Assistants Are Marines

April 15, 2012 at 2:01 pm | Posted in Business Ops, Tools | 1 Comment
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I’ve finished my first week of my new job.  It feels so good to commute.  I never thought I would say that!  This past Monday was my third ‘first day’ in 25 years.  It had been 7 years since my last one and I was a bit out of practice.  My office is very small and does not interact with clients or the public.  If you read my earlier post on being hired there’s no question that the office is very laid back.
All of this has reminded me that assistants are Marines.  We have to adapt, improvise, and overcome.

I’m an assistant in a new world.  I’m still a great worker and always have been, that doesn’t change.  I’m in a new situation and new situations always cause me to take inventory of my surroundings and myself.  Here are some of my insights and conclusions from my first week in the workforce again.
I seem to have come full circle in a couple of ways.  I’m working in market research again.  I have 18 years experience in this industry on many levels.  I’m working for a for-profit company again after spending 6 years at a non-profit.  This was the first part of my adaptation.  My current company is small, but is taking advantage of technical advances that either weren’t around when I was previously in market research, or couldn’t be offered at a non-profit.  Communication and the sharing of information is a valued asset.  We use Messenger ; Evernote ; DropBox ; Wunderlist and GoToMeeting.  Most every employee has not only a desktop computer, but also a laptop that is connected at the same time. Weekly staff meetings are small at our site.  Most employees are teleconferenced in. Most every staffer in the meeting is using their laptops to communicate via email and chat with co-workers.  I’m sure they all consider this routine, but for me it’s exciting, new and I adapt quickly to new software and technology.

The second adaptation is being a simple assistant, not an administrative one. I’m a general assistant in the Operations department.  Some duties are more tedious than I’m used to, but that doesn’t mean they are less important.  This is the most mindful change/adaptation.  I can’t offer to change or create procedures or reports.  I don’t have the responsibility of running a busy office.  I don’t even answer the phone, something I don’t miss at all.  I am lowest on the totem pole.

Finally, my last adaptation, at least for now, is the ‘vibe’ of the office.  Working for a non-profit that offers social services was actually more hard-lined than my for-profit company.  Every day of the week is ‘dress down’, even for the president.  I wore plain dress pants and a white shirt on my first day of work and I was extremely overdressed.  People joke around a lot and are very friendly.  Even though the atmosphere is relaxed, work is still important and is done by 5:00pm.
As a Marine, my first task is to adapt.  The task of improvising may end up being a slight need.  I will overcome!

Now for the definitions of the day

adapt
[u’dapt]
verb
1. make fit for, or change to suit a new purpose
2. adapt or conform oneself to new or different conditions

improvise
[‘im‑pruˌvIz]
verb
1. perform without preparation
2. manage in a makeshift way; do with whatever is at hand

overcome
[ˌow‑vur’kúm]
verb
1. win a victory over
2. get on top of; deal with successfully

Let’s Be SMART About This

February 3, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Posted in Business Ops, Tips and Tricks | Leave a comment
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I’m sure that many assistants know about the mnemonics to help them improve their productivity and set up projects.  Here is one of my favorites.  These tips can fit many different types of objectives.  It’s a step-by-process to successfully complete any goal by detailed planning.

S.M.A.R.T.

Specific: This is where the definition of the goal/problem solving process begins.  Specific goals are more easily accomplished.  This step uses the five W’s as the best way to focus and keep the goal action oriented, basically what would you like to see happen.  I think my favorite ‘W’ is How because when the benefits of the solution are considered I can focus even more on the other ‘W’s and the next steps.

  1.    Who is involved?
  2.    What could some obstacles be?
  3.    When should it be completed?
  4.    Why is this an important goal?
  5.    How will I get it done/benefit from the solution?

Measureable:  Establish the criteria for measuring the progress of your goal.  This is needed to set a schedule for due dates and to stay on track.  Being a list maker, this step keeps me motivated.  If there is a list of tasks or meetings associated with my project, deleting it from Outlook or crossing it off a hardcopy list gives me that feeling accomplishment and the feeling that I’m on the right track because objectives have been met.

Attainable:  This step is the decisive test for me.  The skills, tools, resources, and even financing are considered here.  Even if you have a good problem solving idea or a goal that you feel is important, it may not be doable now.  Here you can set yourself either up for success, or failure, so be honest about your needs.

Results-Oriented [some people use Relevant or Realistic here]:  This step keeps things moving towards success.  Each ‘sub-goal’ has to have the same importance when it comes to results. For example, if the third part of your solutions isn’t completed or doesn’t have the results you expected the goal would break down from there on.  There won’t be any substantial progress without it.

Timeframe:  Of course you’re going to have to set up a start and end date.  Don’t forget to track key milestone dates as you keep working.  This is a great way to remind you of the urgency of your desired accomplishment.

pro·duc·tive
[pro-duck-tiv]

adjective

1.    producing something abundantly and efficiently
2.    producing satisfactory or useful results

smart
[smaart]

adjective
1.    showing intelligence and mental alertness
2.    shrewd and calculating in business and other dealings

plan
[plan]
1.    a method of doing something that is worked out in advance
2.    something that somebody intends or has arranged to do

The Add Value Assistant

January 9, 2012 at 3:12 pm | Posted in Business Ops, Opinions, Position Description, Work Scenerios | 3 Comments
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Ever since my first-long term job I’ve considered ‘add-value’ an important skill.  So decide what you can do to use all your talents and enhance the company productivity.  I’ll give two examples here.

The first company I worked with was in market research.  I was there for 18 years.  As a clerk I decided my add value would be as an aid to my manager.  It was a building block of my work ethic as an assistant.  I believe it was the primary reason I was promoted to Lead Clerk.  The responsibilities of this position were close to being an Assistant Manager.  Because our department was small that title was not available, but it isn’t a title that makes you a worthwhile employee is it?

My last job was very different from the first because I was working for a non-profit in an office that was just starting a ramp-up process.  This increased a comfort level and gave me a chance to get to know my Program Manager well.  There was only one other employee for a while.  My add values included rules that kept the Manager well-informed.  I started out with keeping track of the staff schedules via our web app.  Then moved to document creation that tracked and presented a variety of information, including: client’s current status, credit card and petty cash spending, monthly reports of staff hours in the field, sick days, off days, and training days to name a few.  These became increasingly useful and necessary as the staff and client load grew.

I don’t believe that add value exists without going above and beyond the call of duty.  Talking on other tasks and responsibilities is a must.  Although this can be tricky, you don’t want to step on anyone’s toes, in the long run it’s a win-win situation.  Go ahead feel confident and present an idea for consideration.  Don’t insist or demand a change, but treat it as a dialogue.  When you see that a team member or a supervisor has a burden that is keeping them from performing their primary duties effectively, this is the time to step in.  The word ‘assistant’ is one that I take very seriously.  I know if I can offer to share the responsibility or give a suggestion to make the task more efficient, or to take on the task effectively, I jump at it! That’s add-value, you don’t take the place of the people you support, you enhance them.  This is where I came up with my motto, ‘I’m the little guy that makes the big guy look good.’

Here’s my most recent example of support to enhance a team member’s ability to get things done:

By the end of the month all electronic notes had to be complete and have the correct visit length entered.  With the majority of the staff spending most of their time out in the field  it was becoming increasingly difficult for staff to keep up.  Starting around the 7th workday of the month I checked this information, made entries into a custom spreadsheet, then created hard copy lists that were tailored to the needs of each staff member. In the simplest form possible it laid out the problem(s) with the electronic note, the type of correction needed and a deadline for completion.  This way people could budget their time to complete the task.  You’re a valuable member of a team and once you start smoothing the road for your teammates they’ll know it!

So now for definitions of the day

as·sis·tant
[uh-sis-tuhnt]
noun
1. a person who assists  or gives aid and support; helper.
2. something that aids and supplements another.

win-win
[win-win]
adjective
1. advantageous to both sides, as in a negotiation.

val·ue
[val-yoo]
noun
1. relative worth, merit, or importance.
verb (used with object)
2. to consider with respect to worth, excellence, usefulness, or importance.
3. to regard or esteem highly

From Unemployed To Underemployed

December 8, 2011 at 9:42 pm | Posted in Business Ops, Job Search, Temping, Work Scenerios | Leave a comment
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I’ve now been at my temp job for a month.

I’ve realized what a different kind of experience this is for me.  If you’re an Admin. that’s chosen temping until something more permanent comes along, these points may end up being helpful or, at the very least, something to meditate on.

1. Getting to know a new office.  I think Admins are generally friendly people.  They have to be to succeed at work.  When you’re a temp, you’re almost a ghost.  I’ve found it tougher to ‘settle in’ because of this.  There may be an exception here given that I’m working for a state agency.

2.  The realization that you’ve been out of the business culture for a while and what that means.  I quickly got used to waking up earlier, going on a 45 minute commute, and dressing in business casual.  I’m still working at understanding certain business protocols and rules, dealing with upper management, and learning who takes care of what.

3. Understanding that you’re still a good worker, even though you haven’t been working.  This is something that I struggled with.  After about nine days I was wondering if this job was right for me.  I was feeling inadequate.  I took a night to think it over and reminded myself of my value as an Admin, the kudos I received at my old job, and that I am an intelligent woman.

4. The frustration of being in a ‘lower’ position or in one without as much responsibility.  This is one I only recently became aware of.  For six years I was under little supervision and had both Administrative Assistant and Office Manager tasks and obligations.  I was part of the office ramp-up, so I not only greased the wheels in that office, but I created the gears!  I don’t run the show anymore and I have to be careful not to step on anyone’s toes.

5. Making your resume look better.  Since I started my job search I’ve read hundreds of articles about resumes, interviews, dressing for success, just to name a few subjects.  One constant was to either temp or volunteer so potential employers see you’re staying on top of skills.  It’s one reason I agreed to take my current position even though it’s less money than I’m getting on unemployment.  So far I’ve been disappointed.  I’m working in an HR department.  I’ve had only a small amount of previous experience in this kind of work.  I thought it would be a great skill set to develop.  Right now is a slow time for state agencies.  I really don’t know why they rushed to hire me.  Most of what I do is filing and answering the phone.  I’m hoping for more training when the new year starts.  So is a potential employer impressed if you’re working at a level below the one of your most previous position?  I won’t know that until I interview again.

One thing for sure, I keep learning more and more about being unemployed.

Work Scenario #7 – Developing SOPs

September 23, 2011 at 5:36 pm | Posted in Business Ops, Work Scenerios | Leave a comment
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Disclaimer: So that some work scenarios make more sense, I’d like to describe the organization I worked with. A mobile mental health team served severe and persistent mentally ill people in a county in Maryland. Some descriptions may seem vague or cryptic; it is to preserve the identity of clients, organization, and co-workers. Some documents are redacted via pixilation. My specific duties will always remain intact.

My team was ramped up at a new office when I was hired.  Sometimes when this happens it takes workers some time to be assimilated into the organization’s rules, needs, and even the culture.  I found a way to take advantage of the situation.  I created and developed standard operating procedures for many of my responsibilities and documents needed to keep all aspects of our office organized from office supplies to recording received checks.

Here I like to briefly present the process I used to create an SOP, especially for the handling of Social Security checks.  The entire process is described in Work Scenario #5 – Entitlement Checks.  I’m not going to go over the process here, that can be reviewed in my earlier scenario, but rather how I used my background as a programmer to write a clear, concise, specific document.

As a programmer, I already knew the benefits of creating a flowchart for projects. [see figure below] As an administrative assistant, I used those benefits in creating standard operating procedures and documents.  SOP’s helped to increase productivity.  It’s best to remember before you write your flow chart and document that the people you are writing for need to understand priorities and the impact of a deadline, that they are part of a bigger picture, and it should explain the necessity of a certain step.
Once I got through the all the steps of the entitlement check process, from request to distribution and tracking I created a document in the form of an outline.  Steps on the flowchart are extremely general and short.  On the outlines in the SOP documents they were much more detailed, yet still short.  Notes can be added at the end to clarify certain more complex points.

The last step was a short training for my team to be sure everything was clear and team members had their own copy.  I assured them that I would be available for any questions.  Usually there weren’t any questions because the drafted versions included advice from the team.  I think it cuts down on interruptions if I include all users of a document or SOP in the beginning of the process.

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Work Scenario #6 – Cash

August 18, 2011 at 9:38 am | Posted in Business Ops, Work Scenerios | Leave a comment
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Disclaimer: So that some work scenarios make more sense, I’d like to describe the organization I worked with. A mobile mental health team served severe and persistent mentally ill people in a county in Maryland. Some descriptions may seem vague or cryptic; it is to preserve the identity of clients, organization, and co-workers. Some documents are redacted via pixilation. My specific duties will always remain intact.

As I mentioned in my check scenario nothing needs more attention to detail and protocol than handling money, this time the money involves internal spending, petty cash.  As in my last scenario, this responsibility was purely mine, therefore I could create what worked for both me and the organization under very little supervision.

Our petty cash was not just for office use, but also to be used as loans to our clients.I was responsible for the fund’s disbursements and subsequent replenishment once it reaches near-depletion.   In addition, I had a second ledger to keep track of loan repayments.

I quickly developed and implemented the following process:
When petty cash was paid out I there were two options for tracking:

  1. Create a receipt, included the company code for the reason the money was paid.  Since this was from a booklet, copies were created when written.
  2. Used a store or Internet receipt that was given to me. Copies of these were done on the office equipment.

Two to three times a month I made the reimbursement request.  The original receipts had to be presented to the Accounting department.  Information from those payouts were entered into a spreadsheet I decided that the most helpful data for validation would be, Internal code, payee, date, amount, and any notes needed for clarification.  Loans were designated in red.  These procedures had to be observed for fund disbursements, which include the documentation required for the approving authorities.

The spreadsheet was printed out and turned into the accounting department along with the receipts.
When ready, since I was the designated custodian responsible for disbursing the fund and safeguarding its physical security, petty cash checks were made out to me.  I cashed the check.  I never requested bills over twenty-dollars.  More often than not our payouts from petty cash were ten dollars or less.  Then the process started all over again.

When training temps and new administrative assists I would include my process and sent the spreadsheets to them to keep our petty cash protocols consistent.

 

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