Seeing the Big Picture: Developing Business Acumen for Organisational Awareness

“We have three innate psychological needs—competence, autonomy, and relatedness. When those needs are satisfied, we’re motivated, productive, and happy.”


These are the words of Daniel H. Pink in his insightful book, ‘Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us’. Fascinating,don’t you think, that we can overlook something as obvious as the core needs for people to feel like they do their jobs well, that they have some degree of control, and that they have a sense of connection, or ‘relatedness’ to their work and their organisation. It’s hard to feel deeply connected to your work, or your workplace, when you potentially have a limited or incomplete understanding of the business roadmap. As EAs and PAs we often develop exceptional knowledge and insights into the functioning of our own roles, those that we support, and the key stakeholders with whom we interact, but there’s a bigger context. Sometimes it’s that bigger context where a deeper understanding and broader awareness could make a profound difference to the way we shape our perspectives, make decisions, add value, establish our profile and generally interact with other people in a professional capacity. So how do you build your ‘business acumen’ and cultivate a higher level of organisational awareness in your role as an EA or PA? In reality, it’s about becoming better informed, and staying current in terms of how your organisation operates, competes, sustains itself, grows, and contributes to its customers, industries and communities.

In practical terms, there many ways to achieve this, but here are five simple things that you can do to cultivate your business intelligence and stay connected and purposeful in your work:

#1 Dedicate time to having conversations with experts within your business Experts love to share their expertise, so create opportunities to learn what you can from them about their role, their teams and their goals. Once you have a basic understanding of their roles and how their part of the operation works, you’ll be better placed to continue these conversations on a regular basis, and constantly learning more about how each part of the organisation can help make other parts more successful.

#2 Tap into information about your industry For each and every industry there is a plethora of information that is easily accessible via industry organisations, publications, current affairs and professional networks. Make this material your reading “fodder” and us it as the basis for learning more about your own organisation and how it works within the industry.

#3 Explore general management concepts and topics You may not have the word manager in your title, but even if you don’t, it doesn’t mean you don’t need to be a good manager! The vast subject of management applies to anyone who drives or contributes to organisational goals, and there are some foundation management concepts (like ‘efficiency’ and ‘effectiveness’ or ‘cause and effect’ for example) that can help everyone to be more personally effective. Whenever you enhance the way in which you deliver results in your role, your team, your organisation and your customers all benefit – it’s like the “butterfly effect”!

#4 Think of yourself and your role in terms of how you serve customers Even if you think you don’t have any direct connection to customers, you will be amazed to “map” how your efforts indirectly contribute to the success of your team, your department, the business, and ultimately the people that your business or organisation serves. In everything you do, you will be able to find a connection back to the customer and the overall prosperity of your business or the community it serves – you really just have to think about it.

#5 Become a ‘Maven’ A maven (a.k.a. mavin) is a trusted expert in a particular field, who seeks to pass knowledge on to others. The word maven comes from Hebrew, meaning “one who understands”, based on an accumulation of knowledge. This concept isn’t about being the gatekeeper or holding knowledge because knowledge is power, but it’s more about being well-connected, wellinformed and being known for having a deep understanding of how things work and how things can be achieved. Being a maven is also about being one of the first to pick up on new trends or information (an ‘early adopter’), and being influential because you can help others to grasp new trends or insights. Developing your business acumen and organisational awareness is as important as learning about the latest tools and best practices in your role. Overlooking this vital dimension of your professional repertoire can be a self-limiting move. The solution? Stay conscious of, and focused on, your mastery, self-drive and connectedness, and you will become an even more valuable asset to your team, your business, your customers and potentially your profession.

Pamela is facilitating The Strategic EA: Business Acumen for Senior EA/PAs for Bright*Star Training


Written by Pamela Cronin

NEW Speakers for Web 201318Pamela Cronin has more than 15 years’ experience working with organisations across the public and private sectors.  Her training combines rich, contemporary theory and stimulating activity, providing practical tips and advice.  Pamela draws on her expertise in the areas of people management, business strategy, communication and team development to deliver challenging learning in a personable way. She is an accredited Team Management Index (TMI) Facilitator, and is the author of the Brooker’s New Zealand ‘Guide to Training and Development’.

How EA/PAs Learn on the Job

EAPAIn last month’s issue of Shine – our popular newsletter for Administration Professionals – we asked our readers how you like to pick up new skills.

61.54% of you prefer to learn on the job (compared to 23.08% choosing face to face training course and 15.38% coaching).

At Bright*Star Training we are all about learning, and how we can best support your professional and skill development. Learning a new skill has all kinds of unexpected benefits, including improving working memory, keeping your mind active and increasing engagement at work.

We have gathered our top 7 tips on how you can fit in learning while ‘on the job’ and how to ensure that you get the best results from this learning to continue to grow your skill set and knowledge.

Note that there are two types of On the Job Training (OJT), Structured and Unstructured.

This blog focuses on the second type, however there are lessons to be learnt from the structured OJT, mainly around setting specific goals with your manager and get their support for what you are wanting to achieve. For more on Structured OJT, we recommend reading this brilliant article by Charles I Levine.

If you’re ready to start learning, here are our top tips.

1. Be clear on what you want to achieve

Make a list of the Top 10 things you’d like to master. Then prioritise in order of preference and importance to your role. Create an action plan to tackle each new skill and set a deadline by when you want to achieve it. Remember “Goals are dreams with deadlines”!

2. Get your manager involved

Why not ask your manager what areas they would like you to focus on? Dust off your professional development plan (84.62% of you have one), set a time to go through it with your manager, and ask for his/her support for your plans. This is a great way to show initiative and commitment to your role as well as your willingness to grow and learn.

3. Be hands on

Rather than just having someone show you how something works, have a go at it yourself. Take over the keyboard and actually work through the process yourself. Take time to familiarise yourself with new technology. Follow the lead of 2015 AAPNZ Award winner Rebeka Adamson and turn on the new printer and find out how it works before anyone else. It’s a great way to become the “go-to person” in your company and it can hugely increase your sphere of influence and people’s perception of you.

4. Don’t let what you don’t know hold you back

Don’t be afraid to ask for help or to not get it right the first time. Nobody (other than perhaps yourself!) expects you to be perfect. It is a proven fact that we learn the most by

experiencing and overcoming failure. At the 2016 AP Day in Auckland, the keynote presenter Bev Adair-Beets really inspired the audience with her honest account of how she didn’t let her lack of knowledge hold her back – she simply started with “Mr Google” and taught herself what she didn’t know.

“When we give ourselves permission to fail, we, at the same time, give ourselves permission to excel.” – Eloise Ristad

5. Schedule in time to learn and make it a priority

How many times have you saved an interesting article with the intent of reading it ‘when you have time’? If you’re nodding right now, then you’re not alone. We have to make time and make learning a habit. Charles Bruxton said “You will never find time for anything. If you want time, you must make it”.

Emona Numanga, the President of the Auckland AAPNZ group shared a great tip with us at their last monthly meeting: if you struggle to find time in your day, spend a week noting down how you spend your time and you will soon discover time wasters such as interruptions that you can manage better.

6. Challenge yourself

The harder the task, the more you learn. No matter your role or how long you’ve been in it, there’s always an opportunity to learn and grow. Find it and take it! By challenging ourselves, and overcoming obstacles, we grow our confidence and our resilience – both key attributes for successful people. Over the last few years, so many Administration Professionals have told us that these are two key areas where they struggle. Bright*Star offer training courses on both topics, however the best way to start building your confidence is by tackling a new challenge – even if you start small.

“I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy. I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it.”

7. Share your knowledge

The best way to truly absorb learning is when you’re asked to present it to someone else. It forces you to verbalise what you have learnt and think about how it benefits not just you but also other people. You may like to present to your manager, colleagues, a peer group such as your local AAPNZ group, or even friends and family.

As you learn on the job you may identify a larger skills gap or professional development need you can’t tackle on your own. This is where attending structured training will be helpful. The Bright*Star team is here to guide you in the right direction to find the best suitable training solution for your needs.

They say that “Every accomplishment starts with the decision to try” – learning on the job is no different. Think about what you can do right now that will put you on the right path.

Click here to take the next step in your professional development

Written by Lone Tapp

loneLone leads Bright*Star training’s ever growing portfolio of professional development programmes that includes over 165 public courses and customised in-house training courses each year. Before joining the team at Conferenz in 2003, Lone worked at the Trade Commission of Denmark in Auckland. Originally from Denmark, Lone has spent the past decade designing and delivering Conferenz & Bright*Star’s professional development training initiatives across New Zealand.

Read through the Analysis of the Survey Results:

1) Do you have a professional development plan in place?

Yes: 80%

No: 20% (No opportunity to talk to boss, awaiting management approval, not sure how to do this)

2) How often do you get a professional development opportunity?

Twice a year: 40%

Other: 33.33%

Once a year: 26.67%

3) What has been the most unexpected skill you’ve needed for your job?

Some sample responses:

To be a Counsellor

Dealing with different personalities


Juggling the needs of multiple direct reports 

Copying with bullying

Conflict Resolution






Women in Leadership: The double-bind of assertiveness and influence

minute‘I don’t have a traditionally female way of speaking – I’m quite assertive. If I didn’t speak the way I do, I wouldn’t have been seen as a leader. But my way of speaking may have grated on people who were not used to hearing it from a woman. It was the right way for a leader to speak, but it wasn’t the right way for a woman to speak. It goes against type.’


These are the words of Kim Campbell, who served as Prime Minister of Canada in 1993.

It’s a message that’s not uncommon when female leaders talk about the challenges they face in being influential in powerful roles. The dilemma boils down to a few core points:

1. Whether we like it or not, even in the 21st Century, mainstream societies all over the globe perpetuate stereotypes about how women (and men) should behave

2. We are all primed to succumb to these associations about men and women, and sometimes they happen on a such a subconscious level that we hardly recognise our own biases

3. As leaders, women need to understand these biases (I didn’t say condone them) and develop a level of awareness and a range of skills that enable them to shine and be influential.

So how do we do that? In practical terms, there many ways to achieve this, but here are three simple concepts that you can explore to shape and cultivate your leadership influence as a woman…

#1 Understand the dynamics of male and female communication

That’s right, we all know that there are gaps in the way we relate between the genders at times. But what are the common ones, why do they exist, and what can you do to navigate them and minimise the potential for misunderstanding?

#2 Optimise your confidence

Yes, it’s true that we women win all the prizes when it comes to being our own worst critics. To be influential, you need to be confident – and to be confident, you need to back yourself. So we need to learn how to find the right balance between confidence and modesty, assertiveness and diplomacy.

#3 Get into the Driver’s seat

Understand that more opportunities present themselves to people who are open to them and seek them out. As women leaders we need to know how to set ourselves up to thrive, how to ensure our lives are richer for the experience, and how to make sure we take other women along with us.

Investing in our potential as leaders is the kind of investment that pays off – not just for us, but for all of the people around us. Too many women leave their leadership careers to chance, and never take the time to examine their abilities as a leader, how they influence others and what their potential could be. Don’t let that be you.

Written by Pamela Cronin

Pamela Cronin facilitates Bright*Star’s Leadership Development for Women.  

NEW Speakers for Web 201318Pamela Cronin has more than 15 years’ experience working with organisations across the public and private sectors.  Her training combines rich, contemporary theory and stimulating activity, providing practical tips and advice.  Pamela draws on her expertise in the areas of people management, business strategy, communication and team development to deliver challenging learning in a personable way. She is an accredited Team Management Index (TMI) Facilitator, and is the author of the Brooker’s New Zealand ‘Guide to Training and Development’.