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Attention Innovators and Problem Solvers: We Want to Hear from You

By: Shari Lifland
Last updated 4/14/2011

AMA’s Innovation Award celebrates outstanding examples of creative problem solving and innovation in administrative support. The primary purpose of the award, now in its 13th year, is to serve as an inspiration to administrative professionals as they advance in their professional development and seek new knowledge and skills.

The women who received the Innovation Award over the past five years are an impressive and inspirational group who hail from diverse industries and far-flung locales, from Honolulu, Hawaii, to Parsippany, New Jersey. What they have in common is a desire to change the world for the better and an ongoing commitment to excellence. Let’s take a walk down memory lane, as we recap their innovative achievements.

2010
Melanie France,
Administrative assistant, IT, U.S. Government, Washington, DC
Innovation: “In Case of Emergency Portfolio” (ICEP)
Melanie realized that in the event of an emergency, computers might be down and workers might not have access to vital information. The ICEP is a self-contained, comprehensive, hard-copy emergency preparedness folder that a manager can quickly grab in the event of an emergency, especially if computers or phone lines are not accessible. Melanie researched the project, got buy-in from management, and later saw her innovation adopted at a division level and throughout the organization.

In her own words: “I feel honored to receive the AMA Innovation Award, but the real reward is having the opportunity to get the word out to people that they should prepare for emergencies ahead of time. My intention is to make people more vigilant. One of the slogans I coined on the Portfolio is, “Being prepared saves lives.” That’s really what it’s all about. The knowledge I gained from doing this project is something I’ll carry with me always.

2009
Julie Irving,
Administrative assistant, Battelle Energy Alliance, contractor for the Idaho National Laboratory in Idaho Falls, Idaho
Innovation: “Blind Spot Safety”
When Julie learned that every year thousands of young children are injured or killed because they are in a driver’s “blind spot,” she sprang into action, creating a comprehensive safety program to educate her co-workers, her community, and schoolchildren about the danger. She made up a poster and a “Blind Spot Safety Pack” and presented it to her organization’s Employee Safety Team, asking for their support in sharing the information with employees and the community. She also reached out to local car dealerships, who agreed to provide vehicles at no charge to stage a “Blind Spot Safety Test” live demo.

In her own words: “Whether I win this contest or not, it doesn’t really matter.  But I would ask a favor of each person on the panel.  Please take a few minutes to try “Blind Spot Safety” yourself, with your spouse and children.  Believe me, it is worth the few minutes that it takes and who knows, it just might save a life.” 

2008
Brooke Wiseman,
executive associate to the president and CEO of Daiichi Sankyo, Parsippany, New Jersey
Innovation: “The Administrative Development Initiative”
Brooke had a mission: to utilize the administrative professionals in her company in a more productive way, to clarify expectations, and to provide them with the tools they need to become more productive and valued team members. She developed two training programs, the “Power of Partnerships Program,” which focuses on enhancing the partnership of the executive and his/her assistant, and “Monthly Roundtables,” monthly events where assistants work cross-functionally, sharing information and best practices.

In her own words: “While all members of the administrative staff had the same title, it was clear to me that there were wide variations in their roles, responsibilities, and effectiveness. I decided to explore ways to clarify expectations regarding the role, and to provide administrative assistants with the tools to become more highly productive and valued team members. Our CEO and I participated in the 2007 Program and greatly enhanced our partnership and communication skills.”

2007
Gayle Igarashi,
Administrative secretary, Maluhia Hospital, Honolulu, Hawaii
Innovation: “Tails of Aloha”
When Gayle learned that animals can have a therapeutic affect on aged or ill people, she founded “Tails of Aloha,” a program that uses therapy animals to brighten the days of people in nursing homes. Gayle had to overcome a great deal of resistance—from management, nursing staff, and the State Medicare/Medicaid office—in order to implement her innovation. She got to work researching national regulations relating to therapy pets and then became certified as an animal assisted therapist, spending $8,000 of her own money on coursework. She has received a $10,000 award from the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation in recognition of her founding of the “Tails of Aloha” program, along with other awards.

In her own words: “This program has changed each volunteer’s life as well as the lives of the residents. Each pet team visit brings so much love to everyone involved. Staff and management have noticed the changes in the residents. The smiles given to the pet teams are smiles that family members have not seen in years.

2006
Jerrilynne Jankowski,
IT coordinator, PPG Industries, Inc., Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Innovation: “Making a Difference—Administratively”
Jerrilynne’s innovation was the creation of an online Reference Guide that her 180-plus internal IT customers could turn to for quick answers to their everyday questions. The result for her organization has been better time management for everyone in her group, a smoother work environment, and a standardized way to manage administrative work requests.

In her own words: “When you implement a new process you need to keep the following in mind:
• You must believe in the process and its success
• Have a plan on how to deal with any potential challenges
• Come up with answers to the common questions you will be asked
• Smile when you are asked the same question(s) over and over
• Be open to feedback and strive for enhancements”

Read more about the past winners:
Melanie France

Julie Irving

Brooke Wiseman

Gayle Igarashi

Jerrilynne Jankowski

Now is the time to think about AMA’s 2011 Administrative Professionals Innovation Award. The deadline for submissions is August 1, 2011.

The winner will receive free airfare, hotel accommodations (up to three nights), and registration to the Administrative Professionals Conference at Gaylord Opryland Resort Hotel & Convention Center, Nashville, Tennessee, October 2-5, 2011.

Find out how to nominate yourself or your team. Maybe we’ll see ya’ll in Nashville!

About the Author(s)

Shari Lifland is Editorial Communications Manager for American Management Association.  She is editor of the eNewsletters "Moving Ahead," "Management Update," and "Administrative Excellence," and manages content for the Members-only section of AMA's Website.