They manage multiple managers and schedules with precision and ease. They plan international travel and create dazzling spreadsheets. They know precisely what table at which restaurant is the client’s favorite and how to secure the reservation. They say exactly the right thing to diffuse a sticky situation. These women and men do it ALL. They are America’s 4.1 million administrative professionals, also known as assistants and gatekeepers.
Here’s what Richard Branson, founder and chairman of Virgin Group, said about his assistant: “I couldn’t get through the workday without my assistant, Helen. I am a great believer in the art of delegation and in sharing the load to make everyone more productive. Having an assistant who is completely in the loop with our activities means we can keep up with everything. People often ask how I am able to keep on top of businesses in dozens of different countries and industries. Well, having an assistant who is on the ball 24/7 is one of the main ways it is possible.”
This week marks Administrative Professionals Week (APW). There has never been a better time to work as an assistant, but it has also never been a more complicated time. 2014 is a new time for our global workplace. We now work in a landscape where assistants are project managers and often considered an integral part of the leadership team.
Simply put, administrative professionals are the people who offices (and leaders) cannot do without. This formidable group is not to be underestimated or dismissed as “just an assistant.”
On APW 2014, let us celebrate them. Let us acknowledge them. Let us respect them for the multi-faceted and difficult job they do. The bottom line: Not everyone is cut out for this work because it requires a broad skill set of finely-honed soft and hard skills. For those at the highest levels, the work can be a lucrative and exciting career. In major cities like New York and Los Angeles, assistants receive compensation of six figures or more.
Here are 10 ingredients to the secret sauce of showing your assistant how much you value who she is and what she does to make your life run seamlessly.
- A handwritten note telling her the importance of her contribution.
- Public acknowledgement of your assistant at staff meetings and/or emails to the team.
- Investment in her professional development by giving an annual training budget.
- A generous and unexpected bonus.
- An extra day or part of a day off.
- Remembering her birthday with a heartfelt card and maybe even flowers that you order yourself.
- Asking proactive questions such as, “What weeks are you taking vacation this year?”
- Commit to regular one-on-one meetings that get scheduled and actually happen. Bonus: Make these meetings device-free.
- Expressions of appreciation throughout the year.
- Supporting your assistant to speak her mind with questions like, “How are you doing? What are you worried about? What do you think?” Really listen to these answers.
Bonus Ingredient: Build a company culture of respect not just on APW, but every day.
In the foreword of “Be the Ultimate Assistant,” Oscar winner Olympia Dukakis writes, “Having an assistant gives me a freedom for myself that is crucial. I am free to name what is important to me and how I want to do things. I am free from those activities that blur my focus and drain my energy. I am free to make my work my priority.”
To celebrate the women and men behind Administrative Professionals’ Week is to acknowledge the value of the assistants who are a manager’s and a company’s most powerful secret weapon. Like every great relationship, it takes nurturing and ongoing thoughtful care. The result of this hard work? A workplace that is healthy, productive, profitable, and respectful. And isn’t that what we all want?