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In my company, we have an administrative assistant who does not have a sophisticated degree, and whose experience is in doing data entry and simple bookkeeping.

I am considering having her take on crucial human-resource roles, such as morale building, employee welfare, bonus setting, and other jobs that require specific skills and that are crucial for my company's growth and survival.

On one hand I need people to help me with making sure my team is performing at the most optimum level, and on the other hand I don't feel comfortable to entrust this task to her as I believe this task would require her to have deep insight into human psychology and have great soft skills (something that only truly, truly great managers have, like Steve Jobs or Jose Mourinho).

Is it reasonable to have an administrative assistant transition to this role? If so, how can it go smoothly?

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    Could you please clarify what your "admin" does? Is she a business administrator? And what's your role in the company? And I don't think Jose Mourinho is a good example of someone having great soft skills. A great manager, but not the most likeable person in football, don't you think? – yannis May 31 '12 at 7:12
  • No, she is not a business admin. More like a glorified clerk. – Graviton May 31 '12 at 7:55
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    @Graviton The downvote was probably made because the voter believed the question was unclear. – Dynamic May 31 '12 at 10:36
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    I don't think you'd want Steve Jobs in HR :) – Nicole Jun 2 '12 at 6:02
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    The question is a bit old, but for the benefit of posterity, are you sure you can trust this person with decisions that can effectively undermine your company (and we are not talking about psychology, but rather petty favoritism, abuses of power and embezzlement)? What aspect of "morale-building" can she do better than you? Also, it is my firm opinion that letting non-managers decide on bonuses is outright dangerous. – Deer Hunter Dec 16 '12 at 12:52
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Focus on two things: Training and Trust

Training is key. There's a great deal of material, sites, courses etc. out there. Make sure she goes to some company provided education for the skills you desire.

Trust. This part is on you. You have to trust someone and not second guess them when giving them a new role. Allow them to make mistakes and learn the consequences. The consequences are NOT a berating from you and recommendation about "the right way" to do x, consequences are when bad procedures are followed and bad consequences ensure. You need to let them grow into the position and that can take quite a while. These are software skill areas and it's better if she doesn't feel the pressure to come charging in like a bull to make her impact (which frequently just pisses everyone off).

You will and should be giving her feedback of course. To do this set up a structure, maybe weekly meetings where you get the chance to give direction AND you also get the chance to LISTEN as her feedback and input is very important in order for her to succeed. Please stop thinking Steve Jobs, etc. He was a ** to work with personally and setting the bar, even if in your own mind, of 1 in a billion great managers is not really very fair to the person here.

You will need to promote and make her new position very clear to everyone so that they adjust their expectations. Say things like she'll even be keeping you in line, to indicate and promote her position of authority to others.

Finally, as this is a business, make sure you compensate fairly for the new role and set out a path of increased compensation if she's doing the job you specify well.

  • Wow, from your description, that's quite a new position and quite a new, harder challenge for the admin to take on! I think it is safe to say that if she did take on this role, she would be doing something substantially harder than what she is doing now... – Graviton Jun 2 '12 at 1:51
  • Yes, fully describing what it entails is useful. Iwas once put in a position that was stretch... but I wasn't trusted to make the stretch and because of that it didn't work. Remember senior managers were all fresh graduates once and although they may have more training, we all have to learn if we want to advance. – Michael Durrant Jun 2 '12 at 19:52
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College education has very little to do with the tasks you're describing. A person with no degree and excellent interpersonal skills will run rings around an oblivious PhD in stuff like this. (No offense meant to PhDs, oblivious or otherwise. :-) ) We used to have a receptionist who also assisted with HR matters and informal morale; she's such a great "people person" that people find it easy to talk with her and be inspired by her. She's probably the best "face of HR" I've ever worked with.

Your decision should be guided by the capabilities (including trainability) and interests of the person you're thinking about moving into this role.

  • None taken! But seriously, your point is clear -- the tasks the OP is describing have less to do with academic study and significantly more to do with personality and ability to learn the specifics of the tasks via whatever means necessary. – jcmeloni May 31 '12 at 17:12
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Have you discussed this potential role with the employee?

If they are willing to learn and keen to have the extra responsibilities then this can make up for a lack of qualifications and/or experience in the area. You can also offer the role on an 6 month (or whatever time period is mutually acceptable) trial after which the position becomes permanent (with a pay rise?) or the person reverts back to their original role with no loss of benefits.

You might also need to offer some initial training and mentoring in the new role - especially if it involves anything covered by employment law.

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Virtually every small office I have ever worked at has the administrative assistant do all of those tasks except the bonus setting (Processing the bonuses, yes, determinine what they should be is a management task that you should be doing). This generally happens until the office is large enough that the work needs to be split between two people. When that happens you genrally hire another admin assistant and make the first person, the HR specialist who has the AA report to her. At any rate if you are going to give her as lot of new work to do, she will deserve a raise.

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