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The Star Profile & Avoiding the Coffee Problem

In my last post, I described how a litigation tool became a tool of employee engagement—the “Star Profile.” In this post, I’ll apply it in a specific context—my relationship with my administrative assistant.

Although my administrative assistant does many things, from my perspective the following three sentences capture her most valuable behaviors/actions:

  • Generates and files documents promptly and accurately
  • Takes charge of my professional and administrative compliance responsibilities
  • Puts herself in my travel shoes, making arrangements that consider time, cost, whom I need to see, and what needs to happen

The First Sentence—Generating and Filing Documents Promptly and Accurately

For the entirety of my career, including formerly as a litigator and currently as a trainer, coach, consultant, and writer, documents have constituted my professional lifeblood. Promptness and accuracy are both essential. In addition, when a document needs to be found, it can’t require a search in the wilderness. Thus, a star administrative assistant makes sure that every document, whether hard copy or electronic, can be found quickly.

The Second Sentence—Taking Charge of My Professional Compliance Responsibilities

My administrative and professional compliance responsibilities involve many ongoing details, most of which are routine. Yet neglect or carelessness can cause major professional headaches.

On one occasion, a staff member’s “hit and miss” approach to licensing resulted in an official letter from the Clerk of the Court. It informed me that I was practicing law without authorization—a big no-no! On another occasion, a cavalier approach to processing expense reimbursement requests resulted in my being shorted over $3,000. Accordingly, I need a star administrative assistant to “take charge” of these responsibilities.

The Third Sentence—Putting Herself in My Travel Shoes

Ever had a bad travel experience? If so, I bet you haven’t forgotten it.

My job involves recurrent travel. A star administrative assistant figures out what I need, what I’m trying to accomplish, and, with an almost fanatical devotion to detail, helps me get there, figuratively and literally. My professional effectiveness goes up while my stress level goes down.

Several years ago (while in a different law firm with a different administrative assistant), a company hired me to conduct workshops for its managers on three consecutive days in three cities. The cities were in a line with each other, the outer cities being about a 2½-hour drive to the middle city. I could fly in and out of any of them.

The plan was simple—fly into one city, do the workshop, rent a car, drive to the next city, do the workshop, drive to the third city, do the workshop, return the car, and fly home from the last city. Simple and straight-forward, agreed?

So if you’re a star administrative assistant, which city would you not start me in?

That’s right. After the first day’s workshop, I drove 2½ hours. After the second day’s workshop, I drove . . . five hours! Starting in the middle city afforded me the opportunity to wave “hi” as I passed through it for a second time.

The Coffee Problem

Once you’ve done a Star Profile and it captures the behaviors that matter most, how do you use it? My clients and I have found enough uses to fill a book— The Star Profile: A Management Tool To Unleash Employee Potential (Davies-Black Publishing 2008). To finish this post, however, I’ll focus on one—avoiding the “coffee” problem.

Assume you’re my executive coach. I call you to complain about my administrative assistant.

“She makes terrible coffee,” I say, “It tastes like industrial sludge!”

You respond by asking me about the Star Profile I’d recently completed.

“How’s she doing on the first prong—generating and filing documents promptly and accurately?”

“Terrific,” I say.

“How’s she doing on the second prong—taking charge of your administrative and professional compliance responsibilities?”

“A load off my shoulders, that’s what.”

“And how’s she doing on the last prong—putting herself in your travel shoes?”

“Having her in my corner is a blessing.”

Now if you heard those responses, what would you tell me to do with the coffee? Perhaps:

“Make it yourself!”

“Stop at Starbucks!”

“Switch to tea!”

Yet in your experience, how many workplace relationships have gone sour due to the “coffee”? In my career, I’ve observed—and experienced—many. Conflict over the little stuff kept the parties from ever connecting on the big stuff.

Star Profiles prevent the “coffee” problem. Creating a clear picture of the behaviors, actions, and results that matter most allows you to distinguish the ones that don’t. Your time, energy, and effective communication skills (discussed in other posts) can be directed toward enabling your employees to meet their Star Profiles. Everybody wins.

In the near future, I’ll share applications of the Star Profile in hiring (i.e., disconnecting your “stupid switch”), discipline, succession planning, and performance management. In the meantime, if you have a question about Star Profiles, let me know.

Jathan Janove is the managing shareholder of the Portland office of Ogletree Deakins. Follow Jathan on Twitter.

September 20, 2012 | TAGS: , , , .