Having a Strong Networks and Being Resourceful: Key Factors for Growth for Office Support and Secretarial Talent

In 2018, Karine Green joined Magrabi Retail as an Executive Assistant to the CEO. Since then, she has grown into the role of a Business Manager providing personal and corporate support to the CEO and business support to the CFO. As you can imagine, the range of work Karine manages daily is hugely varied, from managing personal travel-related and social engagements to office management, board agendas and meeting minutes, to name a few. 

Komal Pamwani, a Senior Consultant responsible for recruiting Secretarial and Office Support positions in the Middle East at Michael Page, interviewed Karine to understand the factors critical to her career progression and how she successfully navigates multiple senior stakeholders, different priorities and wide-ranging tasks, on a daily basis. 

1.    You have a lot on your plate in your current role as a Business Manager – how do you manage your time? 

Karine: I generally try to split my day into three parts: I spend the first part of the day ‘fire-fighting’, completing quick or urgent tasks, basic admin work, checking my inbox, making calls and managing diaries. In the second part of my day, I focus on work that requires more planning and concentration. And for the third and final part of my day, I look at ‘future’ tasks such as logistics, following up on tasks, checking and firming up plans, etc. 

Final third – looking ahead – checking all plans, diaries, logistics, tasks etc etc for the next day and next couple of days, reconfirming, following up, double checking etc

But I always plan my week with contingency time; often things come up that can take over my whole day or entire morning, so I’m constantly rejuggling and reprioritising my workload, based on the changing needs of the CEO and CFO and the company. And I always work from a to do list!

2.    How important is flexibility at work for you? As a support function what is the kind of flexibility you desire? 

Karine: To be successful in this role, you must be flexible, it’s pretty much 24/7 role, but there is also give and take. There are days, evenings, and weekends where there is constant work, but then there is also quieter period, so there’s a nice balance. Having just returned from maternity, I need to factor my child into my days. My line managers and the organisation have been amazingly supportive, allowing me to work flexibly from home and the office. Of course, I have to be available at the right time to perform my role effectively, but I can manage my work around my home life too. 

3.    What are the top three soft skills you would consider most important to being successful in your role? 

Karine: I’ll give you my top four most important skills! 

  • Relationship building – You cannot perform this role on your own, you need the support of both internal and external stakeholders to make things happen, and a strong network of contacts. Also, the successful relationship with the CEO and CFO relies on the right ‘chemistry’. 
  • Discretion – This role involves a high-level of exposure to confidential, private, market-sensitive information and documentation – you must know how to be discreet, how to behave correctly, how to handle sensitive requests and to know how much / when disclosure is required to get things done.
  • Resilience – It is one of the most amazing, varied, and insightful jobs you can have, and equally, the role is intense and high-pressure - you must be resourceful, have a thick skin and play the role of a gatekeeper. Things change constantly, a lot can go wrong or not go to plan, and you can spend ages working on something only for it to change at the last minute. But all of this is what makes it one of the most exciting, challenging and rewarding of roles. 
  • If you are requesting something from someone, apply the ‘principle of least effort’ whereby you offer to support them in any possible way, so that they have to put in as little effort to be able to fulfil your request

4.    Do you think upskilling is important for your role and how do you build your performance development plan?

Karine: I think upskilling and learning is important for any role, so you can continually improve what you do to provide the best level of service and performance. In the wake of the pandemic, the talent market is virtual and global, so the competition for jobs will always be high. Your PDP should be built around your long-term career aspirations and what you discuss and agree with your Line Manager - some view the EA role as a stepping-stone to a larger role, others want to excel at it and become top of their game. I learn something new every day in this role, I’m always keeping a list of how to do something better next time, creating standards and blueprints for the future.

5.    How do you measure your performance and how important do you think it is to communicate your results to your stakeholders?

Karine: My performance is measured as part of the annual performance management cycle - the objectives set at the start of the year, and performance against them assessed mid-year and end-of-year. A % is based on company performance, but majority on the tiered rating system of self-assessment and feedback from my Line Managers. Personally, I consider in-the-moment feedback just as important and valuable. 

In terms of communicating results more widely, a big part of the EA role is to work quietly behind the scenes, making everything happen seamlessly and smoothly; if I am not performing well, things would grind to a halt, and mistakes and underperformance would be obvious, therefore I think efficiency and success is inherent in my day-to-day performance and at key moments.

6.    Your role requires you to work closely with senior leaders. How do you position yourself to demonstrate the criticality of your role and what have been some of the key learnings? 

Karine: This role is a critical gatekeeper role, balancing the needs of the senior leadership team (SLT) with the priorities and availability of my Line Managers. Without this role, there would be a huge bottleneck of requests and scheduling, and the volume of requirements would outweigh their capacity. I’m constantly balancing priorities (both business and personal) with urgency, importance, and capacity and so it’s a constant juggling of time and tasks, and assessment of how to make the impossible possible. But, as I mentioned earlier, it’s about building relationships with team members, outside networks and SLTs, so they can approach me, feel they can work with me and that I’m doing my best for all parties to make things happen. Being honest, having the courage to say no, and challenge the norm/think outside the box, are some of the other factors that can determine your success. To summarize: 

  • Citing ‘because the CEO says so’ will only work for some time, eventually, to get your work done, your direct relationship with people is what will matter the most
  • Relationship building – This is critical at all levels and to build people’s confidence and trust 
  • Know the business – good knowledge of frontline, and other departments really helps
  • Don’t procrastinate! 
  • If you don’t know, ask
  • Mistakes happen, but don’t make the same one twice
  • Always try and think ahead, pre-empt, and be organized, and check and double check
  • Keep good records – save everything!

You can also watch the interview with Karine Green which is featured as part of our Successful Journeys – Middle East series.

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