to bring it up to my boss. Ultimately, we weren’t able to have an offsite (which is still a possibility in the future). But what came out of it were quarterly meetings where we empower ourselves to do everything from learning how to sharpen our IT skills for meeting set up to negotiating cheaper rates for nearby restaurants and hotels. We share obstacles we’ve come across and ways to solve them. We’ve created quite an amazing assistant team and I enjoy every meeting we have.
Another amazing way to galvanize and empower is by throwing cost effective company events. Forexample, when our office was moved into a new town to be merged with other company employees, no one really knew each other. It was off putting for many and a lot of us felt displaced. I decided to focus on what I could do to make a difference. Employee morale is usually an unspoken Executive Assistant duty. Employees come to us for everything so we are on the front lines of seeing how people feel. Staff usually doesn’t want much, just to feel that someone up there on Executive row is thinking about them and doing something to let them know that. I decided, with my boss’s ok, to throw a companywide pizza party! It may sound simple but throwing a pizza party for hundreds of employees is no easy feat. First of all, making sure high ranking Exec’s schedules are such that they can attend is a headache in itself. But doing so was very important because I wanted everyone to feel included.
Even though a lot of people did not RSVP, I made sure to send everyone a calendar invite, talk up the event and send out reminders. I got the company distribution list from Global Communications and the day of the pizza party, sent a note to everyone that said “Pizzas are here, come on down!” Wayyyy more people showed up than RSVP’d, which I had anticipated. I made sure to have everyone wear name tags and in the invite, specified that folks had to mix and mingle. I previously worked with the Art Department on a departmental phone list, complete with pictures, titles and extensions as a party takeaway. So many relationships were built that day. It was a wonderful time and extremely empowering to see what I could do within the scope of my position to bring so many people together. To this day people still mention the party and since then, another department has done the very same thing. Now there is an ongoing thought process around company get-togethers. I’ve since planned volunteer outings, retirement parties and am in the process of planning a trivia day.
Being empowering starts with knowing that your value as an Executive Assistant is important to your company's success. Never sell yourself short or think that an idea is a little thing, just because it doesn’t have a presentation or a board room booking behind it. Our role in any company is germane. If people don't realize that, show them.
Empowerment isn’t something you need to wait to have granted; it is something you can do for yourself. The program for this year’s Administrative Professionals Conference is built around the skills, mindset and knowledge you need to step up your game. To see the dozens of meaty sessions and inspiring presentations, click here.