I recently celebrated 15 years’ service with my current employer – a massive milestone
because it is twice as long as I have worked anywhere else in a career that spans 32 years and has seen me make the shift from IT consultant to the professional PA.
In those 15 years I have had 6 managers, worked in 4 locations, switched role and responsibilities 8 times and undertaken 5 variations in work pattern.
I have been a PA for 12 out those 15 years and have experienced seismic evolution in the role during that period yet the most significant and transformational change event that I have been through occurred 7 years ago. One May day without warning, all the UK company’s divisional managers, regional directors and PAs received email invitations to compulsory meetings at a hotel in London the next day. At the meetings the new UK MD announced a major restructure of the company. We were all put at risk of redundancy.
Huge change was coming. I was either going to be leaving or applying for a very different PA role in intense competition with my peers. Nothing would be the same again. There were over 50 PAs in the UK before the restructure. There would be just 13 afterwards. There wasn’t a PA position in my location nor was there one at a place I could readily travel to. All the PAs poured out on to the street after the meeting. Some in shock, some in tears, some angry, some bitter, some philosophical and then there was me.
It was a strange piece of comfort to take looking back, but I remember feeling gratitude. I had never met the previous UK MD or ever been in the same room as them and yet here was this new MD, architect of a significant strategic shift in the national business who had just had to deliver to a large number of anxious and hostile people, the most unwelcome news anyone ever wants to receive in the workplace. Rather than rolling out that responsibility to someone else, he did it personally. He recognised that it was that important. I had a lot of respect for that. As we filed out of our seats he stepped down from the stage and offered his hand to each one of us that would take it for a consoling handshake. He didn’t bolt. He stood tall, the last to leave. That takes some guts.
So I came out of that meeting with a surprisingly positive attitude. I found myself fired up with anticipation and a total belief that I could make something good come out of the situation. I walked, and I walked for miles all the meandering way back from that hotel to my train station on the other side of London. I walked to clear my head; to dissipate the nervous energy that I was generating. Motivated and ready for action, I didn’t want to leave the company. I was sad. In all likelihood, I knew it was over. But if that was to be the case then I would go out with grace, aplomb and my head held high. Most importantly I would help and support my PA colleagues – some of whom had been at the company since leaving school and had known no other working life. I had been made redundant twice before, had survived and thrived, so I knew- taking the long view -it was not the end of the world even though it feels that way when the news first breaks.
I resolved to be positive and practical. I immediately volunteered to be the PA representative on the employee forum that was set up as part of the consultation process during the formal redundancy proceedings. I interviewed for a couple of the new PA positions that were on offer, in Southampton and Reading – realistically too far for me to travel to but the competency-based interview practice would prove valuable. I interviewed for external roles and I booked myself onto a VA conference -serious about considering that career change. And then an incredibly unexpected thing happened. The role of EA to the UK MD came up out of the blue when the incumbent chose not to return from maternity leave. I interviewed for the position and was successful. The leadership and professionalism I had demonstrated during that challenging phase paid off for me. I accepted – parked my VA plans and started commuting to London. Over the next 2 years I supported 2 successive UK MDs before returning to Surrey where I remain today, working for my previous boss.
The three key things I learned about navigating change from my experience of overcoming that sudden and unwanted threat of redundancy were:
How Change is communicated is critical to how successful that change will be received, accepted and supported by those affected by it.
Change is a fact of business life. Keeping positive and adopting an optimistic outlook helped me to overcome any fears and doubts and gave me the strength to support those around me who were not coping so well.
Embrace Change. Let it be an opportunity for you and not an obstacle– don’t fight it but seek to understand it, learn from it and then go out and be an educator and a champion for it.
I strive to keep in mind these 3 points as I support my Director today in implementing the changes both proactive and reactive that he continually makes across his business to stay competitive. Small or large, be it setting up a project, taking on a new employee, or indeed announcing a reorganisation of the business. I have come to understand that as PAs we are all agents of change. We thrive on it and I for one would have it no other way.
Essex PA Network works to promote the profiles of PAs, VAs and administrative support staff, and to help people make connections and to nurture their careers.