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  • Paul Hobin

The Christmas Gift: Smart-A** Quip; Deep Ideology

Updated: Oct 19, 2020

A particularly apt T-shirt: "I should be given an award for keeping my mouth shut when there's so much that needs to be said"





My mother-in-law gave me this shirt for Christmas. When I unwrapped it I laughed, loud and long. She has me nailed pretty well, and I am honored that she sees me so clearly.

So what – it’s a cute saying on a T-shirt. What does it have to do with work, the purpose of my Admin Mission web site and your future in your employment?

Well, we often say things on T-shirts and bumper stickers that are very close to our hearts and actually very important. Big ideas, succinctly stated, often expressed irreverently in irrelevant forums because they are desires that we cannot seem to realize in reality. Our bumpers and our bodies give voice to our frustration.

Do we not feel that at work, there’s so much that needs to be said? But we don’t say it. The company is too big, the bureaucracy too inert, we’re too insignificant, management won’t listen. We should be given an award for keeping our mouths shut.

And we say it on a T-shirt, so we can at least get it off our chest by putting it on our chest.

But the T-shirt is only half right. There IS so much to be said…that is true. But neither you nor I should be nominated for many awards for keeping our mouths shut because we shouldn’t be keeping them shut.

A major theme of my web site, a theme that I aim to convince you about, is that when there’s so much that needs to be said, then we owe it to ourselves and we owe it to the future of our companies to SAY IT. (But say it right.)

As I say elsewhere on this site:

Our duty is to change what is, with care, insight, political astuteness and wisdom, partnering with management, internal and external clients to deliver greater value and ensure that when we leave an employer they're better positioned for success than when we started. No matter where on the corporate ladder you sit, an administrator has the power to be a solution machine.

Our companies are in the middle of a fundamental change in employee relations that started 40 years ago and will probably continue for another 40, and it has a great deal to do with whether you and I have a voice or not, whether we get to speak and be heard at work, or only on our T-shirts.

Prior to computerization there were millions of jobs in the typing pool, the file room, the mail room, switchboards, reception and probably dozens of similar administrative labor pools I’m not aware of. These employees were critically important, but in their millions they individually contributed little to the direction of their enterprises.

Even 20 years ago I could go to a temp agency and they’d have me placed in two or three days into one of the many administrative positions that still existed that required little knowledge of the company – only the ability to answer the phone, type, and relate to people reasonably well.

Today those jobs are almost non-existent. Administrative staff, even at low levels, have more responsibility, more authority, and have more complex knowledge of their employers in order to perform their jobs. Two- and three-week administrative temp assignments practically don’t exist because no one can absorb the requisite complexity quickly enough to make it worthwhile.

That’s what has happened in the last 40 years and we’re at the point where the no-specialized-knowledge-required admin jobs are gone.

What happens next? Does the evolution just stop here and now, or does the transformation of administration have momentum that propels it forward into new areas? Where does this arrow of change point?

The change corporations have integrated already has seen decision-making pushed down into the admin ranks, allowing for faster action, quicker resolution of problems, greater client satisfaction, and heightened ability for management to invest time in strategic rather than operational issues. I believe the second half of admin transformation will see a greater democratization of authority, decision-making and the active solicitation of ingenuity and change from the ranks of employees. When there is something to be said, we will be expected to speak.

With admin staff making real decisions with real impacts, we are seeing where real problems lie and real improvements need to be made. And often we have superb insights into how to make those real improvements. Rather than being ignored we’re about to be invited to the table.

If you’re in a place where there’s so much to be said, then start saying it. Compile your observations and ideas into a plan for positive action. Don’t hand management a list of things they need to do for you; they already have enough without you adding more issues to their plate. What can you do to enact change? How much can you enact without asking permission? Assess the risks involved and do what you can on your own. Where you need management authority to proceed, propose steps that you can take, either alone or with colleagues, where you only need the authority to proceed and don’t need management time and effort. Demonstrate that you’re not going to just ask for change; you’re capable and in a position to actually drive change.

This is where some of our best enterprises (and hopefully the bulk of our corporations) are going to go in the next four decades: assimilating the inventive talent of all staff into the management and change engine that prepares the company for tomorrow.

Soon – today, for some of us in forward-thinking organizations – there are no awards for keeping our mouths shut when things need to be said. The awards are given for speaking up, contributing what we know and everything we can do to make the enterprise better. So let’s go win some awards!

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