New tasks offer employees opportunities to shine

Dear Joan:
You did it again! Another terrific article hit home for many of us with supervisors committing sins of supervision.

I once again posted it in the cafeteria, hopefully to catch their attention. But they can't possibly be doing anything wrong. Ha. Ha.

How about an article on how extra work is dumped on us secretaries - we recently had to change word processing systems and were told more software would be installed so we get to do more work! All this and no mention of raises or job description updating. But if an engineer wasted three days on a boring project - he gets loads of credit.

After you read my response to your letter, you may want to use my column to line your cat's litter box. At the risk of losing a fan, I feel I must take a different view - your future may depend on it. What appears to be more work may actually be the key to your future.

The work world is going through a painful metamorphosis. Competition is squeezing fat companies and forcing them to lose excess weight. Staffs are leaner, cost controls tighter and productivity demands higher than at any time in American history. Managers must get more done with fewer resources, and secretaries have begun to fill this gap.

Some jobs will disappear, some will remain caterpillars and some will be transformed into more colorful creatures. The secretarial role is one that has started to spread its wings.

One reason is because you're becoming experts in technology and administration. Technology is the single most important factor that will prevent secretaries from becoming obsolete. But it's the administrative and communication skills that will elevate the role to new heights.

As this role changes, so will the title. "Administrative assistant" is becoming more common in companies over the past five years. It implies a broader role and a partnership with the manager. Out of pure necessity - that splendid mother of invention - secretarial talent will be viewed in a new light. But you'll be your career's worst enemy if you don't take the steps that are necessary to prepare yourself now.

Build upon the skills you have already - communication, initiative, technology. Consider them your tool CIT on the job.

Let's take communication first. Writing ability is becoming a highly prized skill. Buy the books. "On Writing Well" by William Zinsser, and "The Writer's Hotline Handbook" by Stratton and Montgomery. Ask your boss if you can draft memos for him or her. Better yet, prepare a draft without asking. Ask you boss to critique and coach you.

Oral communication is very important, too. Build a reputation as a clear communicator and a good listener. Practice paraphrasing back to the speaker what you heard. A good time to practice this is when you're taking phone messages or getting instructions from your boss.

Practice communicating assertively yet tactfully. For instance, instead of "Do you think we should," try "I think we should." You may be professional, talented and work your fingers to the bone, but if you can't make an assertive request, give and take tactful criticism or say "no," you won't be considered assistant material.

Practice speaking concisely and accurately. Avoid emotionalism and exaggerations. Instead, be specific about what you're describing - it's more difficult, but it gets listened to.

Know when to stop talking. Wordiness kills the impact of what you say and tunes everyone out. Conversely, don't be afraid to speak up if you anticipate a problem or think there's a better way to do something.

Finally, if you want something, ask for it.

Secretaries who have heard themselves saying: "Dead end," "Routine," "He never gives me interesting work," should be saying, "I'd like more project work," "Let me take a crack at drafting the outline" and "I'd like to try that.

Initiative is another important tool in your tool CIT. Nothing makes you a star faster than initiative. Don't worry about your job description - it will catch up with you. The goal is to stretch your job far beyond your job description so that it will become glaringly obvious to everyone that it needs modification.

Job descriptions are rarely influenced by a single change like using additional software. Job descriptions are rewritten when a job grows more complex or requires additional responsibility. Higher volume doesn't usually count.

If it looks as if your work volume is simply going to increase, your concern is valid. Doing more of the same old thing won't help you grow.

However, if the changes help you get your routine work done faster so you can expand your role, milk if for all it's worth.

Always pretend your boss is on vacation. (You probably wish he was!) This will force you to handle routine phone messages, get a head start on pulling data together for his reports and initiating routine correspondence. Let your boss know that you'd like to help him be "more efficient and effective" by taking some of the routine work off his back. Most mangers would be relieved.

This will make some managers nervous. If this is the case, guarantee your boss that he or she will see everything you do before you act on it. Ask for this coaching and welcome any criticism. You can't grow without feedback.

The "T" in your CIT is for the technical skills you are building. Pursue it with a vengeance. It's your key to the future.

Seek ways to use the technology to rid you of routine tasks so you are free to develop broader and deeper responsibilities.

Not only will you wind up with a new job description, you'll get the recognition you deserve!

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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