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Interview with Jerrilynne Jankowski, Winner of AMA’s Innovation Award for Administrative Professionals

By: Shari Lifland
Last updated 2/24/2011

Jerrilynne A. Jankowski, (right) accepts her award from Andrea Iadanza

Jerrilynne A. Jankowski, an IT coordinator at PPG Industries, Inc., in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, won AMA’s 2006 Innovation Award for Administrative Professionals. Jerrilynne accepted her Award at the 14th Annual Administrative Professionals Conference in Orlando, Florida.

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 eighth year, is to serve as an inspiration to administrative professionals as they advance in their professional development and seek new knowledge and skills.

Jerrilynne’s innovation, “Making a Difference—Administratively,” involved 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 PPG has been better time management for everyone in the group, a smoother work environment and a standardized way to manage administrative work requests.

I spoke to Jerrilynne Jankowski about her experiences as an innovative and successful administrative professional.

AMA: You’ve worked in the administrative field for 22 years. What changes have you seen during that time, especially regarding the role of administrative professionals?

Jerrilynne Jankowski: I am now in my 23rd year at PPG Industries, Inc. I started working in its headquarters when I was 19 years old. I’ve seen so many changes. Positions that were once considered secretarial are now recognized as administrative assistants and coordinators. Also, as a result of a reduction in the administrative workforce, we are all doing more with less. The administrative role has evolved to include that of gatekeeper and we have taken on responsibilities that formerly fell to supervisors. I do believe that this enhanced role has brought us greater respect and it’s also reflected in our new titles.

Another positive is that we have so many more opportunities for career development and networking—the Web is a tremendous resource and we now have our own professional societies and conferences. Computer technology has been a real boon to the business environment in general because it allows us to manage the workload so much more efficiently: we can communicate quickly and multitask more effectively.

AMA: In your Innovation Award acceptance speech you talked about the impact of being mentored by supervisors and coworkers. Can you give some specific examples of how you’ve been helped by a mentor?

JJ: I have been so fortunate to have had great coworkers and supervisors at PPG. For example, my second job with PPG, when I was only 21, was in the Corporate Real Estate Department. My supervisor was Joann Ladesic, who started out as a secretary and worked her way up to management. She has always encouraged me to continue to learn and even suggested that I return to school. I have kept learning and growing but have chosen not to pursue a college degree because I truly enjoy coming to work each day and I feel fulfilled in my career path. I have gone to Joann over the years for career advice. In fact, I sought out her advice and guidance when I submitted my application for AMA’s Innovation Award.

In the administrative role, my coworker Marilyn Curro has been a true role model for me. When I first started with PPG in the Corporate Credit Department, Marilyn took me under her wing and taught me the “PPG way” and how to conduct myself under pressure and through adversity. Even today, I continue to seek out Marilyn’s 37 years of advice, and she is always there for me.

In addition, I have stayed in touch with most of my previous supervisors because they know my strengths and weaknesses. Who better to provide me with honest, solid advice for my career development? I can truly say that keeping an open mind and asking for feedback from my former and current supervisors has been invaluable. And I still have a lot of learn!

AMA: How have you in turn been able to mentor others, giving them the benefit of your own 23 years of experience?

JJ: One of the main things I have always tried to do on a regular basis is to be open and to share what I have learned with others. Knowledge is powerful and should be shared.  While attending the Administrative Professionals Conference in October, one of my coworkers in Florida heard my speech and contacted me. We are currently communicating through phone calls and e-mails. I’m really enjoying sharing my experience with someone who is not only new to our company, but who is in another part of the business, so I can learn from her as well.

AMA: You’ve said that there were challenges in getting people to accept the Reference Guide you introduced at your company. How did you overcome people’s natural resistance to change?

JJ: Through a combination of respect for their business needs and kindness. Many times my IT associates would come into my office to ask a question that was explained in the Reference Guide. I would gently remind them of the Reference Guide and ask them to please use it but to get back to me right away if they could not find their answers quickly. This approach always worked for me. I made sure I spoke in a helping way. We always have to remember that our “internal” customers need to be served well.

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

AMA: In your Innovation Award acceptance speech you talked about attending an AMA seminar last spring. What course was it and how did what you learned help you in your job?

JJ: The course I took was “Management Skills for Administrative Professionals” and the instructor was Ray White. I would highly recommend this class to others. I brought back a lot of great ideas about ways to innovate on the job and I was able to share what I learned with others. The boost to my self-esteem enabled me to implement a monthly Lunch ‘n Learn program, a way to gently introduce new associates to the tools I have put in place, which allows me to take my innovations to another level.

About AMA’s Innovation Award for Administrative Professionals:

Entries are judged on the basis of documented positive results related to at least one of the following: cost savings, efficiency, productivity, problem solving, problem prevention, employee morale, accuracy and integrity of operations, customer satisfaction, organizational effectiveness, and organizational communication.

To be eligible for the award, the innovation must have been developed and implemented by administrative professionals and must provide tangible, sustainable, and replicable examples of excellence that can assist others facing similar work and productivity issues. The innovation also must have been implemented for at least six months prior to the application deadline.

The application deadline for AMA’s 2007 Innovation Award is July 20, 2007.

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.