Secretary key to efficiency in work

Where has the secretary gone?

Progress in the workplace seems to have included disappearance of the secretary in many offices.  I can type pretty well.  And I can use MS Office pretty well – at least when I am using Word I know about rulers, styles, headers, track changes, page and section breaks.  So, within reason, I can produce a reasonably well presented document – be that Word, Excel or PowerPoint (without being a guru).  But I am more productive when I have a personal assistant or secretary.

The more I look about in workplaces the more I wonder have we taken away too much secretarial support.  Are execs spending too much time scheduling (and rescheduling) meetings, generating meeting notes/ actions, updating action plans, opening, reading, filing and replying to correspondence, making travel arrangements, etc.

Yes – much more of it is electronic correspondence.  But there are still filing requirements.  And – yes, the document management systems and wordprocessing software is supposed to do the tracking, storage and retrieval.  And the shared diary systems are supposed to support arrangement of meetings.  But I still wonder.

Many of the interactions with colleagues work better when not just a piece of software grabbing time in your diary – sometimes the secretary or personal assistant just makes it work better.

Managers

And then there are those layers of management we have taken out – in order to be more efficient.  As a result we have flatter structures – with some immediate benefits.  But what about the loss of time for coaching, supporting, encouraging?  Or the lack of time for senior executives as they are pulled into tasks previously managed by those layers of management?

Work is a complex social environment.  People use the technology differently – even the same people use it differently at different times of the same day.  It’s not only sales people who resist loading everything into CRM – all sorts of people have provisional appointments they do not enter in the diary, times they are hoping to manage – perhaps to get away early, to pick up the kids, to catch up with a friend at lunch time.  Sometimes the secretary can manage all of this and make it happen better for everyone.

I would be lost without email, shared information, MS Office – but there are lots of things I need to get done which happen better and faster by having an assistant.  And I think there are lots of other people – across lots of the companies with whom I have worked – who are spending time on the wrong things for the lack of effective secretarial support.

Collaboration

We are back to looking at how to make collaboration work more effectively – and part of the secret is having the right resources in place.  I have spent thirty years looking to streamline and improve work processes through use of technology – be that email, network shares, social media, cloud, personal productivity tools.  But we need to keep focused on the goal – and if more administrative support is what it takes – in spite of the technology – then we should t least be open to this.  The technology should empower people – the execs and the support team.  It probably enables a smaller group to provide more administrative support.  But for now at least, ti seems to me to have led to some questionable practices – pulling execs away from focusing on their greatest added value.  I think more organisations may need to revisit their practices ans structures.

 

Coach in earnest

I was recently watching Daniel Barenboim play Beethoven on television and was reminded of the impact he had on me as a pianist just over 30 years ago.  I had recently completed my music exams and heard the maestro play the piano at the RDS (at considerable expense for a student).  However rather than being inspired to practice more I was left with the feeling of ‘what’s the point?’ – what he does and what I do are poles apart – and will remain poles apart.

Last Saturday I had the privilege of listening to Paudie Butler present his thoughts on coaching kids to a group of about 60 coaches in Kilmacud Crokes – my own GAA Club in Dublin.  He told a great story about the day our great poet, Seamus Heaney, finally decided to go home and be a poet (or, in Irish, a ‘file’), in earnest.

This time I listened to someone with whom I could relate – because he admitted to making so many of the mistakes I have made myself.  He spoke of the mistakes he felt he mad bringing up his own kids and how he wished what he now practiced with his grandchildren he had practiced with his children.

He laid down the challenge to each of us in the room: the privilege it is to work with children and the requirement that we coach in earnest.  He also challenged us to get our thoughts right – the importance of being positive and looking forward to each session and each interaction.  That if you do have this positive attitude you will enjoy it and everyone will benefit a great deal more.

Even more interesting for me – this time I found Barenboim less intimidating and more inspirational – I am enjoying trying some hours on the piano again. The gap has probably grown – given my lack of practice/ playing for 30 years, but my attitude and expectations are different.