Richard Branson, Entrepreneur and Founder of The Virgin Group including more than two dozen companies, calls himself a "tie-loathing adventurer and thrill seeker, who believes in turning ideas into reality. Otherwise known as "Dr. Yes at Virgin!" When he was asked recently on LinkedIn what things he carried on his travels, his response was this essay.
Smart Phone? I Prefer a Brilliant Assistant
"I couldn't get through the workday without my assistant, Helen. While gadgets like smartphones and tablets certainly do have a huge positive impact upon my working life, it is the people around me who really make the difference. Helen is my memory. She travels the world with me, is delightful to have around, and is extremely adaptable and sociable wherever we find ourselves. With so much going on with my mind, having an extra memory is important. Before I ask her to do something, she can read my mind and know what I am thinking before I ask. There are some people who seem to be able to do everything themselves. I am a great believer in the art of delegation and in sharing the load to make everyone more productive. Having an assistant who is completely in the loop with our activities means we can keep up with everything. People often ask how I am able to keep on top of businesses in dozens of different countries and industries. Well, having an assistant who is on the ball 24/7 is one of the main ways it is possible.
We are a moving office. I don't believe in sitting in an office all day, so there is no reason for one's assistant to have to sit in an office either. This makes Helen's job a lot more fun too. I find dictating emails is an excellent timesaving method, and by dictating she also knows what is going on and can be 100% in touch. We do an awful lot of traveling and my assistant can smooth the journeys through, helping with the nitty-gritty details and logistics that would otherwise be a distraction. This frees up time for me to think about the bigger picture.
Many people are using technology to make assistants a thing of the past. However, for those businesspersons in a position to do so, they may be missing a lot by going it alone. Assistants are a great sounding board for new thoughts and spark lots of fresh ideas. Plus, business travel can be pretty mundane sometimes and having company is very good for people.
Before Helen I was lucky enough to have Nicki Elliott, a wonderful assistant who has stayed in the Virgin family, where she does sterling work for our foundation Virgin Unite. Back in the beginning I had Penni Pike, a remarkable lady who travelled with me for 28 years.
I have also been fortunate to have brilliant assistants including Sue Hale and Saskia Dornan who have worked in Virgin for many years as invaluable parts of the Group. Sam Cox and Alexia Hargrave, having seen an entrepreneur close at hand have gone on to become entrepreneurs themselves, with Sam looking after celebrities on trips to Australia and Alexia organising wonderful events (including Sam and Holly's weddings and our Virgin Trains celebrations). Sarah Ireland went on to work at Virgin Atlantic, while Louella Faria joined our spaceship company Virgin Galactic and Emma Dona moved to work in the US. One of my very first assistants was the delightful Caroline Gold, who left to have beautiful triplets.
Sometimes I feel that assistants work harder than the people they are working for and show unbelievable diligence - all of my assistants over the years certainly have. They really do become part of the family, and I count my assistants among my greatest friends too."
In the above article you read how a super-charged, super-successful entrepreneur like Richard Branson admits that having a super-assistant is the key to his success. I know that many of your managers feel the same about the exceptional services you provide to them and this competition endeavours to give you the acknowledgement you deserve for the extraordinary work you do.
Often I meet office professionals you undervalue their contribution and who don't think they could stand up to the competition. I would like to encourage you to banish that thought from your mind and believe in your achievements and what you could plough back into the profession. We have had such an eclectic but gifted group of winners over the past few years drawn from huge corporates and not for profit organisations alike. Our finalists have come from throughout South Africa and, even when they have not walked away with the title, they have walked away with new friends, an expanded network and some fabulous prizes.
We have made the entry process as simple as possible. All that is required is for you to prepare either one or two short essays (depending on the categories you are entering) and to submit it to me by 15 July.
Take an hour or two out of your busy schedule and invest in yourself! The winner stands in line to receive a cash prize of R15 000 generously sponsored by Rexel Office Products and a place at the 2014 Office SA conference valued at more than R10 000 as well as lots of other goodies.
You are welcome to contact me by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or you can call me at (012) 993 0881 for more information. I hope to receive your application soon.
Clarity is important in all business writing. But when you communicate across cultures, being clear is essential. Your co-workers and customers who speak English as a second, third, or fourth language will understand you more quickly and easily if you strive to make your messages clear. Apply these tips.
Write short sentences. Everyone--including native English speakers--can understand short, simple sentences more easily than long, complex ones. When sentences are long, readers must work harder to understand the relationships between the pronouns (it, they, their), conjunctions (but, if, yet), and other sentence parts. Long sentences are also more difficult to translate.
Use words and phrases that have few meanings. For example, the verb manufacture has just a few meanings, but the verb make has dozens. If you mean "manufacture," use that word. Avoid words that have two opposite meanings such as oversight and sanction.
Use simple verb forms such as present, past, and future tense (write, wrote, will write) whenever possible. Avoid more complicated verb tenses (will have written, might have been writing) that your readers may not have mastered despite years of studying English. For example, use "Will you attend the conference?" rather than "Will you be planning on attending the conference?" Use "If you have questions" rather than "Should you find you have questions."
Avoid contractions and abbreviations. Some people can easily recognize contractions such as that's, it's, and who's. But other readers may confuse them with possessive forms (for example, Iris's). Readers both near and far will misunderstand abbreviations and acronyms. IRA means "individual retirement account" to some people and "Irish Republican Army" to others.
Learn about words that are different for various English-speaking audiences. For example, you may know a fleshy purple vegetable as an "eggplant," but your readers may think of it as a fruit called an "aubergine."
Use concrete language rather than figurative language or slang. Although figurative language and slang may seem perfect for one reader or a small group of native English speakers, they fail miserably across cultures. For example, the common expression "bang for the buck" is offensive to many people. Use "return on investment" instead.
Use plain English. Replace any word your readers are not likely to know, for example, upshot, drive-by, and purview. Replacing such words improves clarity for everyone who read your documents.
Spell out dates. Use October 3, 2013, or 3 October 2013 rather than 10/3/13 or 3/10/13, which may confuse many of your readers. Some companies follow the ISO 8601 (International Organization for Standardization) standard format: 2013-10-03, but your readers may still be confused unless they recognize the standard.
Use simple formatting. Your readers may be reading a plain text version of your message rather than HTML. Realize that your smiley face may appear to them as a letter J. (Instead of using a smiley face, use words to say what you mean.)
Remember that communication is everyone's responsibility. If you cannot understand a written message from a co-worker or a customer, take the initiative to find out what the individual means, without placing blame. You may learn that "revert" means "reply" and that "few" means "a few" when your co-worker across the globe uses it. Enjoy gaining new insights!
Based on SAQA's Unit Standard 12155, NQF Level 4, 5 Credits
Organisations establish their credibility with professional and well-written correspondence. From basic grammar to tone and style, business writing skills are essential for individuals at every level in today's communication driven organisations.
This two-day course provides delegates with immediate and practical guidance on how to communicate effectively and professionally through written communication.
From planning to final proofreading, delegates will quickly develop their writing skills and confidence, learning how to improve their emails, letters, memos and reports. Delegates are encouraged to bring with them written examples to receive personal feedback from the trainer.
Plan, prepare and write with greater confidence and less input from your manager
Construct letters, memos, emails and reports that get results
Produce written communications that relay your message to the recipient in a positive, professional and persuasive manner
Save time and handle correspondence with less instruction
Adapt your writing style to suit the nature of the correspondence whilst achieving clarity and brevity
Write accurately and professionally, avoiding unnecessary jargon or clichés
Avoid common errors and use sentences, paragraphs and punctuation correctly and effectively
Analyse and edit your work quickly and constructively, and adopt effective proofreading techniques
Cape Town: 9 - 10 July
Durban: 27 - 28 August
Johannesburg: 27 - 28 June
Pretoria: 20 - 21 August
Investment: R4050 (Ex VAT)
To make a booking contact Claudette at 012 998 3668 or email her at Claudette@siyanqoba.co.za. To see the full range of training and qualifications offered by Siyanqoba Private FET college visit www.siyanqoba.co.za.
It is estimated that as much as 80% of business correspondence today is done via email. As much as we rely on this form of communication few of us give much thought to our 'out of office' messages. If this message is unprofessional it can impact on how we are perceived by others and can hinder business processes.
The out of office email message seems to be such a simple thing. So simple in fact that most of us give it little thought. At best it's dashed off in a minute or two at the end of our final day at work before we start our holiday, or even when we are travelling away on business. At worst it's forgotten altogether.
When composing your out of office message it's worth remembering that this single email will probably be read by hundreds of business counterparts. Research shares the top ten rules to follow to avoid making a heinous 'out of office' mistake:
Don't forget to set one up. Sounds obvious but all of us have probably forgotten to set our out of office up before time out of the office only to return to find messages from annoyed contacts who thought we were ignoring them.
Forgetting to say when you'll be back. You need to let people know when you'll be back in the loop again right. If you are travelling on business (and we all know that the international data costs are very high), at least share in your out of office, that you are travelling on business therefore, there will be a slight delay in responding to email, however, you will respond.
Getting the dates wrong. This is worse than forgetting to say it altogether because it makes you look stupid. We often get out of office messages from people promising to return before they depart.
Going into too much detail about why you're away and where you are going. It's just thinly veiled bragging. No one is remotely interested. From a business perspective, it is imperative just to add what is necessary, and perhaps put a name and number of a person who can be contacted in your absence.
Being rude. You may be out of the office but that's no excuse to be rude to people. Your out of office needs to say please and thank you. Also avoid jargon and clichés such as you'll 'revert' when you get back.
Being too friendly. Workers often write out of office messages with their friends in mind so the tone is casual and informal. They forget that this message will be sent to everyone who gets in touch over the coming weeks so it needs to be professional. No 'mate's or 'darling's.
Forgetting to give alternative contact details. Just because you aren't there doesn't mean the business has to grind to a halt. So remember to give the details of someone who can manage inquires if you aren't there.
Forgetting to tell your alternate contact that they are your alternate contact. There is no point in giving your boss's contact details without even telling her. Even worse she could be on holiday too. Make sure that the person you select to be your contact is up to date with your current projects.
Trying to be funny. Out of office messages should be clear concise and polite. But they don't need to be funny unless you're a professional stand up.
Forgetting to turn the darned thing off. You've had your holiday and now you're back in the office. But your email keeps telling people you are still away. We've seen these go on for weeks and even months after someone's return. Turn it OFF.
If something happened and you missed work for a week, two weeks, or even a month, could your co-workers step in and fulfill your responsibilities without a major interruption to your office? Are your daily procedures documented for easy reference? Does your manager or executive really know all you do each day? If you answered "no" to any of these questions, you need to get to work on your administrative procedures project right away.
Creating solid step-by-step documentation takes thought and effort, but the end result can be used over and over again by anyone who needs it, including you.
There are many compelling reasons for creating documented office procedures. If you want to take a holiday, get sick unexpectedly, or need to attend a conference, procedures allow others to fill in for you with little disruption to the office.
Many companies are putting an emphasis on business continuity and disaster recovery planning, internal and external audit requirements, and succession planning. Documented procedures are vital to each of these areas.
There's career value in it, too. Developing an office procedures binder shows your professionalism and demonstrates an attitude of service that your executives and team members will recognize. It also helps you demonstrate initiative, provides leadership experience, and allows you to gain visibility in your department and organization. At performance review time, your procedures binder provides visual proof of the tasks you perform and the daily value you add.
Embarking on your procedures project may seem like an overwhelming and daunting task at first. But it doesn't have to be. Use these five simple steps to keep yourself on track and moving forward throughout the project:
- Assemble the right tools for the job
- Track your tasks for a few days
- Document your top five procedures
- Identify what to include in your procedures binder
- Organize your procedures binder
Here are some things to keep in mind as you explain your key responsibilities in procedure format:
- Use a template to stay on track and consistent from task to task
- Chronicle each process step by step and be as detailed as possible
- Write in commands rather than sentences. (e.g. open this file, click here, save)
- Bullet points or numbered lists are a lot easier to digest than paragraphs
- Give visual examples, such as screen shots, for computer-related tasks or include sample forms
- Ask someone to do the task based only on your documented procedure to determine whether it's detailed enough
Here are just a few procedure ideas to get you brainstorming on other procedures you may want to include:
- Handling basic office operations, such as transferring phone calls, routing mail, making the coffee, proofreading tips.
- Information or resources you refer to regularly, including organizational charts, facility maps, phone lists, and branding standards.
- Details about recurring events or meetings you coordinate.
- Phone, computer, and video conferencing system user guides.
- Department, manager, or project specific information.
- Checklists, forms, and templates.
- Disaster recovery or business continuity plans.
The best way to document and keep track of all your procedures is to insert them into your procedures binder as you complete them. Once you have several procedures, organize them based on the list of possible sections you outlined.
Once you have your procedures documented and your admin binder assembled, make sure it is located in a place that's easily accessible to you, your executive, and team members. All these people should know exactly where to find it in case you're not reachable.
Procedures are essential for any admin who wants to be successful in the job and keep the office running smoothly. When you are out of the office, it's nice to be missed. But it's also nice when things can take care of themselves so you don't return to a pile of problems or unhandled business. Make the commitment to start on your administrative procedures now.
Essential Skills for PAs, Secretaries, & Admin Assistants 2013
29 - 31 May 2013, Protea Hotel Parktonian All Suites, Braamfontein, Johannesburg
Find out more & Booking Form
Office SA 2013
9 - 11 June 2013, Sun City (North West Province)
Find out more | Booking form
Executive PA Seminar
12 June 2013, Crowne Plaza Johannesburg | The Rosebank, Johannesburg
Find out more | Booking form
OPSA Rexel SA National Office Professional of the Year Award
Closing date 15 July 2013
Find out more | Entry form
"It Works for Me" - Annual OPSA Conference (Must attend!)
4 - 5 September 2013, Misty Hills Resort, Gauteng
Find out more | Booking form
Meet Digi-Mag is a monthly fully interactive multimedia Digi-Mag aimed at Meeting Managers in SA corporates, including an interactive directory of venues and service providers. Meet Digi-Mag offers the reader strategic solutions for achieving key objectives in the planning of offsite meetings, conferences and events. Find out more
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