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

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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

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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But, What Do You Really Do?

August 30, 2011 at 11:54 am | Posted in Interviewing, Position Description, Resume | Leave a comment
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I think when it gets down to it; an Administrative Assistant is the person in the office that is truly a “jack of all trades” and maybe even a master of few.  It’s a different kind of challenge to meet when I’m asked about my job duties during an interview.  I want to be brief and stay within the constraint resumes and cover letters afford.
The shorter more formal explanation of these duties on my Resume/Skills page.

So if I had the chance to tell a prospective employer I would tell them “what I really did”  Some, maybe most, will sound like small or trivial things, but if you work in an office, think about those small things you couldn’t do without, your administrative assistant does.
Additional duties as needed:

  • Team cheerleader.
  • Surprise breakfast or lunch provider.
  • Coverage for co-workers so they can talk to mom, spouse, or kids on the phone.
  • Offer shoulder to cry on.
  • Provide pillow to bitch in to.
  • Live and interactive business calendar and task list
  • Holiday decoration specialist
  • General understudy/pinch-hitter/relief-pitcher
  • Staff early warning system
  • Wheel re-greaser

I was able to roll all these skills into one, making me the  ever-present and always ready assistant.

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Work Scenario #5 – Entitlement Checks

August 1, 2011 at 2:54 pm | Posted in Position Description, 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.

Nothing needs more attention to detail and protocol than handling money.  This and the next work scenario will be addressing those responsibilities.  Our organization was often the representative-payee for clients receiving Social Security checks for disability.  The government has several laws and rules about this distribution.  I attended a one-day seminar given by the regional Social Security Office before I starting the duties as described below.

I was given the responsibility of the distribution for the clients in our office.  Approximately 30 of our clients needed us to take care of their money.  Although how monies were allocated were decided by their primary contact, I had to know the client’s needs just as well so I could be an asset to a co-worker that may be struggling with this decision.  From start to successful completion was the following three-step process.

Step One:

For me, creating a spreadsheet and importing or entering data was always a good start and it wasn’t any different with this task.  My spreadsheet tracked the funds for a year, with a worksheet for each month.  The most relevant information about a client were included, names, amounts of checks, what each cut would be, and a reconciliation of funds for the end of the month.  My data came from the office manager, that received the physical checks, and my co-workers requests.  My office manager, who trained me five years ago, already had a plan that worked well on getting me the information I needed.  It was up to me to make it all work in our office.

By exchanging details via forms I created, letters from the Social Security Administration, and the previous month’s data we could all do our jobs more satisfactorily.  By knowing this information, I could send out a team-wide email listing the money expected for the month for each client, any loans from us that had to be paid back, and any notes that would help on the decisions to spend money.  When my co-workers read the email, they knew to fill out the request forms for me.  Those requests were sent to me to, reconciled against the money available, returned for corrections as needed, finally, requests were sent to the office manager.  The deadline to get all this done was around the second Monday of the month.  The process then was out of my hands until the checks were sent to me at the beginning of the following month.  Then the second part of the plan of action began.

Step Two:

Checks got to our office a day or two before the distribution date.  Once I had them, checks were copied, attached to my copies of the requests after making sure that the checks were cut correctly, and alphabetized.  If there were any problems in how a check was written, I voided them, put in a correction request, and returned them to the accounting department.  I removed all checks for payments for rent, our pharmacy, and any other bills I had to mail out for the client.  Rent checks were addressed and mailed that same day.  This entire process was time-consuming; in any given month, there could be as many 120 checks.  It was always one of my better-planned days of the month.

Step Three:

The product of this preparation was an ability to give out the checks to clients in a smooth and seamless way.  ‘Check Day’ was always very busy and we all still had our daily responsibilities to regard.  Clients could come into the office to pick up their checks or they could be delivered.  For the ones that came to the office I had a sign out sheet, answered any questions, and made small talk, that’s the easiest part of the job.

Once I put this plan into place ‘check day’ ran smoothly and any problems that arose could be easily handled.  Information on hand and a good rapport with the Social Security offices in the county helped me do my job.

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Work Scenario #4 – Audit Part 2

July 18, 2011 at 2:04 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.

This is the second part of the Audit scenario.  The first part is here

Again, Due to privacy protection, some things have to be left out of descriptions.  This information is irrelevant to understanding the processes that were developed and succeeded.

To find out more about the people who our team served, and therefore gain a larger understanding of what my responsibilities demanded go to the ACTA site.

After training the team, the most important part of the audit is, gathering the data.  I started doing this at the end of the month before the audit.

Data was collected for 28 criteria in three categories; organization, services, and structure.  This past year was the fifth time the audit was done and each year I was able to improve on how data was collected and presented.  Because I was trusted in regards to this project I did it with little or no supervision and was able to develop what I felt worked best.  Monthly collection of data over the year greatly helped.

Most of our records were electronic, truly making my task easier.  I was able to use my knowledge on sorting and reading data in both Excel and the web application my teammates used for notes.  Unfortunately, the contents of these notes were not searchable or sortable.  Gathering this information took the most time.  My grasp of the importance of time management and prioritization was invaluable regarding this task.

During the audit preparations scheduling of my daily duties had to be altered.  This was something else that improved over the years.  My abilities to delegate some of my tasks and taking advantage of my familiarity of each member’s strengths eased enough of my responsibilities so I could concentrate on my data processing.

This job was no different from others that I did.  The problem definition, analysis, solution, finally moving to the next action is the best plan.  My stepping off point was the collection of names and all demographics that went with it (race, DOB, residence type, etc.).  I knew the value of these statistics from my extensive experience in my previous job in the Sampling department of Market Research company.  Since there were aspects that never changed, I could then move to information that was less constant or included specific services that were being taken advantage of by each client.  This was all drawn from an outcome roster that I updated at  the beginning of each year, continuing monthly.

Next step, gathering individual information based on member’s notes, timing, supports, number of appointments, employment history, hospital and jail time, etc.  Some of this information was actually drawn from the meeting calendars I mention in my second work scenario [link].

From this one large spreadsheet and the records, data was broken down into more easily understandable information.  Next step, separating relevant information into appropriate categories.  Usually data was separated into nine categories.  One workbook was created with a worksheet for each collection of data.

My add value was that I knew presentations of graphics can express data, facts, and statistics more easily, especially to busy people like auditors.  The past two years involved creation of charts for demographics, client contacts, and services.  Although not requested of the auditors, I felt it made their job easier.

Finally, I’m proud to say, that because of detailed and accurate data gathering, our team has consistently ranked #1 in the state. With that ranking, we can bill at a higher rate, bringing in more revenue, something very important to a non-profit organization.

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