Who’s dictating now?

first_img Comments are closed. Related posts:No related photos. Who’s dictating now?On 1 May 2001 in Personnel Today Secretaries and PAs are knowledgeworkers with raised expectations. Helen Vandevelde warns that employers mustinvest in their skillsTime was when the firsttask of the day for the secretary was to make the coffee. These days, smartmanagers make their own. And the really sharp ones will be pouring out thearomatic jump start which their secretaries need to launch their day, whiletheir secretaries get on with acknowledging the e-mails and prioritising thevoicemails that have come in overnight. The development of information andcommunications technology has made the work of PAs, secretaries and managementassistants, well, more managerial. They’re expected to research for informationon the Web, keep up with data on the company intranet, work remotely withmanagers away on business or with colleagues in different time zones. “They’re expected to cope in thedigital world,” comments Will Hawkins, business development manager forMicrosoft Press in the UK.Above all, secretaries are requiredto program and reprogram their minds for different tasks. “Secretaries will need to beproactive self-starters who can take autonomous decisions based on ofteninadequate information,” observes Adrie van der Luijt, chief editor ofDeskDemon.com, the online support service for PAs and management assistants.As technology protocols processroutine work, the humans deal with the exceptions. If you’re no good at solvingproblems, secretarial work isn’t for you.It comes as no surprise, then, thatemployees value training well above other benefits. Research by Office Angels, one ofthe UK’s leading secretarial and office support recruitment consultancy,reveals that more than half of these employees prefer flexible benefits to payrises.And 93 per cent of them single out trainingas their most prized benefit.Flexible benefitsThe Office Angels research alsoshowed some 30 per cent of employers in the sample had introduced flexiblebenefits in the last two years. These employers recognise the needto attract, motivate and retain talented staff in a competitive labour market.Secretaries too understand theimportance of skills updating in an increasingly technology-driven environment.The myriad uses of videocoms that arejust around the corner will make today’s range of software applications feellike a gentle scroll around a pixellated park.And arguably, using the technologyis the easy bit. It’s dealing with the human side of ICT that presents the realchallenge. ICT puts us in contact with more people for shorter periods of time.Already we “get to know” new people via e-mail. Swapping several e-mails within afew days creates a new kind of relationship that was never possible with postalcorrespondence, or even fax exchanges.Secretaries also have to manage awider network of relationships. It’s easier to make misjudgments when you don’tknow people’s likes, dislikes and tolerance thresholds. Deprived of cluesWhen you’re managing relationshipsover a distance, you’re deprived of the clues you get from colleagues’ bodylanguage or from what you learn as a result of sharing the same space with them.Hawkins observes, “Technology andthe competitiveness as a result has turned the secretarial role inside out. “There’s less communication with themanager, but much more relating to other people in  support of the manager.”As round-the-clock communicationbecomes more common, secretaries will need to deal with yet more relationshipvariables. They might start their day with a briefing from someone signing offin Singapore. And the day could end with ahandover to someone who’s just arrived at work in Winnipeg. Allow theirritations of the day to interfere in these kinds of exchanges and you’re lost.All that’s before you start takingcultural differences into account. “Interpersonal and cross-cultural skills arehigh on the agenda,” comments Adrie van der Luijt. Cultural behavioursWe have just entered themulticultural century. Just as currencies converge across whole subcontinents,so will we need to acclimatise to different cultural behaviours andexpectations. For many people, this is one of themost rewarding aspects of globalisation, but it is also one of the mostdemanding. So what are the core knowledge-based skills for secretaries andmanagement assistants? They would seem to be:– Competence with changing technology– Versatility in use of software– An eye for presentation of text and image combinations– Ability to switch from person-to-person to remote communication– Web-based research skills– Remote relational skills– Versatility between work levels, from compliance to generation of solutions – Flexible adaptation to work functions, such as switching from machineinterface to diplomatic firmness with a difficult caller– Cross-cultural sensitivity– Network management– Time zone and relay collaboration.Hawkins sees secretaries in adecision-making role. “They’re involved in a more hands-on way in the business,helping to make decisions in the areas of the business they’re working in.”Kevin Marchand, training anddevelopment manager with EWS Railway, saw the need to integrate secretarialstaff into the work of the team they were supporting, shortly after the companywas formed. “We’ve included them in teambriefings, but we’ve also developed their time management and report writingskills,” Marchland said.Which strategy to adopt? Adrie van der Luijt doesn’t rateproviding blanket training throughout the organisation. Instead, he suggeststhat training managers should “work with people to help them develop intoself-confident, proactive team players who really add value to yourorganisation”.He also confirms that the days ofdictating to secretaries have disappeared. Van der Luijt points out that inSweden, inadequate training and a lack of respect for the secretarialprofession has led to the closure of the last secretarial college. “Big-name Swedish companies aredesperate for qualified people who want to work as secretaries. We haven’tquite reached that point in the UK, but there’s a real danger that the bestpeople will leave to work on their own terms”.Employers who fail to invest intheir secretaries’ employability may find themselves having a lot more to dothan just making the coffee…Helen Vandevelde is abusiness consultant and professional speaker on the future of work, [email protected] She will deliver a keynote presentationon talent management in the global economy at the IQPC Forum for HR andrecruitment directors in London on 25 June Case studyCash bonuses forMicrosoft usersOne popular knowledge-basedqualification among secretaries is the Microsoft Office User Specialist orMous. Its modular structure enables people to exploit the features of Microsoftdesktop applications like Word, Excel, Access, Outlook and Powerpoint. Entrantsget the result of the one-hour assessment within minutes.Will Hawkins says he receivespositive feedback from people who have completed the qualification. “They referto the advantage of a globally recognised qualification. People say they’remore productive and it makes life easier because they understand the programmesbetter. “Some people use it to go on tobetter things. Others are happy with the enhancement they get with their day-to-day work,” he says.Steve Rogers, program manager EMEAWest Microsoft Office User Specialist Program, is himself a Master in Office 97and Master in Office 2000, in addition to being an authorised instructor inboth. He points out how committed employers are to the scheme. “Some companies are so keen forcertification to be rolled out that they pay cash bonuses to staff whichachieve these certifications. That’s a sign that employers are taking this veryseriously.”He adds, “The exam allows candidatesto explore different techniques during the test by utilising a full workingversion of the application, unlike other ‘simulation-based’ computer assessmenttests. Thanks to this, candidates have reported learning new features as anoutcome of assessment. That makes taking the exam very satisfying and fun to do.“Its popularity is growing fast too.We’re starting to get some major blue-chip companies on board, and publicsector too like county councils and police forces.’Marion Coles, IT training and usersupport manager with Nabarro Nathanson, one of the UK’s leading commercial lawfirms, saw Mous as an opportunity to raise the profile and skill level of thefirm’s trainers, as well as the secretarial staff. “I thought, ‘This is great.Our training centre can become an approved testing centre and our trainers willhave the opportunity to work to the highest level and gain the respect theydeserve’. “The secretaries grew in confidencein their ability to use the applications. They were given a globally recognisedbenchmark to enable them to work to the highest level. That’s exactly whathappened.”Case studyDrivingemployability at EWS RailwayEWS Railway developed its MovingInto Management Programme in 1999. It is open to all employees, and aims todevelop employability skills with participants setting the agenda.Kevin Marchand says, “It’s aprogramme that aims to draw out the potential of people with latent talent.Basically, it’s up to them. They put themselves forward and they’ve got a lotof learning to do. Most of the people have succeeded in getting promotion.” The programme comprises modules on:– Self-awareness– Finance– Basic management skillsThe learning package also includeswork shadowing and managing a project. It is accredited through the OCRvalidating body.Participants have been warm in theirendorsement of the programme, according to Marchand. “Comments kept coming backlike, ‘I never knew I could do it’ and ‘this is great; I’ve stretched myself’.One person told me she’d learnt about things she didn’t know existed.” Marchand’s attitude to retentionfollowing the programme is realistic too. “They realise that these skills makethem more employable. Will they stay with our company? Well that’s up to us tokeep them attracted to working with us.” Previous Article Next Articlelast_img

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