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My administrative assistand has been with our office for almost 20 years and has worked directly with me for my entire career (almost 9 years) there. She is more than 20 years older than me and resents my attempts at helping her modify her behavior. For the entire time, she has had a hard time getting alone with some of the other admins, as well as some of the advisors. There has never been a strong management structure within our office from the branch manager and everyone pretty much tries to stay out of her way so as not to "set her off." We are all aware of many of her personal issues from home (problems with parents, kids, etc.) and have made every effory to be sympathetic.

For the last five weeks, she has been out of work on medical leave. She will be out for another two weeks and then can work two weeks for half a day. When she is at work, there is a great deal of tension between her and the other admins, among others. In fact, given any opportunity to talk with her peers while she is out, there routinely some sort of issue that she has taken offense to (not enough “check in emails” or people won’t let her recover or folks check in asking when she’ll be back, which is the wrong thing to do). I have already had two of her three peers mention that they appreciated the current office atmosphere, free of alot of tension and honestly I can see the point.

I have listened to alot of your casts now and understand feedback and the coaching model, but how does this work in my situation. I have been asked by our branch manager to get ther required credentials to manage the branch and I can see this being an issue that will require my attention (and should have already). She is a hard worker on administrative tasks, but not interested in career development (learning new skills or continuing ed) and the work is getting done in the interim without her being there. I feel like the firm resources that she utilizes could be better invested elsewhere, but know that the right thing to do given our relationship and her longevity with the firm is to try to help her meet the expectations of the firm. I am just not sure how to do it after letting things run the wrong way for too long.

I have a couple of weeks to come up with a gameplan and would appreciate your advice...

nathanbeaudry's picture

I think the only way you really can deal with a situation like this is through giving frequent feedback. I've been in a similar situation in the past and it's really difficult, particularly when someone has been allowed to get away with behavior like this for so long.

It's difficult to be the first person to start this and you will undoubtedly be the bad guy in her eyes.

People tend to eventually have their senses dulled to people with inappropriate behavior and start using the phrase, "Oh, well that's just the way they are." But people with inappropriate behavior at work need to realize that "the way they are" is not appropriate or conducive to an amicable and effective working environment.

More importantly, people have more choice in their behavior than a lot of people will admit.

She should certainly be part of your weekly one-on-ones and that would be a great way to ease into the feedback that you need to give her.

I don't evny you your position. It's a tough one to be in. :)

WVH's picture

You may want to listen to the 3 podcasts on making your asst more effective.. and require that she listen to them, as well.

http://www.manager-tools.com/2006/05/effective-executiveefficient-assist...

bflynn's picture

My reaction - In this case, I would think the communication goes out primarily to the company, not to your admin. She is out dealing with something, give her space and time. Her complaints are probably more about blowing off steam, not actual complaints. Since you're broadcasting, feedback isn't the right thing for the first contact, but follow ups with individuals should use feedback.

Two actions that I would take -
1) request that most (all) communications be directed through you. This will keep you in the loop and allow you to screen things that really need to go to her. Will it temporarily make you less effective? Yes. But for the 20 years this lady has given to your company, this is the smallest thing you can do. You only have to do this full time for two weeks and two weeks part time after that.

2) establish a regular 5-10 minute call with her two to three times a week. This isn't a data dump, its a "check in" call - "is there anything you need? Carol down in accounting would like you to call her, etc." Make sure she knows that she can call you at any time AND when she calls, take the call immediately, over everything else, including calls from customers and your boss.

Bottom line - life is valuable...I think a lot of times, we forget that whatever we're doing in business pretty much becomes irrelevant when there is a crisis. Life trumps everything.

My belief; your mileage may vary.

Brian

carhamp's picture

I really appreciate the feedback so far. I have listened to the podcast on helping my assistant become more efficient/effective and will ask her to listen to them upon her return. I can get through the next four weeks without alot of trouble and will my best to check in more frequently (I have been out to see her a couple of times and even too our entire team over to visit her for lunch once).

My primary concern is the office environment and improving her performance within the office when she returns. I understand that she is going through a difficult situatin and want to be sensitive to that, but do not want to return to the way things were from a culture perspective when she rerurns to work. As I am going to become the branch manager officially in a month or two I thought that might be a good time to begin my behavior modification efforts with all of the admin staff members, including her. This would allow me to explain to them the vision going forward and the part they will be expected to play in the team structure. Then I can give feedback from there out based on that understanding of roles and responsibilities.

What do you think?

cowie165's picture

This is a little left-field, but could rearranging your office space a little help convey that things are changing (or... things have already changed)? Any chance that a slight change of scene might assist or is that more likely to upset your PA?

You have mentioned that she is a hard worker yet has little career/personal development aspirations - is there a way to use knowledge? Does she pride herself on being a good worker and is unintentionally abrasive or is she more of a 51% mentality?

Mark

itilimp's picture

[quote="carhamp"]I am going to become the branch manager officially in a month or two I thought that might be a good time to begin my behavior modification efforts with all of the admin staff members, including her. This would allow me to explain to them the vision going forward and the part they will be expected to play in the team structure. Then I can give feedback from there out based on that understanding of roles and responsibilities.

What do you think?[/quote]

I think that if anything is going to help her change her ways on return to work then this is a good time to do it. The key is that you aren't singling her out but stating what you expect from EVERYONE. You can then address the gaps to achieving those expectations in one-on-ones.

Also, depending on the nature of her being off - it's a wonder what self truths can be learnt during the process and changes in behaviour that often arise because of it.

Good luck!