Behind every great business leader or team is at least one (and often an awesome group of) dedicated assistants, co-ordinators, para-consultants, administrators… I’m sure you know who I am talking about in your organisation.
They are the unsung heroes. The quiet achievers. The critical pieces that keep the wheels of your business turning and the machine well-oiled.
Okay. enough of the clichés.
I’ve personally worked with some incredible support teams, and I know just how much many of my clients and I value and rely on our personal / team assistants today. However, I have also, unfortunately, witnessed the way certain prima donnas (including, but not limited to the recruitment, advertising, media and PR worlds) treat (and often blatantly dismiss or disregard) those who are only doing their best to help.
It’s almost funny how the moment poorly-treated individuals walk out the door to find a better home, the same prima donnas who caused the departure are suddenly up in arms demanding an urgent replacement, because they suddenly realise just how much work was actually being done behind the scenes.
For the sake of this particular post, let’s imagine a world without prima donnas (wouldn’t that be nice!) and focus on the 5 best ways to work effectively with your support teams.
1. Treat your support team with respect
This may sound obvious. And you should treat everyone around you in the office with respect. But as I’ve already alluded to above, it’s often the support team that bears the brunt of a lack of respect. Remember, these individuals are your organisation’s backbone. Quite simply, they keep the wheels moving. So don’t just recognise them on “World Administrative Professionals Day” (yes – there is such a thing observed on the 16th of April!). Have a zero tolerance policy in your business towards anyone treating a member of the support team with disrespect.
2. Keep your support staff motivated
I’m not just talking about gift vouchers, movie tickets, spa vouchers or the chance to leave early on a Friday afternoon in recognition for a job well done or an unusually ‘big week’. Think beyond that. I’m talking about providing your support team with variety. Whenever possible, give them ‘special projects’ throughout the year to take the mundanity out of their roles. For example, (if they are keen and have the right personality) let them go out for coffee or lunch with the EAs and PAs of your top clients or biggest prospects and build relationships at that level, while you focus on cementing your relationships at the MD and CEO level. For those that may not be comfortable being ‘client facing’ (and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that at all), motivate them to be the best possible administrators and empower them to take on more responsibilities, be it running the operations of the office, or organising an important company event.
3. Don’t treat them as an invisible part of the business
Invite your support team members into every meeting (wherever possible). Never let them feel shut out. Get them involved in business planning from an operational standpoint, and always make sure you communicate how each of their individual jobs impacts your role, the roles of other team members, and therefore the overall bottom line. Help them understand their professional value and how their actions directly impact the success of the organisation. When others in the company see you doing this, they (yes… even the prima donnas!) will realise the importance of the support team and hopefully treat them with more respect.
4. Let your support staff see some kind of career progression
Of course this might not always be possible, and it really depends on the size and nature of your business. However, if you can, give them the opportunity to learn to handle tasks beyond purely support. If a member of your support team can see they have an opportunity to develop professionally, they will be happier to work from the ground up. They will be more loyal because they know they are learning from you. Whilst they may initially be involved in the nitty-gritty, day-to-day admin tasks, let them shadow you first, then work with you on more strategic parts of the business. The best support staff are those who can take both a helicopter view, and also dive down to sort out problems as they arise.
5. Ensure there are clear expectations around workload and workflow
This one’s entirely on you. If you don’t make it clear to the entire business exactly what falls into the job descriptions of your different support staff, then many people will take advantage of the admin team… simply because they don’t know any better. Make sure the roles and responsibilities are clearly defined – reporting lines, expected turnaround times for different tasks, specific working hours, etc. Generally, it’s up to you to have clearly defined policies and procedures. For example, an account manager knows what they can delegate to a coordinator to help with, or what they are expected to do themselves. Of course, it’s also up to you (or the Office Manager / leader of the support team) to ensure that each individual team member are equipped with the skills and knowledge to perform their roles effectively.
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I have many personal stories from throughout my own career where some of the best ideas and strategies for my organisation, as well as ideas for our clients, have come from members of the support team. I have always included them in my strategy meetings, asking them for their advice and their input on many client or business partnership issues, and making it very clear just how much I value their contribution to the smooth operation of the business.
Some of the above tips might seem really obvious – and you may already be practising these in your business today. But they are easily forgotten, especially when the pressure is on and everybody is feeling under the pump.
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