Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Operations File: The lynch pin of efficiency

It is never so important than in a recession to ensure that administration services are working. It is almost pointless to invest in marketing and sales teams if once you've secured customers, clients and orders there isn't the manpower or hours to deliver your products or services because of poor or inefficient administration. The knock on effect will be an increase in complaints on from customers, a bad reputation and a loss of business. Get your administrative department right though and absolutely everything can become possible.

From databases, correspondence, supplies to processing of orders and passing on details for billing, it falls to your administration team to hold the whole thing together, to action absolutely everything and keep track of every single detail of your enterprise's endeavours. 

With goalposts moving continually it is essential that they can stay calm under intense pressure and most of all efficient. They can only ever hope to achieve those goals with a constant stream of updates on the latest information from staff at all levels of the enterprise. Sadly it is often at management level that log jams occur so vital details don't get passed on succinctly and clearly. Overcome that though, and miraculous things can happen.

The job title of Administrator covers perhaps the broadest range of levels and duties in any office environment, from those who do little more than open mail and take outgoing post to a post office, to full blown secretarial and PA skills who require speed typing, advanced knowledge of every conceivable office program, short-hand, audio typing and even managerial skills. Too many are under-valued for what they actually contribute to any operation. It is not uncommon for them to assist marketing or finance teams, book travel, meetings, venues or undertake all manner of final checks. They are the lynch pins to all business operations precisely because their stock in trade is co-ordinating and distributing information that enable the enterprise to function at all. However, lower wages and vague job titles that seldom reflect their versatility are common for a multitude of strategic reasons which can make the difference to them having employment or not. Sometimes it's a fair deal, sometimes it is not.

In medium to large organisations, is it now common for administrators to have a good level of database experience along with MS Office suites and/or the Mac equivalents, although for charities and social enterprises Open Office (which is free) is not uncommon. All systems claim to be compatible with each other, however to ensure they are in some instances can be er.... 'challenging'. 

Competition for anyone seeking a role at any level of administration is fierce at any time. If you're an expert in one database system alone, expect only employers who use that database program to be interested in employing you, regardless of how quickly you learn. However, this can be a bad move on the part of the employer, because a good administrator needs above all to be adaptable, able to grasp new concepts, procedures, systems and programs quickly given how rapidly technology advances, and that's besides whatever trends and economic forces are prevalent at any point.

In extremely general terms, there are I think only a few types of administrative 'styles', so the answer is to choose the style or type that suits your immediate needs - but look out for candidates who show promise for longer term development. There is a distinct advantage to keeping a good administrator on board for many years - they will come to know the company well and how it needs to work. Chopping and changing administrative staff can lead to all manner of missed items, confused files and lost information simply because each will organise things according to what makes procedures work most efficiently for them. This if fine if you keep them but can be disastrous if you don't and keep changing staff. Best to find out at interview stage what their preferred procedural style is to see if they are a match for your business or not.

Key types of administrators

Clerical organisers - Don't be fooled by this category of administrative support. If WildeHeads had, as originally intended set up as a business, this would have been the first member of staff I would have employed. The reason is simple - they would have handled the proof-reading, the drafts of letters, post, archives and retrieval of data for me as well as scanning, photocopying, collation of documents, invoicing, basic research, some tweeting etc etc. In effect freeing up my time to network and secure contracts. It is in my opinion, a waste of time employing any member of staff if you do not trust them to do what you have employed them for. If you are constantly breathing down their neck and checking up on them it becomes counter productive and results in two people doing the job of one. 

There is an exception to this, and that is when you enter the world of using volunteers and social firms who develop disadvantaged people (including the unemployed) to give them training and skills which will hopefully result in paid employment. Some social firms pay staff from the start so that they earn as they learn - very much the same idea behind modern apprenticeships schemes.

Data entry masters - those who are accurate and at least moderately fast at typing (50wpm is average) and/or possess a comprehensive knowledge of office suite programs. Taking the example of a clerical organiser, this is what you should hope to develop them into, but be fair - increase their salary or expect to lose them to another employer. If that happens you have to start afresh and you will usually end up paying more in time spent settling them in if nothing else. 

Detail masters - those who are meticulous but not at the expense of too much extra time finalising work. They are usually excellent proof-readers and often highlight additional items that need to be incorporated into large and complex project plans with regard to documentation.

Program masters - those who can adapt to any new program within a reasonable amount of time, learn their tricks and their pitfalls. I have never come across an administrator yet who could not improve upon the facilities and functions provided by any database program if you ask them what would help. The reason for this is simple, every business is in effect bespoke. No universally available commercial program can be. Time spent allowing new staff get thoroughly acquainted with the programs they use will always pay dividends in the end. A month of intensive learning should determine whether they can get to grips with them or not should be sufficient if not ample for each program. Much depends on what you, as their employer want them to achieve.

Speed masters - Those who either can speed type, audio type or are proficient in shorthand are the obvious administrators of this category, but they can also include 'program masters' and the next category...

Strategic organisers - those would possess an above average understanding of how administration fits into the whole operation of any organisation, business or enterprise and who use that knowledge to make all administrative duties run super efficiently. Job titles tend to reflect this knowledge, but not always. In effect they are at the top of the scale as it is their comprehensive understanding of the logistical requirements that can save many a manager, director or CEO from missing something vital. 

Of course there are also administrators who are any combination of any or all of the above too. 

Finally... GIGO
Whatever happens to be your administrative requirement, the most important thing to note is the acronym GIGO - garbage in, garbage out. It is of paramount importance that you ensure that administrators at whatever level get clear and precise instructions in order for them to be able to be productive, effective and efficient. If you garble instructions or only hint at what you want from them; if you fail to provide all the information they need to perform the tasks set, the result will cost your enterprise time and probably money.

It is far better to invest time in ensuring that administrative staff have a full understanding of your requirements at the outset to the point that you are assured that they can perform it, than dump things on them as you rush to another meeting. If you don't do this then you will only have yourself to blame for the loss of time spent correcting errors which can and does at times run into days and weeks of work having to be unpicked and done again.

The same is true of instructing any member of staff of course, but never more so than of your administrator(s). So if any of them ask you for more information or a moment of your time... my advice is make sure you make time to support them. They could possibly save you from many an embarrassing or awkward experience, not to mention costly ones.  

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.