administrative assistant

Positioning Administrative Employees For Internal Growth

Any professional golfer knows the key to success is a good caddy. From reading greens to selecting clubs, a caddy is a true expert and far more than just someone who carries a bag. The same can and should be said of administrative positions. 

The days of the Mad Men secretary stereotype are well in the past. Today, the individuals that hold administrative roles have a much different function. They have their finger on the pulse of the entire organization, and their potential value is far greater than a company may realize. The secret to tapping into that value is understanding how to leverage individual strengths to align with business goals. 

Let’s explore how organizations can harness the skills and knowledge of administrative positions and strategically repurpose them in ways that maximize their value and contributions. By recognizing the potential of both the position and the individual, companies can optimize their workforce and enhance overall productivity and efficiency while simultaneously boosting employee retention and satisfaction. 

  • Identifying skills and individual strengths
  • Redefining roles
  • Strategies for implementation
  • Tangible ROI

Identifying Skills and Individual Strengths

People in admin roles tend to have exceptional communication, organization, multitasking, problem-solving, and relationship management skills. And those are only scraping the surface. 

Brooke Bastain is an Executive Assistant at the Denver-based software company, Conga. In her interview on our podcast, The FABRIC, she reflected on her own value and how she plays to her strengths within her organization. 

“I’ve been fortunate to work with executive leadership teams that value administrative roles and have enabled me to be meaningful and allowed me to contribute to things in times of change. So, I’m always looking for the holes in a company. If I see one and I know the solution would play to my strengths, I jump right in.”

More often than not, if you have an employee that you’ve identified as an individual worth investing in and advancing, they already have the characteristics that will help you to help them. Some of those include self-awareness and ambition, which are two traits that Brooke touched on. 

As such, an admin is likely to already have a good grasp of their strengths and a desire to put them to good use. This leaves you with the task of giving them an outlet in which they contribute that value to the company. 

Redefining Roles

It’s important to have an exploratory conversation with the individual you are looking to advance. Whether you’re bumping your receptionist up to an executive assistant, or your administrative assistant up to your office manager, they need to be on board with the progression and change you’re suggesting. 

You both need to be aligned on their unique strengths and the knowledge they’ve gained from their administrative position. From there, you can invent or fill a role to capitalize on their value. 

To Hire Or Not To Hire?

When advancing an admin employee beyond work that ties them to the front desk, you also have to consider who will fill the position they are vacating. How you proceed will depend entirely on what that position is and your business objectives and goals. But, at its most basic, the decision comes down to two choices: to hire or not to hire? 

The ongoing and ever-prevalent debate of technology replacing jobs is a nuanced one. Does technology have the ability to perform the tasks of a person? In some cases, yes. Does the inherent innovative nature of technology create a net positive in the amount of jobs it ultimately creates? Absolutely. 

In the 2023 Future of Jobs Report, the World Economic Forum found that technological advancement through increased adoption of new and frontier technologies and increased digital access are expected to drive job growth in more than half of surveyed companies, offset by expected job displacement in one-fifth of companies.

Further, the report found that businesses introducing automation into their operations are doing so at a much slower pace than previously anticipated. Compared to the 2020 report, companies estimate that business-related tasks performed by machines rose a mere 1 percent. Factoring in the impact of the global pandemic that forced the adoption of technology on almost every business, we can safely assume that we need human beings in the workforce. 

This doesn’t mean, however, that technology can’t supplement a position. In fact, the implementation of technology can actually open opportunities that would be otherwise unavailable to someone with less experience. So, it’s not surprising that many companies are adopting a hybrid model of technology and manpower. 

One such intersection happens at the front desk. Checking in visitors can be time consuming. And often, the person working at the front desk has more responsibilities than that. Which is why businesses add visitor management systems to check in their guests. Whether to support a hybrid technology model or to replace an employee being promoted, visitor management software is allowing companies to greet and sign in everyone who enters their office. 

Strategies For Implementation 

Positioning an existing employee for growth requires more than simply offering a promotion. There needs to be a clear definition of the new role, an individual professional development plan, transparent communication, and change management. 

Defining The New Role

Being clear about responsibilities and job parameters when creating a position requires time and planning. Mary Ryan, Executive Business Partner at a company called Stitch, was confronted by and contacted for advice from countless recruiting professionals after a LinkedIn post of hers went viral in a previous role as an Executive Assistant. 

The post discussed the stigma behind administrative roles, which is important to recognize when positioning an existing employee for growth. If not enough importance is placed on developing and defining the position, it ultimately sets the employee up for failure. 

Many c-suite individuals don’t know what they need or what an administrative professional (in Mary’s case, an Executive Assistant position) is capable of. So, Mary shared her advice on the questions to ask yourself when establishing a new, similar role:

  • Ask yourself what you are truly looking for: Are you looking for someone who can advise? A project manager? A paper pusher? A switchboard operator? 
  • Are you open to having somebody become an extension of yourself who can think for you before you know what you next thought will be? 
  • Should the person in this position be able to proactively read your mind and anticipate what you need?
  • How big and bold do you want this person’s role to be within your organization?
  • What do you want your trajectory to be within the company? A strategic business partner? A travel expert? An event and meeting planner?

Skill Development and Training

Supporting the transition to a new role should include investing in skill development and training opportunities. Workshops, courses, mentorship programs, and cross-functional training can help them acquire the necessary knowledge and competencies to excel in their new positions. Adding or nurturing existing skills enhances your employee’s capabilities and ensures a smooth transition to their expanded roles.

Change Management and Communication

Introducing role transformations requires effective change management and clear communication. The purpose, benefits, and expectations of the repurposing initiative should be as transparent as possible. Engaging employees in the process, addressing concerns, and providing support during the transition are crucial for fostering acceptance and enthusiasm for new roles. It also empowers the employee being transitioned to claim their new role with confidence and establish healthy professional boundaries related to tasks associated with their former role. 

During her interview on The FABRIC, Mary expresses a sentiment about her career progression that highlights the importance of articulating the growth and transition of employees.

“I started as a receptionist and I wanted to do more. I’ve worked very hard to get where I’m at. It’s frustrating when you come across someone who, because my title has assistant in it, thinks the only things that I could possibly do is calendar and get coffee. It’s an assumption that’s false. And I want to change the stigma around that. An Executive Assistant is so much more.” 

Tangible ROI

When executed correctly, the benefit and impact of advancing administrative positions and/or responsibilities can be seen and felt almost instantly. 

  • Problem spotting: Brooke Bastain is a great example of how valuable moving an administrative position to a strategic one can benefit a company. “I’ve been fortunate to work with executive leadership teams that value the role of the Executive Assistant and have enabled me to be meaningful and allowed me to contribute to things in the time of change. So, I’m always looking for the holes in a company. If I see one and I know the solution would play to my strengths, I jump right in.”
  • Job satisfaction and employee retention: Employees experience increased job satisfaction as they take on more challenging and fulfilling responsibilities. Engaging them in strategic roles enhances their sense of purpose and professional growth. Consequently resulting in increased employee retention as well. 
  • Reducing overhead costs: Advancing employees allows a company to reduce overhead costs and friction by backfilling certain aspects of former positions with technology. As mentioned at the beginning of this post, the most popular transition happens at the front desk. A digital receptionist can take care of checking in guests and visitors so that front desk staff can focus on more valuable tasks or have the opportunity to advance into a new role. 

Positioning administrative employees for internal growth holds immense potential for organizations to optimize their workforce and achieve greater productivity and efficiency. By recognizing and leveraging the skills and strengths of administrative positions and promoting employees in those roles, companies can discover untapped value within their workforce. This process begins with identifying individual skills and strengths and allowing employees to contribute their unique value to the company. Redefining roles in alignment with an employee’s strengths and aspirations further supports their growth and development.

While technology can play a role in supplementing positions, the human element remains crucial in the workforce. Adopting a hybrid model of technology and personnel allows companies to capitalize on the advantages of both, enabling employees to focus on higher-value tasks. Strategies for implementation include defining new roles clearly, investing in skill development and training, and effectively managing the change process through transparent communication.

The benefits of advancing administrative positions and responsibilities are tangible and impactful. Companies can benefit from problem-spotting employees who actively seek opportunities to contribute and excel. This not only enhances job satisfaction for employees but also improves employee retention. Furthermore, advancing employees allows for the reduction of overhead costs by leveraging technology in certain areas while employees focus on more valuable tasks or transition into new roles.

By strategically positioning administrative employees for growth, organizations can unlock the full potential of their workforce, leading to enhanced productivity, job satisfaction, and overall success.

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