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Devin’s OfficeNinjas All-Star Award is presented by Delta Air Lines, a leader in reliability and service to over 300 domestic and international destinations.
Name: Devin Cecere
Title & Company: Executive Assistant, Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank
Location: Duquesne, PA
# Years as an Office Ninja: 3 years
Mantra: If you want opportunities to expand your role, you need to ask for them.
Fun Fact: In 7th grade, she made the local paper while volunteering at a food pantry.
To anyone who knows her, it’s no surprise that Devin Cecere is crushing it as an Executive Assistant at Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank in Duquesne, PA. Beyond being a master meeting planner, a skillful collaborator, a pro at researching and implementing new systems, and an adept wrangler of nearly 30 board members, Devin is deeply connected to her organization’s mission.
“As I was growing up, my parents taught me that everyone should have access to basic necessities,” she says.
That commitment to service stayed with her over the years. And it continues to be her driving force, even on the days that don’t go exactly as planned. (You don’t organize off-site meetings and conference calls for 30 people without hitting a few bumps along the way!)
Ready to be dazzled? Check out our Q&A with Devin Cecere, 2019 OfficeNinjas All-Star!
Where does your drive come from?
I can thank my parents for that. My parents grew up in loving households, but they wanted to provide even more for me. They taught me about service and showing kindness toward everyone, and my mom had me volunteer at her school and through Girl Scouts.
When I was in 7th grade, I was a member of a service organization and we volunteered at a food pantry — I think my mom still has the newspaper that featured our photo! Being of service to others and doing the best I can has been a theme throughout my life.
More than 20 years after my 7th-grade experience at the food pantry, I was at my parent’s house in Georgia. I opened the freezer and it was packed. My dad saw me looking at the freezer and said, “I know that is a lot of food. I keep the freezer stocked because we didn’t always have enough food when I was a child.” I never knew that story, but it seems like my role at the Food Bank was certainly not by accident.
How does your organization’s mission impact your day-to-day work?
Our mission is the backbone of everything I do. The mission of the Food Bank is to feed people in need and mobilize our community to end hunger. My work directly contributes to that mission. I help organize meetings for Lisa (our director) to meet with community partners about new ways to feed our neighbors.
I let the Board know about ways they can reach out to government officials regarding how specific programs will affect the people we serve. I organize all-staff meetings, so we can all hear about the efforts to feed our neighbors. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Different people ask me each day how things are going. I say every day is full of new opportunities and new challenges. As long as it comes back to our mission, I will try to rise to the occasion, whatever it may bring.
The Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank is an organization that is focused on helping our neighbors overcome food insecurity. Devin comes to work every day with this as her primary focus. She purposefully excels at her role by keeping our mission at the center of everything she does. – Steve
What’s your favorite part of being an Office Ninja?
Trying to figure out a new way to improve something. For instance, when I started, I realized I needed to create a system to track all of my to-do’s as well as my boss Lisa’s tasks.
I read articles about different platforms and tried a few different ones until I found one I liked. I still find myself refining my process as I learn new tricks or read about new ideas.
What’s the one thing that’s always on your desk?
One thing that is always on my desk is my Pilot Hi-Tec-C Coleto gel ink pen. I love pens in general, but I love this particular pen for work.
When I was in middle school, my English teacher made us color code sentences (nouns in red, verbs in blue, etc.). I enjoyed coding sentences using one of those pens with the buttons that you push down for each color.
Fast forward nearly 20 years, and I have another multi-color pen from Japan. I primarily write in blue, but I use the other three cartridges when I am editing documents or making various lists.
Devin is the master of tactful influence and has the power to make amazing things happen while ensuring that everyone feels welcome, important, and cared for. She is probably the busiest person in our office, yet always has the time to help you solve a problem or learn something new. I don’t know what we would do without Devin. – Jamie
As part of your role, you work with nearly 30 board members from different industries, all of whom have busy schedules. What are some of the tools and strategies you use to manage this group?
While it can feel like I am trying to herd cats (and I say that with tremendous love!), I always try to remember our board members are just as passionate about our mission as I am and that they want to help me as much as I want to help them. With that, here are the tools and strategies I use:
- Find out the best way to communicate with each member. While this may seem like overkill (especially with 30 members!), it will help in the long run. With some of our Board members, it’s best to follow up with phone calls. Others need to be reminded by text. Others just need another email.
- If a Board member has an assistant, I always copy him or her on all emails related to scheduling. I also send an email once a year to the assistants thanking them in advance for the work they do on behalf of their executive/our board member, and I give them a quick rundown of the types of things I will be communicating to them.
- Reminders, reminders, reminders — everyone is busy and reminders are helpful. I actually have recurring reminders on my to-do list about the messages I need to send to Board members.
- Note the little things. Yes, I have a job to do. But, we are all human, and it’s nice to take time to connect to people. I ask about members’ trips abroad, their new grandkids, or their next work presentation. Being kind to people makes them more likely to help you along the way. And I am genuinely interested in their lives outside of our work together.
Some of our Board members are not overly computer savvy, but Devin is always there to support us with patience and professionalism. When I’ve had difficulty accessing information or dialing in for a teleconference, Devin responds immediately and solves the problem for me … Devin assists the Board in fulfilling our mission to serve our community. I can think of no one more deserving of this honor. – Gary
How does your team help you succeed?
I have the ability to work remotely, which saves a lot of time and allows me to be more efficient. Our Board and most committees meet about 30 minutes away from our office, which is 30 minutes away from my apartment. I like to arrive early for meetings to get set up, but I also have the ability to access my files and continue to work off-site.
My boss and I have daily check-ins to make sure we are on the same page. We try to do those in person, but we also talk on the phone when necessary.
I also check in and keep in touch with my co-workers in the fundraising department (I worked there for 2.5 years before becoming an Office Ninja).
But most of all, I work with amazing people (staff, Board members, volunteers, donors!) who are passionate about our mission to feed people in need. The mission of the Food Bank is to feed people in need and mobilize our community to end hunger. Whenever it gets a little hairy, I try to bring it back to why I am doing this in the first place. Our mission is the backbone of everything I do.
What do you do when you’re stressed or upset at work?
I have several motivational quotes posted on my computer to help keep everything in perspective. I’ll also take a couple of breaths and look at some cute kitty pictures on my phone.
And I try to get out of the building every day for my 30-minute break whether I’m stressed or not. (If it’s too cold to walk outside, I usually drive in a big circle while listening to some fun podcasts.)
How do you balance work and personal life?
I try very hard not to check my work email from my phone at home.
I also make a point to do fun things throughout the week: spin class, Kiwanis, piano lessons (I played for 2.5 years as a kid. Now, 30 years later, I am trying to relearn it), and time with friends and family. It’s also important to use the personal time provided by the Food Bank.
Self-care is real, people!
Share a memorable professional achievement.
I helped to identify and utilize portal software for our Board and committees. Prior to me, for meetings, the Board and committees would receive calendar invites, meeting materials by email, and printed materials all through different platforms. This was fine, but we knew there were changes we could make to ensure our Board and committee members had easy access to everything they need to be successful.
I researched more than 10 portal options and demoed six or seven of them with a sales representative from each company. I drafted the highlights and notes about each platform, and then went to Lisa and explained the reasoning behind my top three choices.
Once we narrowed the list down to the final one, I provided details about pricing, length of subscription, etc. After we signed the contract, I then worked with our account manager at the software company to outline the implementation and onboarding process for our system administrators (myself and another person), our administrators for each group, and the Board and committee members themselves.
We officially started using the platform in the fall of 2017. I continually seek opportunities to maximize our usage of the portal, but it has significantly helped our Board and committees to have access to the materials they need with a few clicks.
Devin is a remarkable performer. She corrals the nearly 30 members of the Board of Directors and, with aplomb, keeps meetings timely, agendas filed, financials up to date and guests positioned for their moment in the sun — their presentations. Devin is the linchpin of the Food Bank, deftly pulling all the myriad pieces together with poise and grace. – Patricia
What are some of the systems you’ve implemented at the office to help improve efficiency?
When Lisa and I first started working together, I wanted to learn what had worked with previous assistants and what would be helpful.
One of the biggest things was managing her emails. Personally, I’m an inbox zero type of person; Lisa isn’t. So it was the perfect chance to support her while playing to my strengths.
We talked through the major categories of emails she receives and decided that after I reviewed something, I would mark it with the appropriate indicator:
- Red exclamation for timely items that Lisa needed to review or answer in 48 hours
- Green checkmark for items I’ve taken care of or delegated to another staff member
- Blue checkmark for items Lisa should review or answer in the next week
- Purple question mark for any items I didn’t know how to handle
- And I would, of course, delete any junk mail
For those familiar with the Eisenhower matrix, we used that as inspiration. We tried the system a few times and encountered some bugs along the way. We made a couple of tweaks, and now have a system that is much better than before. Other staff members have commented on how they noticed a change. And, most importantly, Lisa said that she has found it extremely helpful. In terms of my tips for making similar changes:
- Talk to staff or others who would benefit from improvements. Find out what has been tried before and what their ideal system would look like.
- Do your research. I check blogs and webinars for ideas.
- Implement your system and don’t freak out if it doesn’t work perfectly at first. Adjust and try again.
- Continually check in with others affected by your system. While it may be efficient for you, it might not fulfill all the needs of others. Make appropriate adjustments.
A few additional tips: find a task management system that works for you. For recurring tasks, document what you did so you can remember it. For example, I follow a similar planning process for our six Board meetings each year. Start projects early. Inevitably, other things will come up.
How do you see the admin profession evolving? What do you do to stay ahead of the curve?
I think that more and more administrative professionals will be asked to help manage more complicated projects than the traditional “admin” roles. For example, some admins may be asked to participate in working groups at their organizations. Not just setting meetings and taking notes but being an active participant in strategizing and implementing policies and projects.
It is in my nature to seek opportunities to learn new things (“Learner” is my #1 strength on my Strengthsfinder!). I look to various sites for administrative professionals — OfficeNinjas being my go-to, of course. I also read some of the management and leadership magazines that my boss receives, including Harvard Business Review and MIT Sloan Management Review. I also check the blogs of the various programs I use regularly, like ToDoist, Trello, and Evernote. They have interesting articles about productivity, project management, etc.
What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?
One piece of advice from my mom that has stuck with me: always be nice to the secretary/administrative assistant/front desk associate. They are the key players that can help you, not only as you interview, but also once you’re hired.
That tip can be extended to your entire professional network. Be nice to everyone, because you never know what it can lead to. And people should just be nice … period.
Devin, we couldn’t agree more with your Mom — her advice is spot on and so is yours!
As part of her prize package, Devin will receive $1,000 in airfare credit, courtesy of Delta Air Lines, a proud Admin Week 2019 partner!
View the complete photo album from our photo shoot at Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank with Devin!
Today’s All-Star is brought to you by Delta Air Lines
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