Administrative partners as organizational leaders

admin picWhen most people think of administrative personnel, they think of administrative assistants or “secretaries.” Administrative functions are often viewed as an important but not really mission critical. One of our clients has a very different view of people in this role. This client sees administrative personnel as some of the most important leaders of the organization. That is why they changed their title to “Administrative Partners (AP),” because when managers perceive and treat administrative personnel as making a major leadership contribution to the organization, they are true partners with those managers and lots of good things happen. It seems fair to ask why administrative personnel are so often undervalued. I believe that there are several reasons including:

  • -The role is not seen as making a major contribution – it usually shows up on the organizational chart off to the side of the “real” workers
  • -It is viewed as more of a clerical position than one requiring decision making –and following direction rather than setting direction   -Managers often are particularly unclear and uncertain about how best to manage administrative personnel, mostly using old style command and control approaches   -Administrative partners tend to be noticed when something goes wrong such as a meeting gets incorrectly scheduled and they are not noticed when things go smoothly   -It has historically been mostly a female role, and therefore subject to subtle but real discrimination (though the era of having the secretary do personal chores – think Mad Men – seems to have passed for most organizations)
My experience with administrative personnel is sharply different from these stereotypes, though most are still women. Most of the administrative personnel I know are incredibly smart and capable. They often know more about how the business actually runs than their managers. Because of the role they play in any given group, virtually every issue that is impacting the organization flows through and around them. It is a credit to our client that they see administrative personnel in the same positive terms. Expanding on the role of administrative personnel as leaders, they know who is meeting with whom to discuss which issues – and know what happens when the organization is functioning well or poorly. They can help groups to act as integrated teams promoting collaboration and innovation. They can often sense, well before others, when a customer – internal or external – is unhappy and needs attention. They know the use and value of the tools infrastructure better than anyone because they use so many of the tools in so many different ways. They make connections for themselves and for their manager partners throughout the organization. I think of them as “the connective tissue of the organization” ensuring that everything is aligned and effective. As a result, administrative personnel can and should have a significant influence on decisions and the overall productivity of the organization.  The smart managers take advantage of this capability by including administrative personnel in a wide variety of decision making situations and overtly asking for their input. In our client’s efforts to increase the value of APs, they began to talk about them as a “strategic asset” of the organization. This turned out to be a radical concept. While most of our managers already consciously valued their AP’s contribution, thinking about and treating APs as both “strategic” and a significant “asset” sometimes clashed with the unconscious stereotype. So, the change team consciously set out to change this mind-set which required them to accomplish two things:
  • -First, the organization itself needed to view administrative partners differently-Second, the administrative partners needed to learn to think of themselves as a strategic asset of the organization
Since these changes had to overcome long-term historical patterns, and both had to change, pretty much simultaneously to achieve our goals, they treated this effort as a transformational change initiative.  As they developed the best strategy to guiding this transformation, it became apparent that it was far easier to develop the APs first – the APs were much more open to change — and use the AP’s enhanced skills to drive the change to their managers. The APs went through a five-month program based on internally developed best practices for how to be a great AP. This program included specific work on, among other things:
  • -Developing a mindset of the AP as a strategic contributor to the organization
  • -Mastering all of the tools and system infrastructure of the organization
  • -Leading the immediate workgroup
  • -Building powerful networks
  • -Leading the broader organization
It boggled the APs’ minds to see what was possible including how much they could (and should) lead their immediate workgroup. This meant that they were directly helping their managers be more effective leading their work group and managing their administrative partners. Simultaneously, the APs worked with managers to get them to see their APs in more strategic terms. This was done through by communicating the best practices to the managers, asking for their input and asking them to support the learning experience of their APs. This created lots of circumstances where they actually worked with their APs as partners. And, the feedback has been great. The APs feel much better supported and that they are making a greater contribution to the organization. As a result, the overall organization is more productive and effective. So let me leave you with one thought: administrative personnel can and should be a strategic asset of any organization. It is good for everyone. How are administrative personnel valued in your organization?]]>

Share this...