By Bonnie Low-Kramen
Administrative staff are a company’s biggest and potentially most powerful natural resource — they are the backbones of their companies and every manager’s right arm. But here’s the bad news: Historically, they are also the most misused and undertrained members of the team.
In 2015, most of the nation’s 4.1 million admins are still self-taught regarding everything about their jobs. They have succeeded in their roles in spite of the lack of support and training. Traditionally, they have not been included in Continued Professional Development (CPD) budgets.
As the Harvard Business Review has pointed out: “Everyone says that learning is essential for companies’ success — and for your own. And yet, on a daily basis, who cares for your learning? No one. People care about what you have learned. They care about your results. Learning is great as long as you do it quietly, in your own time.”
And on your own dime, I might add.
Even though training for admins has the potential to boost company profits, improve employee productivity and build more powerful relationships between managers and assistants, it is still a fairly new idea in the 2015 workplace. Most often, the reasoning is that admins don’t have an impact on income generation, and therefore the ROI cannot be quantified.
The first time I knew that training was an issue among admins was during the Q&A after a presentation in 2006 at a big pharma company. A woman stood up in front of 200 fellow admins and said, “First, I want to thank you for coming because it was really great. Second, I have been at this company for 30 years and this is the first time there has ever been any program for the administrative staff.” The look on her face and the silence in the room that followed has never left me.
Too much work, too little training
Admins are increasingly drowning in demanding work delegated by multiple managers, and they are starving for training to help them keep up with the demands. This status quo is not sustainable and must change if companies are to stay competitive and relevant in our volatile and complicated workplace.
In recent years, executive assistants have begun to take the initiative and seek out quality training. This has led to “first-time” training just in the last two years in some of our country’s largest and most prestigious companies.
When I train executive and personal assistants, I see the visible transformation that happens with just a day-long workshop designed specifically for the admin staff. Customized education is like rocket fuel for the admins, and trust me, a little goes a very long way.
I see that assistants are quitting their jobs in search of companies that will offer them the opportunity to learn and grow and stay relevant. Assistants instinctively know that they need both soft-skills and hard-skills training to keep their skills up to speed — and they need it now.
Why train admins now?
In the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008, when the workplace was thrown into turmoil, the role of admins has changed dramatically. Many are now functioning in part as project managers and have been given a higher level of responsibility, requiring training that was not as critically needed before, according to a recent OfficeTeam report.
What’s more, support for training is a major factor in job satisfaction and employee retention among administrative staff (and all staff for that matter). It is even more important than a salary increase because there are many out-of-work admins struggling to find jobs with their out-of-date skills. This is why professional development is not an option anymore for companies that need their backbone to be strong and adaptable in the marketplace.
But the benefits of providing professional development opportunities for the admin team go far beyond the actual knowledge that the staff gains. Your staff will feel a sense of ownership in your company and a feeling of loyalty, since leaders are demonstrating belief in their talents and respect for their value. This feeling of respect is the antithesis to feeling like a number and that you are “a dime a dozen” or worse, “just an admin.” On top of all that, the most important benefit of providing training is self-confidence and self-esteem, whose ROI will be self-evident.
3 ways to invest in your admins
- Invest in training.Invest in ongoing in-house classes and workshops designed specifically for the admin staff, in both soft skills (leadership and communication) and hard skills (technology). It is smart to include all admins in these trainings. Schedule trainings on a day when most of the executives are off-site. Split the group in two so you don’t have everyone away from their desks at once. Keep in mind that your receptionists may be your future EAs with some support and training.
- Support attendance at training events. Support and fund the administrative staff to attend at least one professional meeting or conference per year. After their participation, ask for a short presentation to the staff about the conference and what was learned.
- Promote networking.Provide regular opportunities for networking and the sharing of valuable information among the administrative staff. These networking opportunities are referred to as Internal Assistant Networks, and they are proliferating in 2015. They are very effective in breaking down silo mentality. Supply the space and the food. Monthly Lunch & Learns are one example of this kind of low-cost programming.
While compensation has always been an excellent incentive for employee retention, the number one motivator for admins costs nothing. It is respect. If you doubt this, just ask them and give them license to be candid without repercussion. Training is one of the strongest demonstrations of respect.
The most profoundly meaningful and long-lasting investment you can make in your staff is to believe in them enough, trust them enough and support them to learn. Knowledge is power, and it is also a bottomless source of loyalty, commitment and profits. Isn’t the backbone of your company worth that?
Bonnie Low-Kramen is a workplace leadership expert and international trainer and speaker. She served as Olympia Dukakis’s executive and personal assistant for 25 years. Through Ultimate Assistant, LLC, she is now dedicated to opening the lines of communication between executives and their assistants in every organization. Her purpose is to educate executives on how to leverage this powerful relationship, and empower assistants around the world to find their voice, and communicate with intention, confidence, and honesty. Sign her SpeakUp Pledge at www.speakuppledge.com, and follow her on Twitter @BonnieLowKramen.
Other ways to promote learning
- Online webinars specific to admins
- Administrative Professionals Week Special Event (April) acknowledging and celebrating the admin staff
- Guest trainers (to teach soft skills of leadership, communication, team building) who are brought into the company and can be video-conferenced to other cities/countries and recorded for future viewing
- Subscriptions to relevant magazines, newsletters, etc.
- Support to join and participate in professional organizations (IAAP, CSESP, EAO)
- Support to join and participate in professional admin LinkedIn discussion groups