I have been working with brand in the PA context since 2012; I have met some of the most dynamic and intelligence people working as assistants during this time, yet the misconceptions about the profession persist.
Have you ever been asked…”so (add your name here) when are you going to get a real job” or “why is an intelligent person like you doing a job like this?” I have, on numerous occasions, and I found it very offensive indeed. The sad part is that I know some of you have experienced this too. Technology and a multitude of factors has changed our role and our lives and yet for many business people (in their minds at least) we are still the people who type, answer the phone, make the tea and make no other real contribution to the team.
Well that is the big question! How have the stereotypes persisted when we have evolved so much? I don’t think I have the answer to this. I think that this view stems mainly from the patriarchal nature of business and the fact that an assistant is in a service or caregiver role.
But why is service seen as something less? Why are assistants in some cases expected to be subservient and in extreme cases treated like children, who should be seen and not heard? I think this is a legacy of an outdated mode of thinking that hasn’t kept pace with where the world economy is going.
We stand at the brink of what is being called “The Connection Economy” and in this new economy people want to trust, they want to speak to a person on a phone not follow an electro voice prompt. People are returning to a need for meaning and connection. If we want to remain relevant in the new economy, assistants and all employees will need to add something special, unique and deeply human to what they offer (emotional labour). If they don’t, their manager will simply find someone cheaper. So you are either premium or cheap…in the race to the bottom or the race to the top.
Which brings me back to the idea of our profession’s brand: Are we on the cusp of a big shift? Can we change the narrow view of the masses who don’t get what we do and definitely don’t value it? For me the answer has been and will always be YES!
So how do we shape this PA role brand?
1. Be the caretaker of your personal brand and take it seriously
As with all significant change I think we need to start by looking in the mirror, being accountable for our behavior and performance daily. By doing so we show (not tell) our immediate teams what a top tier office professional is capable of. When we step up our game and do it sincerely and consistently the world will take notice. If each assistant takes charge and does this in their own offices and companies, it will create millions of ripples that will eventually connect up. Start from the inside out as Steven Covey would say. Your brand has value, so treat is like an asset.
2. Do the right things – even when no one is looking
I think elements like responsibility, ethics, discretion and authenticity will give us the edge. Anyone who operates in this way will earn respect. We need to be aware of how we influence others and by virtue of that, how we lead them.
3. Speak positively about the profession and your peers (you are our brand champions)
I think that we create some of our own problems when it comes to the PA profession brand by what we say to ourselves and others. If you are confident and passionate about what you do, you respect your contribution. If you speak about what you do, then do so with energy and conviction. Let’s speak up when others are stuck in that “Mad Men” stereotype and set the record straight. Promote the brand, protect the brand and enhance the brand in every interaction.
4. Take on challenges and showcase your talent
Nobody is holding you back. In the words of Seth Godin “Pick yourself”, if you wait for someone to pick you or give you permission you will remain where you are. Many assistants I have met across the globe feel like they are working below their level of potential. My advice, pick yourself and volunteer for something which you are interested in or can add value to. Give yourself the opportunity to face your fears and grow your own confidence. Leave your comfort zone and actively seek out activities and people that will contribute to your growth. Knock your team’s socks off by showing them what you are capable of. We need to start creating opportunities not waiting for them. Learn about the business and sector of the economy that you are in. Understand what your executive and team does. Build a solid base of knowledge so that when you speak or act that you do so with authority.
5. Speak up, value yourself and show respect.
One of the big problems in the profession today is that we have a hard time speaking up, be it to ask for a raise, to attend training or to address conflict in the work place. Part of the solution is to value yourself, to know that you are a unique human being who brings something to the world that only you can. Finding that sense of worth will help you to deal with issues in a more confident and dignified way. When we find our voice and our value we start to operate from a place of power (not arrogance or aggression) and remember if you don’t ask, the answer will always be no!
6. Do the work and make each interaction a work of art (thank you Seth Godin)
If you read one book this year it should be Linchpin by Seth Godin, the man is a genius and explains this in a much better way than I ever could. Seth talks about putting something of yourself into your job, creating art not just doing a job. Seeing your job for more than the transactional components which can be replaced with something or someone cheaper. He talks about doing the work! We need to bring compassion and love back into the workplace and that is what will make us irreplaceable and memorable.
7. Stop saying “I am just a PA”
Hands down my biggest pet peeve! Why would you say that? If you don’t believe that you have the skills or are an important part of the team then why would anyone else? We should banish this phrase into the history books. You are all amazing and not “just” anything!
8. Guide colleagues who are letting down the side
Not every assistant loves what they do, not every assistant wants to stay an assistant for the long run but there is actually no excuse for some of the bad behavior that we see in our offices and companies. Is it any wonder that management doesn’t take us seriously when some of our colleagues behave in this way? I feel that here, especially the experienced EAs need to step up and address bad or inappropriate behavior in a supportive way and try and assist or rectify this situation by mentoring these individuals.
9. Pat yourself on the back
Often we go above and beyond and get no acknowledgement. This is a statement of fact. Yet make one small mistake and it resonates through your entire office for days (if not weeks). Yes this is a very thankless job but we should start to release the need for external appreciation. Congratulate yourself for a job well done, take pride in what you accomplish and make an effort to acknowledge good work done by your peers. This too has a ripple effect and creates a happier culture for all. Give what you wish to receive and it starts flowing your way!
10. Join the global PA community and be a contributor not a passenger
We truly are starting to become one profession, with one voice. We are gathering on social media platforms, meeting at events and through associations and forums. Our world is becoming smaller and ever more connected. We have access to information and support on a scale that I have not seen before in my career. We have professional role models that we can learn from and be inspired by. The challenge to you is to join the wave and play your part. We are at the start of something amazing so make sure that you offer of your time and talent to improve the profession for everyone.
By following at least some of these ten steps I believe we will get closer to the brand that we really want for our profession. We will entrench the idea that what we offer has value and that we are strategic business partners who make our executives and teams more efficient and perhaps more importantly, happier. Let’s go and do the work!