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The Black Hole

How a business administration partner can deliver ‘stratactical’ value across an organization

No matter how big the organization or company is, the executive team needs to empower this role.


Editor’s note: We are delighted to have a guest series from Lynn Walder, an executive administrator with more than 20 years’ experience (including 10 years focused on biotech), and a passionate advocate of the executive-level business administration function. In this article, Lynn discusses how a business administration partner can deliver what she calls ‘stratactical’ value across an organization. In my experience, the challenges a chief executive officer at a biotech company faces are no different than what a principal investigator or division/department head faces as they try to establish or grow their research programs.

In the first entry of this series, “‘Manager of the miscellaneous:’ why you need a business administration partner,” we explored the evolution of the administrative function and its value proposition to the executive leadership team (with cascaded benefits to the broader company), while in the second entry, “Properly integrating a business administration partner on your leadership team,” we covered the more practical aspects of how to view, integrate and utilize the business administration partner role for optimal success within a scaling biotech startup environment.

In this final installment, we will review the executive-aligned growth and development framework for your business administration partners, ensuring that the stand-alone function of administration continues to deliver “stratactical” value across the organization as your biotech continues to scale.

Below are the top operational recommendations on how to empower the business administration  partner role as your business (and the administrative function itself) continues to scale…

Dedicate monetary resourcing towards executive-level development for administrators

It is absolutely imperative companies recognize the administration role to be just as worthy of focused professional development as any other position in the company.

With the continued evolution of the business administration manager to a more strategically integrated role, educational offerings have been elevated to match this need. Some personal favourites for national conferences and online education focused on advanced executive-level administration include the Executive Leadership Support Forum (ELSF) and Office Ninjas. For those business administrators who are already managing cross-functional strategic initiatives (i.e. rolling out yearly OKR – Objective and Key Results – frameworks or driving executive leadership strategy offsites) I highly recommend them joining the Chief of Staff Mastermind groups hosted by Tyler Parris (one of the thought leaders on this unique business administration role).

The payoff from investing in dedicated administrative professional development is twofold. First, information learned at these conferences can be brought back and shared with other administrative support members which amplifies the sense of community based on shared growth, collaboration and trust (imperative traits for any high functioning team). Second, improved capabilities for an employee usually translates into improved outcomes for the business.

It is also important to support your administrator in pursuing paralleled advanced level education that could expand (or amplify) their current responsibilities. For example, in a previous role, my scope of responsibility included the recreation, relaunch and full management of a company onboarding program alongside managing general internal executive-level communications. To assist me in both if these endeavors, I attended the yearly three-day WorkHuman conference (usually geared towards human resources executives) and attended a corporate communications conference. While these conferences were not explicitly “administration” focused, the value I was able to bring back to my company-level project deliverables was a win for both me AND the business. Career administrators take extreme pride in consistently upgrading their skills to bring exponential impact to the companies in which they work. By investing in the development of your business administration managers (just as you would with other traditional function-based roles) you are ultimately investing in the future success of your business through an engaged and educated workforce.

Encouragement & support of pursuing cross-functional ‘pain’ projects

When leadership supports their business administration partner to seek out internal company “pain projects” (e.g. delayed or under-resourced projects in other functional areas of the business), it benefits both the individual (by gaining trust and skills within other departments) and the business (by utilizing already-hired talent to solve back-burner challenges). An example of how this may look in a startup could be when a business administrator partners with the Chief Operating Officer to fully manage the request for proposal process and subsequent implementation and training for a new vendor platform. Or, multiple administrators can partner with both HR and IT to create more intuitive tech training modules for onboarding (especially for software platforms that administrators are power users of such as Microsoft Teams). Companies, departments and managers should encourage – but not force –  cross-functional project work among the administrative staff as it becomes a win-win for everyone involved through increased operational output, experiential development, and potential money saved through cross-utilization of time and talent.

Implement an ‘administrative cohort’

The historical functional structure of executive administrative support within companies has defaulted to a siloed approach where the role remains fairly restricted to the executive they partner with and/or the department they work in. Due to this siloed approach, the administrative support mechanisms within companies have been perceived as expendable because their incredible knowledge and expertise have been diluted to the point where they can no longer be linked to and/or drive company results.

When your company is ready to move beyond the initial business administration partner hire and start expanding the administrative team, the first step to help rectify the traditional siloing of this unique function is to implement a collaborative administrative support model (what I refer to as the “admin cohort”), where resources (time and talents) are pooled via a built-in support/advocacy group and then strategically aligned to the most pressing needs of a company. Whether you are startup group of three or a mighty legion of 3,000, this structure modification offers a direct value proposition to achieving success for the company as a whole (versus departments or executives), within a cross-matrixed growth mindset model. For how this cohort model looks in practice, you can view a recent case study of its implementation here.

If businesses begin to implement the philosophical, structural and operational suggestions associated with the evolved executive-level business administration partner noted within this series, a more direct link between high quality talent input and more strategically linked value-added output will occur. Mindful upfront growth integration versus growth crisis afterthought, strategic support versus tactical support, return on investment need versus supplemental want – these are the mindsets that business leaders must address to successfully integrate and support the high-value function of a business/executive administration partner within your scaling biotech business.

Lynn Walder is founder and owner of Executive Management Partners.
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