Creating A High Quality Support Staff

The traditional image of the secretary as a driving, yet somewhat invisible, force behind management is a thing of the past. In fact, today, many secretaries perform functions of their former bosses. What these increasing responsibilities mean is that secretaries and other office support staff have a greater role than ever in advancing their organization's quality goals.

Office support staff aren't always visible to outside customers. But they are the lifeblood of a company's quality program. As their job role expands, every secretary should make a commitment to personal quality. Where training falls short, they should take the initiative to develop the new skills needed to meet their responsibilities.

One way to start is by asking yourself these questions:

  • Do I take quality seriously?
  • Am I clear about the quality goals of our team, or department, and our organization?
  • Do I regularly assess how my actions meet those goals?
  • Do I regard my coworkers as valued customers?
  • Do I make full use of all our resources?
  • Do I check the quality of my own work?
  • Do I demand quality from my coworkers and from my organization?

Strive to answer those questions with a resounding “Yes.” And for more ways to increase your personal quality in the office, review the following information.

Should You Compromise Quality For Speed?

Out of concern for quality, you make sure everything is right before you consider it complete. But despite your efforts, your boss often complains that you take too much time, and that perfectionism holds up the rest of the department on its work. Should you forget about the quality of the work and just give him immediate results?

It's great to be conscientious about the quality of your work. Your boss probably appreciates it to a point, but there is a point at which you can go overboard and affect not only your productivity, but your boss's and the department's as well. Your boss is not asking you to forget about quality, but to keep your work balanced. Use the following tips to help you:

1. Determine what is important and what isn't. Your work time is limited, and you are probably under tight deadlines. Try to clearly define what your priorities are and how they match up with those of your department.

2. Outline a schedule. Write out your deadlines for each project, and then break down each one into steps. Estimate how long each step will take you in minutes, hours, or days. If your calculations take you beyond the set deadline, review your steps and see if any can be shortened or eliminated.

3. Determine how many times you need to double-check details. If you are checking and rechecking your work, you may be wasting valuable time.

4. Organize your work. If you don't take a systematic approach to work, you may mistakenly forget about something that you should have done and have to retrace your steps.

5. Increase your concentration. One of the reasons you feel the need to check and recheck your work may be because you are not concentrating enough. Try to tune out distractions and focus on what you are doing.

6. Write it down. If you have a hard time remaining on a specific schedule, at the start of each day write down what you need to accomplish. List priorities that must get done for the production process to flow smoothly. This will help keep you and your department on track.


10 Ways To Strengthen Quality Performance

Think about the way you interact at the office. Are you perceived as a professional? If coworkers know they can count on you, do they also see you as someone who works well with the entire team? Someone who takes on more responsibility than expected?

Here are 10 ways to strengthen your quality performance in the workplace. Implement them and you'll enjoy your job more - and attain greater success.

1. Be flexible. A world exists away from your work station; be open to learning tasks that don't directly relate to your job. Employers like staff members who can perform a range of duties. You'll not only impress others with your willingness to comply - you'll also learn and grow.

2. Sharpen your grammar and writing skills. Above average oral communication skills are important in your contact by telephone. But much modem technology - including e-mail and fax machines - puts a premium on the ability to communicate in writing.

3. Be congenial. Success on the job involves treating everyone in a friendly and professional manner. Everyone enjoys their day more when they work in a pleasant atmosphere.

4. Keep phone skills up to date. Are there helpful features on the phone that you still don't use? Stretch your productivity by knowing everything about your phone system.

5. Know how to use office equipment. Don't stop with the phone system. Make yourself indispensable by knowing what to do when a computer, copier, or fax machine malfunctions.

6. Study your industry. Know where your company fits in. Become familiar with the competition, too, and with related fields.

7. Think critically. To thrive in the workplace, show that you can analyze problems, prioritize tasks, take the initiative, and solve any customer problem that comes your way.

8. Look great! If workers look bad, a company looks bad. Even if you aren't seen by outside customers, always look your best. Even on “casual” days, don't be caught off guard.

9. Take classes, inside and outside your field. Take advantage of opportunities to learn on the job. But don't stop learning at the end of the day. Pursue night classes. You may love your job, but don't let that make you complacent about exploring the world outside. Knowledge increases your value to your company and your options within your career

10. Be businesslike. To be taken seriously and treated with respect, carry on in a businesslike manner. Give your best effort - and let others know that you stand by your actions.

Skills Assessment Can Boost Performance

Under the fierce pressure and fast pace of our day-to-day routines, it's easy to lose sight of the skills on which we draw constantly in our jobs. And yet, it can be a valuable exercise to identify the unique strengths that fuel our daily efforts. The process can make your work more rewarding and help you develop skills that will enhance your performance and further your career.

Here's how you identify and build your professional skills:

1. Assess the skills needed for your job. Make a list of the skills needed by office professionals. Then, be as objective as possible in rating yourself as “good,” “average,” or “weak” in each category. Your list might include word processing, filing, writing reports and/or memos, organizational skills, listening ability, as well as many other skills more specific to your company or industry.

2. Acknowledge your professional skills. Compile a list of verbs to help you identify the skills you use in your daily tasks. Some examples might be: administer, budget, catalog, coordinate, edit, implement, organize, prioritize, schedule, and train. You should be able to add verbs to this list. Just visualize what you do in a day, in a week, and so on. Then, compile a list of projects you are working on or have worked on recently. Finally, select three of these projects to explore in detail. For each, list the tasks you performed to accomplish the project. Drawing on your list of verbs, note the skills you used to perform each task.

3. Share what you've learned about your skills. Whenever the opportunity arises, let people know about the skills you're using on the job. For example, when colleagues ask how or what you're doing, tell them, using your skill verbs: 'I've been coordinating the marketing services for our upcoming trade show.' This will influence their perception of you as a highly skilled, action-oriented professional.

4. Develop a skills enhancement plan. First, identify the professional skills that are important to you in your career. Ask yourself, “What skills will I need to develop in the coming year? In the next five years?” Look at business trends for clues. For example, learning to use a new software would be a smart goal for the coming year.

Write an action plan for developing the skills you will need. Include taking courses that will help you grow, exploring new ideas, and undertaking research on technological advances affecting office work.


When You've Been Passed Over For A Promotion

You wanted that promotion so much you could taste it. You paid your dues, talked to the right people, and took the appropriate night-school courses. In short, you did all the right things to prepare you for a new position. Despite all your efforts, the promotion you thought was in the bag went to someone else. You're stunned, angry, and greatly disappointed. You consider marching into your boss's office and resigning on the spot.

Being passed over for a promotion is one of the toughest disappointments to face in a career. Anger, bitterness, frustration, and downright hostility are common and understandable reactions in a situation like this. But the way you handle your reaction can have a significant impact on your chances for advancement when the next promotion opportunity arises. Losing out on a promotion is a permanent setback only if you allow it to be.

A Credo To Live By

Whenever you find your spirits flagging, review these tenets to live by:

  • Believe in yourself completely. Have faith in your ability to do anything you set your mind to.
  • Believe in what you are doing. Know that you have the ability to help others find solutions to their problems.
  • See yourself as successful. Virtually everyone has some redeeming qualities. Develop a self-image that includes personal success.
  • Appreciate your assets. Demonstrate in appearance, manner; voice, and spirit that you have value to your company.
  • Recognize the importance and value of others. Strive to enhance the quality of life for everyone you touch; remember; they ultimately contribute to your own quality of life.
  • Like yourself. The more you like yourself, the more generous you'll be toward others.
  • Look on your problems as opportunities. Welcome change and the challenges you face. They give you a chance to stretch your abilities.
  • Plan your work well, then work your plan. Live by your own agenda. When flying through each day, sit in the pilot's seat instead of in the passenger section.
  • Allow yourself the luxury of enthusiasm. It can make or break even the best-laid plans.

Add 'Master Juggler' To Job Description

What's the most important skill an administrative assistant can have today?


You'll need that skill. Today's secretary supports an average of four professionals. That means four schedules, four sets of job tasks, four sets of expectations. Too bad it doesn't mean four extra hands for the assistant! Executives are doing their part with the help of computer software programs.

So if you report to multiple people and have to juggle all their needs and requirements, you're in good company.

Clear The Mind (And Desk Drawers)

With its multitude of desk drawers, filing cabinets, and other nooks and crannies, the modem office and workplace is often used as much as a place storeroom as a place for getting things done.

How about setting aside an afternoon for a general cleanup of your entire work area? Periodic cleanups can work wonders when trying to unclog offices. Clearing the decks can help give your team a psychological lift, a fresh start, as it embarks on its quality improvement effort.

Keep in mind these tips before launching an office cleanup day:

1. First clear the effort with the boss. Perhaps she can sanction it as an official casual day so workers don't have to worry about messing up their good work clothes.

2. Select the time carefully, picking a normally quiet day or season.

3. Involve the whole department. (Some businesses have annual company-wide cleanup days.)

4. Create a fun atmosphere by providing soft drinks and other refreshments.

5. Have enough refuse containers on hand.

6. Recycle whatever you can - white paper newsprint, and aluminum cans.

7. Make sure staffers are still able to answer phone calls or conduct routine business.

8. Adopt the mindset that you're willing to throw away unnecessary materials.

9. Establish a table or other area for those unnecessary or unwanted objects and materials that are just “too good” to throw away. Let coworkers look over the “merchandise” to see if they can use any of it - preferably at home.


Courtesy At The Photo Copier

You may take for granted a basic element of functioning as a team on a daily basis - learning to share resources, including office equipment. Sharing equipment, including copiers, fax machines, and computers and their printers, can be inconvenient. But observing a few basic rules of courtesy can minimize the problems for everyone.

Here are some tips when sharing a copier or printer:

1. Take care of essential maintenance. Replace toner or clear paper jams when necessary. When you're done, replenish the paper supply. Be sure to return machines to their original settings (most likely one copy, 8 ½” x 11”) for the next person.

2. Observe protocol for large jobs. If you're making a large number of copies, be gracious about interruptions. If someone comes along to make two or three copies, let him or her in. Turnabout is fair play; so, if a coworker has a large copying project underway, you are within your rights to say, “Can I interrupt for a minute?” Also, if you know you'll be tying up the printer with a long document, alert other computer users.

3. Respect the need for confidentiality. If teammates leave papers behind at the copier or have yet to pick them up from the printer, either put them aside - face down - or return them.

When sharing access to a computer:

1. Honor schedules. Be cooperative about coordinating and scheduling projects, so each user knows exactly when he or she can access the equipment. But, also know when to be flexible and give precedence to a peer with a top-priority task.

2. Assess your computer time carefully. Unless you're realistic about how long it will take you to complete a computer task, you could end up going over your allotted time. Then, you risk interfering with everyone else's schedules and, ultimately, throwing the whole department off.

3. Call a troubleshooter or repairperson immediately when problems arise. Never just walk away and leave the problem to someone else. If everyone did that, it would never get done.

4. Don't arbitrarily change any programming. Always check with whoever is in charge of your team's computer before making any changes. And then, make sure you know what you're doing.

5. Ask permission before using teammates' disks, files, or passwords. These are their personal property and deserve respect.

These rules can apply to sharing almost any piece of office equipment. Have respect for your teammates' need to use these resources, and they will return the favor.

Tips from Pros

1. Colored warning keeps fax in business. The fax machine in our office is running constantly, either sending or receiving documents. Often the paper would run out, and we wouldn't be able to receive faxes. Now we put a piece of colored paper toward the bottom of the stack in the paper tray. This alerts us to the fact that the paper is getting low before it's too late.

2. Communication doesn't stop with top boss. The secret to being a great team is communication.

3. Plain labels save money, time. Today, when we need to be careful about wasting our office supplies, I have come up with a solution that cuts down on expenses as well as saves time. When we need to mail out something, we type the addresses on small, plain 1” x 3” dot matrix labels. We then attach these to the more expensive labels and envelopes with the company logo. If we make a mistake typing the label, it's much more economical to throw away a plain label than to throw away the more expensive items. It also saves time when you need to type a number of envelopes. Just stick a sheet of labels in the typewriter, and you don't have to keep inserting each envelope as you type.

4. Log shows boss need for project warning. This list is a tool a boss need to see the impact his projects had on the staff. He can give advance notice so they can anticipate and plan for special projects.

5. Voice mail jogs boss' memory. At the end of each day, leave the boss a message on voice mail or on his answering machine at home with his appointments for the next day, including any pertinent information. Then, if he forgets his calendar or needs any information, all he has to do is check his messages in the morning.


More Tips

1. Tell it like it is. If the boss asks you to handle a task that will cause the rest of your workload to be disrupted, explain the situation. Say you will be happy to do the job, but it will have the following effects. Then, let the boss decide if his or her task is critical enough to displace your other jobs.

2. Leave no phone unanswered. Establish backup procedures so no phone rings more than two or three times in your area before it is answered. If everyone is tied up in a meeting, be sure all have activated their voice-mail or made arrangements so callers can leave messages.

3. Plan your mornings. The first hour of the workday is when people are most alert. Take advantage of this high-energy time by planning problem-solving and brainstorming sessions bright and early. Before you leave work for the day, plan how you will best utilize this time the following morning.

4. Make time for mundane tasks. Set aside a few hours a week to go through your inbox. Friday afternoon is often a good time to tackle this mundane task. Letting items pile up makes it easier to overlook issues that need to be addressed. Work it into your weekly schedule so that it becomes routine.

5. Write your quality book. To maintain the level of quality established in your department, create a “quality handbook” for temporary employees or anyone filling in for you. List your job functions, personal work mottoes, priorities, and tips.

6. Remember, small courtesies count. Remember that office equipment, such as copiers and staplers, don't restock themselves. If you use something up, take a second to replenish the supply. Everyone else's time is valuable, just as yours is.

7. Flash card reminder. “Good morning, I mean, afternoon. Can I help you?” Does that sound like you, stumbling over your a.m./p.m. phone greeting? Simple solution: Make up a bright neon card with “Good morning” printed on one side and “Good afternoon” printed on the other. Place the card above your phone as a quick reminder. Now if you can just remember to flip the card over at noon!

What You Can Do

Due to downsizing, reengineering, and other changes, secretaries and other support staff personnel carry out more responsibilities in the workplace than ever before. That means if you are an office professional today, you have an increasing role in advancing your company's quality initiatives - improving human relations, strengthening communication, building team spirit, and meeting customers' expectations. It also places you in an excellent position for greater career growth possibilities.

  • Be sure you understand your organization's quality goals and participate visibly in the quality development process.
  • Take advantage of workshops and other training that is available to you.
  • Strengthen your interpersonal skills, keep up with evolving technology, and maintain a professional and businesslike appearance.
  • Look for ways to prevent mistakes.
  • Think of the next person in the work process as your valued customer. Do your best to get along with others in your office. Remember, personal quality involves meeting both other people's and your own demands and expectations.

Secretaries and office support personnel almost always know how to use the latest computer program or new equipment long before the boss knows; in fact, the boss usually learns them from the secretary! In the ever-evolving workplace, flexibility is a valuable asset. It will serve you well in your current position and throughout your career.

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