Sheryl Crow’s Words of Wisdom

A quick note to readers and friends tonight..
As Sheryl Crow would say…”A change would do you good.”

So I’ve updated the blog a bit.. and changed the name to reflect a kinder PPN.. instead of being a Paid, Professional, Nag.. I’ve changed it to be a Paid, Professional, Nudge. For those of you who know Yiddish.. it’s spelled Noodge.. but it means to give a small push or shove to someone or something to get it going…

Isn’t that what we all do, each and every day? Keep ’em moving: the bosses, the documents etc..

Hope you like the changes.. AND the addition of the Capital Chapter logo.

Learning New Tricks

Ever have one of those “Dawn breaks at Marblehead” moments? One of those moments where you have that internal conversation with yourself, saying.. “duh” I get it.”

Any career path has them. Perhaps it is the moment you realize your new boss is younger than you are… (always a tough first.. and I don’t believe you if you say you don’t care.. you are LYING! ) ha ha. Or, maybe it is the day you suddenly realize that you are, indeed, at a key point of your career.. either willing to learn new things to keep up or you are not.

It’s been interesting because in my current position in the IT world, the job requires not only a great grasp of technology vocabulary, but a new working-world view, big-picture view–of just how important business systems are for corporate America.

Up until 3 years ago, I was the typical employee (known in tech support world as an end-user. (Please, dont’ go there.) I really didn’t know the verbiage.. I only knew that the program I was working in.. either froze, or kicked me out or I’d get a blue screen of death message… or even more embarrassing.. forget my timesheet password and need to request a re-set.

Of course, these days.. I’m on the helpdesk side of things and I have a whole new perspective..and a customer service advantage… because I’ve been that caller who is taking heat from the boss to get their system back up and running (critical to the boss..but NOT critical to the network folks.) It means when I take a call off our line, I am now more sensitive to the payroll staffer, more empathetic to the admin who is serving as a proxy for their supervisor’s expense report, and more savvy to hardcore number crunchers and programmers.. who live to find any or all of the smallest issue they consider to be a BUG in our system. They actually spend time testing our system with plenty of test cases. And, though sometimes it can be irritating, I’ve learned that our engineering staff really loves those folks because sometimes they discover issues that would have never been found.

But career growth is what I thought I was focusing on.. how little did I realize I was dragging my feet.. metaphorically stomping my feet like a petulant 5-year old with the phrase in my head..””but I don’t wanna take on more.. ..” waaahh.

And I discovered it when my immediate supervisor asked me to take on more duties. Learn more, be more involved, take risks. All along, I thought I already had been doing these things.. and I had… but reluctantly, even grudgingly… And, why? Well, I imagine it was fear of failure or fear of looking or sounding stupid.

So my a-ha moment came… and unbeknownst to me, my supervisor was listening in on my call (yep.. they really do check calls for quality assurance..) and happened to mention it in one of our staff meetings. How I’d really picked up the pace and started to take on the more challenging calls without reverting to engineering or developer backup. I never even realized I hadn’t been trying to do that all along. I was on cruise control, I suppose.

Receiving that feedback has been crucial. It has made me look at the job description I was given when hired and honestly determine if I am taking on all the tasks I was hired to do. How sobering to come to the understanding that this company has allowed me more than a year to ride the learning curve. Pretty unheard of in the typical administrative assistant positions. Now the key is .. how far will I take it?

I hate the cliche –you can’t teach an old dog new tricks , because I’ve always felt I
a) was not an old dog and b) believed I was always willing to learn new tricks..Or in this case new skills. So I’ve decided to take an approach I learned from a Rolling Stones song… Can’t Always Get What you Want..

I’ve interpreted it to the administrative workplace- from my own wacky perspective.

Lyric (my thoughts)

You can’t always get what you want ( read: recognition, really long lunches, cushy no brainer job, big raises…super funny bosses)

but sometimes, you just might find.. You get what you need

(read: you have a job, you are learning new things (how to deal with software, people and patience with customers on the phone you can’t believe!.. and these skills provide what you need and may provide just the experience you need to move up and on.)

Could you be that person…. the one that liked things the way they were always done? the one that just wishes things could be like they used to be… Only you know the answer.

Emotional Maturity in the Workplace

Could you see this one coming? Bet, not! I’ve recently encountered two events that have changed my perspective on co-workers. Both— so jaw-dropping, that I had to stop and write about them.

The first issue involves staff that steals.. right in front of you.. unapologetically.

The second issue deals with how to confront competing directives from the senior management.

Now… so I don’t lose my job writing about this.. I want to be general about these events because I am CERTAIN that they have happened in all offices and not just mine. But the topic is emotional maturity.. and what I mean by that is.. How to take the High Road even though we want to scream about the situation the minute it occurs or at the person that plucks that last raw nerve.

Well, folks.. hate to tell you.. but it isn’t easy.. nor fun. However, it is imperative for remaining employed and having a relatively calm work environment.

So, here’s what I’ve tried to do- even though my anger was completely justified. (sure..it was…)

Excuse myself, immediately from the room, the situation, or from being emotionally present. Take a walk, a deep breath, a daydream about where I’d rather be at that very moment. Talk to myself- (probably best done in one’s head instead of aloud…) and remind myself – How important is it really?

Once calm, either I’m able to drop the issue or ignore the person. Or, I’ve had a chance to put my comments into logical and relevant commentary which I can deliver without being an ass. It goes something like this… in my wacky head!

“Mike, I would like to know what you were searching for in my desk drawer. Can I help you locate something?”
( like your ever-lovin’ mind?) “I ask because I really consider my desk to be my private work area. “
(and if you mess with my stuff it might make me get ugly… )

So when Mike tells me he was looking for some gum he knew I had.. I politely respond…. “Mike, just ask next time. Thanks.”

See.. just have to keep the feisty part — to yourself.. while smiling and let the professional side do the speaking.

And it’s amazing..having all these people compete for my work and worktime.. so here’s how I handle being in the throws of my overwhelming competence in the midst of competing requests from Senior Management.

Quit.

Syke.. just kidding.

Seriously, I confront it head on..

“Sorry, Boss #3- Boss #1 just asked me to finish this, this and this by 3pm. . Iknow your work is very important and I can understand why you want me to stop right now and take on your project. ( and here’s what slays ’em) -” I”ll just step into his office and interrupt his meeting to confirm that it’s ok for me to move your work to the top.”
(You should see serious backpeddling at this point.)

Or a better and more politically correct way to handle this is to keep a numbered list of tasks. Show them the list. Now, show them ..as you add their item to the bottom of your list. Let them know you’ll try to move it up.. as time permits.

This, my friends, is known as being a mature worker. Not always measured by age in years… but the sheer ability to repress ones utmost anger and sarcasm so as to appear helpful and as team friendly as possible.

As Morris Day would say. “this dance ain’t for everybody.. just the sexy people.”

Taking the Initiative Or Being taken Advantage Of?

I recently began having this debate inside my noggin about the pros and cons of taking initiative. You may have had this argument with yourself or a peer or even a family member at one time or another. It tends to go like this:

Pros: Taking initiative shows that I am motivated; it shows that I care; it means I am a natural leader and like to get things done

Cons: (note the semi-petulant resentment -but really unintended that creeps into this thinking)-
If I do this, then they’ll only want to give me more work; No one else takes on the holiday function, why should I?; Why should I take on more work if I’m not going to be recognized or paid for it? Or, worse yet, on my review- the taking initiative effort that I thought was so bold, shows on as-this employee lacks focus and tends to take on too much! Arggh.

It should come as no surprise to anyone in the administrative field that we pick up alot of the ” social duties” or ” administrative tasks that used to be “inefficient use of management hours.”

What’s the solution here?

If an employee declines additional duties, they could be perceived as a non-team player or unwilling to learn new things. If they do.. well, it will require more streamlining and organization.

Here are some suggested approaches to get a clearer picture of where you stand as an employee when you begin to feel like you are Performance Punished instead of an Appreciated Achiever.

1. Rely on the face-to-face meeting with your immediate supervisor.
Be sure to take time ahead of the meeting to list out your critical, paid for duties; the new duties you like to learn or are learning and the duties that are nowhere to be seen in your job evaluation. CRUCIAL: Watch your timing on scheduling this face-to-face! Don’t schedule it right after your supervisor returns from travel or a new client is coming on board. Be sensitive to their schedule(s).

2. Make a list of what duties are in your current description, and keep a daily record of what you spend your time doing.
If you spend more time ordering supplies than cranking out critical documents, you already know the issue. Be sure to take this with you for your meeting.

3. Make a list of the duties outside your job- the staff interruptions and requests that cost you time from your work.
Address these with your supervisor. Ask them clearly and directly, ” Are you ok with me referring so and so to another staff member for assistance, because I feel that dedicating time to their request takes away from time critical tasks?”
The answer you get should clarify this.

4. Be savvy to the sabotager..
Now,… I try not to complain or be paranoid.. but there are co-workers that despise someone with a positive, can-do attitude. Intentional or not, they will find a way to throw kinks into the work armor. Are they constantly asking about what you are working on or asking your opinion about the company president? Chances are.. they aren’t asking because they value your opinion.. they are gathering evidence under the guise of caring. You don’t have to be rude to them.. Just say, “I can’t talk right now.”

I have encountered at least one of these folks in every company I’ve worked at.. I call them Gordon’s Fishermen. You know, the old salty sailor, Gordon’s of Gloucester on the fishstick box…. they are fishing for information that has NOTHING to do with your work nor theirs.. Cut the line and head to shore .. getting away from these types fast is your best bet.

Lastly, take an emotional measurement of your supervisor. Are they mature enough to allow you to be honest? If not, you’ll have to couch it in terms of “what’s in it for them.. “.

For example, you’ve been asked to plan the going away party for a staff member. (This is undoubtedly the most landmine/cowpie laden duty of any admin!)

With my supervisors, I’ve learned to ask. What exactly do you need me to do? Just book the restaurant or does it include, getting card & gift and inviting outside clients or guests? Make sure you are clear on their expectations. That way you know if you go above and beyond- It was purely your choice. Make sure they know how much time you’ll need to do it, and include the list of what your current work due is…

I suppose the whole thing comes down to setting expectations, yours and theirs.

I learned this lesson when setting up a department holiday party many years ago. I believed my boss was too busy to be involved;did all this extra frou frou work; the party did not go as planned- as the entire staff -except yours truly, was back at the office having a very real working meeting that went over. One hour after party should have started and no one had made it there yet… I left the restaurant- left the decorations and came to the office… but by that time we had missed each other. I was infuriated. How dare they be late to my party.. Uh.. hello??.it was the company party…and they were at a company meeting! Later they called me and asked me to come back to the restaurant.

One very smart boss from another department stopped at my desk and as I relayed my outrage.. he had the nerve to smile! He stated.. “Well, Foley.. you made the mistake of caring.” His point being that I took it too seriously and invested way too much value in work that did NOT pertain to my daily duties nor anything that would show on my review. He was right.

So now, I ask alot of questions. But also don’t beat myself up if the holiday function is not Food Network- worthy. It’s not my job to make it fabulous.. it’s my job to schedule it and show up.It’s the restaurant or caterers job to make it fabulous.

We all have different styles and so do our bosses. Communication is KEY.. So whenever I begin to feel that pinprick or lead brick! of resentment, that I’m busier than others or realize after the fact, I’ve taken on too much.. I schedule that face-to-face meeting pronto! with my boss and re-prioritize.

Taking that action shows initiative and sets the boundaries. Definitely (at least temporarily), shutting off that argument in my psyche! And demonstrates to my supervisors that I know what is important.

What has worked for you? Do tell.

A Leap of Faith…the CPS Exam

I guess I’ve moved to the once-a-month blog! Seriously though.. I promised some folks that I would write about my experience sitting for the CPS (Certified Professional Secretary) exam which was held November 4th all across the country.

Like many admins that have been in the workforce for more than a few years.. I felt for a long time that it would be a waste of time to sit for a certification exam this far into my career. Why bother? It’s obvious I’m qualified.. Or, is it? Or the other in-my-head argument, why spend the money? It’s not inexpensive to sit for this exam and if one includes the cost of the study guides..it can be downright beyond pricey.

For me, the journey to sit for this exam has been on-going in my head for at least three years. I had planned many times to send in my registration, but managed to find at least a half-dozen justifiable (lol!) reasons to postpone. About eighteen months ago, a friend of mine who has even MORE experience and more administrative responsibilities than I have, began talking about the exam. As she and I became more involved in our IAAP chapter, we began to mutually feel a responsibility to lead by example; we decided to sit for the exam together.

Many IAAP chapters have study groups as did ours. Weekly, this group gathers to address one chapter of a study section at a time- led by a fabulously dedicated chapter member, who already holds her certification.

As we approached the registration deadline, my chapter President and I pushed to get our paperwork in by deadline. Then, we forgot about the exam for several weeks. One night, after a chapter meeting, one of our fellow members playfully chided us for not studying yet. I think we both realized at that time.. it was time to get busy.

Let me tell you about the exam.. no.. not the questions..but what I know now.
Simply put, it’s all about preparation. Did I pass ? Don’t know. Won’t find out until Christmas week. (kind of cruel, don’t you think?) What I do know, is that had I truly dedicated at least 2 hours of study along with my study group per week, I have no doubt I would’ve fared much better.

The day started with about 10 of us at the exam center, on early Saturday am.. 8:30 (yikes). We’d been advised to bring water, a basic calculator and 2 No. 2 pencils. I brought a few extra snacks and coffee.. and felt good to go.

There is a sense of ‘being in the trenches’ together and hunkering down once the exam starts. It’s timed- 3 sections, about 2 1/2 hours each, with breaks in between. Everyone starts out energetic, but I’d say it was obvious by the 3rd section everyone was ready to get the …. out of there! It’s a multiple-choice exam. I’m glad for that. I think it allows you to eliminate the more obvious wrong answers and then.. if you don’t know the answer for certain, you still have 50-50 odds at being correct. [Note here to my fellow exam takers…. I am still struggling with the rule about writing numbers! I beg forgiveness.)

Indeed though, I am proud of myself for sitting for this exam. When the results are returned, I’ll know without a doubt- what are my strengths-what are my areas where I can really learn more. Isn’t that just another way of approaching professional development? Being willing to self-assess and choosing to know where I can invest in improvement.

In this current workforce, knowing and improving one’s area of weakness is not a weakness, it’s a very smart and brave career move. My advice to my fellow admins- Go for it! There is not a better sense of accomplishment in this field. I commend all of my peers who already hold either the CPS and/or CAP certifications. I have absolute respect for each and every one of you.

And, yes.. I will share my results once I have received them. In the meantime as we head into the crazy/zany holiday season… I wish everyone a very peaceful and serene work environment. (Fat chance, eh? Well.. I’m putting it on MY wish list!)

Building Synergy between Universities, Corporate America and IAAP

Well, well, well. Nothing like a semi-major health issue and family drama to keep one from writing….. but enough .. Let’s get back to the Administrative Professionals business at hand.

It’s October and most IAAP chapters are in full-swing, presenting to their members the relevant and timely programs we all can use on the job. Check out the Capital Chapter link on this blog to learn more about our chapter events…educational and social.

Today I found myself – pitching the need for real-world recognized academic program for the Admininstrative Profession-at the University level- to a faculty member of the College of Professional and Graduate Studies at the University of Mary Washington and the current VP of University Advancement. [Disclosure here: I am a graduate of Mary Washington College, now known as The University of Mary Washington.]

What spurred this conversation was the administrative work done by , the University’s Executive Assistant to the President. She was the administrative hub for all coordinated activities, events and thousands of details for the installation of the new University President, which took place this past weekend.

I took the time to point out to these University leaders.. the organizational effort needed, true knowledge of protocol, the time and project management skills as well as the soft-skills of diplomacy and staff-handling it must have taken to pull this event off, as smoothly as a true seasoned professional.

Now, I’ve never met this gal.. or if I have, I honestly don’t recall. I don’t even know if she holds a college degree or certification. What I do know, is that although many administrative professionals are superb at their field with or without a degree or certification.what if there was more academic recognition of this new representative of middle level management… What if you work for the CEO of say.. Starbucks or General Dynamics? What if you are the premier receptionist for Johnson & Johnson HQ? Are the current offerings by most community college programs in administrative support really doing the student justice?

Personally, I don’t believe I could have the success I have today without my liberal arts bachelors degree with concentration in business administration. This is where I learned the importance of the Organizational Chart.. but the real-world work experience taught me the true unspoken Org chart. This is where I learned about the marketing methods of small vs large companies, business law, product pipelines and accounting methods (though definitely NOT my strongest subject!)

What I didn’t learn, were the organizing methods, the inherent need for tact, diplomacy and discretion, the time management, boss-juggling and, yes, filing methods required to be a competent administrative assistant. These were all lessons learned on the job and on the clock.

Where are the educational programs whichrecognize the synergy required between these two realities? Where are the programs that recognize that if your dream is to travel the world as an executive admin, you better learn at least one second language? Or you become a director of administration- how to read contracts, negotiate contracts, understand facilities management? Certainly the IAAP certification exams TEST a good deal of this ..both the CPS (Certified Professional Secretary) and CAP (Certified Administrative Professional Exam) are intense exams which I’ll find out HOW intense, on November 4 when I sit for this certification exam.

What if a local college or university in a city partnered with IAAP and regional businesses to create a talented pool of Career Minded Administrative Professionals (trademark to IAAP)… that had the skills AND the poise to not just cover the reception desk but provide invaluable assets to the CTO, CIO, CFO’s and CEOs of the region. Something that the human resource staff of the regional corporate and non-profit giants could know that the students completing this program, whether a degree or certificate program would save them the time and hassle of agencies and testing. *No disrepect to agencies here.. just a recognition of the turn-over issue that is endemic to the temporary adminsitrative field.

And, that the relationship with this potential academic partner and their career placement program would benefit all parties.. Taken one step further, it could be a draw for high school students or working parents returning to the work-force. Hypothetically, students who had completed this program, joined their local IAAP Chapter, become mentors and examples of the phenomenally successful synergy of these three resources, the university, the regional companies and IAAP..

Now.. that, my friend, is making the most of our nation’s academic and business educational efforts. My hope is that each and everyone of you are making the most of your opportunities.