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Meet Melanie France, 2010 Administrative Professionals Innovation Award Winner

By: Shari Lifland
Last updated 10/19/2010

American Management Association is pleased to honor Melanie France as the winner of AMA’s 2010 Innovation Award for Administrative Professionals. Melanie, an administrative assistant for the U.S. government, received the award at the 18th Annual Administrative Professionals Conference in Las Vegas on October 5.

Melanie’s winning “In Case of Emergency Portfolio” (ICEP) innovation 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.

When presenting Melanie with her Award, Andrea Iadanza, Director of Portfolio Management and Operations for American Management Association, told the audience: “Melanie was able to create a new standard procedure for her section, division, and other units. As we have seen over and over again, innovations can and do begin with administrative professionals just like you.”

We spoke to Melanie France to learn more about her Award-winning innovation, the ICEP:

AMA: What is your position and how long have you worked in your current job?
Melanie: I am an administrative assistant in the IT department and I’ve been in my job for 6 years.

AMA: In your award application, you mention the ongoing impact of 9/11. Were you working in DC during the attacks?
Melanie: No, but working for a government agency, we are always aware of the potential for it happening again. I had heard from people who worked in DC during 9/11 that after evacuating the buildings, some people didn’t know how to get out of the City. They just started walking without a clear idea of where to go.

The idea for the ICEP came to me while I was attending an emergency preparedness presentation given by a fellow employee who has worked for over 20 years as a volunteer firefighter and also volunteered at Ground Zero. I realized that we needed a way to keep all vital emergency information in one place, in case we didn’t have access to a computer. In addition to emergency procedures, an accountability checklist, and emergency contact information, the Portfolio also includes information about the nearest hospital, a local map, and Metro information. It even includes tips about how to prepare for an emergency at home.

People want to believe that something like 9/11 could never happen again. But in the event of any kind of emergency, the ICEP makes it so much easier to get the information we need. It could potentially save a lot of lives. In my department, for example, we have five managers and each has an ICEP folder located in a wall pocket by their office door. Each ICEP contains emergency information on their respective employees. Everybody knows that if we have an emergency those five Portfolios need to be taken to the rally point. In cases where a manager is out, we have a chain of command. It’s all planned out in advance and described in the Portfolio.

AMA: Was it difficult to turn your idea into a reality? How did you get people to listen to you?
Melanie: I have a great supervisor who has supported me throughout this project. When I first started promoting the idea, I partnered with the co-worker who gave the original preparedness presentation that inspired me. We worked as a team, combining forces in presentations. I talked about the ICEP and he was there to answer questions about specific emergency situations. He supported me through the whole process and it’s worked out great. I thought my idea was going to just stay within my department, but with the enthusiasm and backing of Executive Management, it soon grew to the division level and then on to other divisions. It has really caught on.

AMA: What effect has your innovation had on you personally? What kind of recognition have you received?
Melanie: 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.

AMA: What advice can you give to other admins?
I have two pieces of advice. Find somebody who can mentor you and support you in everything you do. And also, don’t give up! There will always be negative people, but there will be somebody out there who will listen to you. And when you find that somebody—in my case, it was the co-worker who gave the emergency preparedness presentation that inspired my innovation—you’ll be able to accomplish great things.

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

It’s not too early to think about AMA’s 2011 Administrative Professionals Innovation Award. Find out how to nominate yourself or your team.

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.