Title, Company, and Location
Project Director (Operations), HERE to HERE, The Bronx, NY
Years as an Office Ninja
It’s Café Bustelo espresso — and ONLY Café Bustelo espresso — for Sherrisse-Lee!
Editor’s Note: OfficeNinjas All-Star Awards is part of Admin+ Month (April 5–23, 2021), a fully virtual celebration of deep learning, global recognition, and frenzied fun.
As Office Ninjas, most of us know a thing or two about challenging the status quo. However, Sherrisse-Lee Lewis may have written the book.
The first person in her family to graduate college, Sherrisse-Lee has carved out a valued career as a minority woman working in a predominantly male industry. And did we happen to mention she did it while being an amazing single mom to her son, Gabriel?
Sherrisse-Lee credits a large part of her success to reframing setbacks as motivation to work harder, push forward, and explore different ways to maneuver through the workforce.
If you met Sherrisse-Lee, your first impression of her might be that she’s a very serious person. And you wouldn’t be wrong — at least when it comes to getting the job done. Spend a few minutes getting to know her, however, and you’d realize that there’s MUCH more to this operations superstar. She’s also an approachable leader, enthusiastic innovator, and committed coach. “She always goes that extra mile, anticipates what could happen, sees possibilities, and helps us all realize those possibilities,” raves one of her nominators.
How does Sherrisse-Lee get it all done? Read our interview with this 2021 OfficeNinjas All-Star to find out!
What path led you to this career and what makes it a good fit for you?
I have worked as an Admin+ professional for 10 plus years now. My background is in Business Operations Management.
I really wanted to match my career to my personality type. I am a natural leader, and I’m quick to offer support and solutions. I’m also very organized and detail-oriented. Business Operations Management allows me to multitask, converse with many stakeholders, work on strategic short-term and long-term projects, and execute. I live for the results! My motto is, “A project is a problem scheduled for a solution.”
What’s the one thing that’s ALWAYS on your desk and why?
This is really basic, but a large cup of coffee is ALWAYS on my desk. Not just any old cup of coffee or an old coffee mug, though. It has to be Café Bustelo espresso, and the mug was given to me by one of my supervisors, Joshua Poyer, during my first year at HERE to HERE. It reads, “You are strong & kind,” on the front, while the side says, “You are heroic. You are a lamp. A ladder. And a lifeboat. You put the needs of others first. You are the glue that holds things together and repairs them if they fall apart. You effortlessly carry the weight of the world in two strong hands. You are generous with your time and purposeful in your service. By example you lead. With kindness you inspire.”
Ever since I have worked at HERE to HERE, I can’t start my day without coffee in this very meaningful cup.
Where does your drive come from?
My drive comes from wanting to change the status quo. Although I currently live in North Salem, NY, I am originally from the South Bronx, which is a known underserved community. Not many Afro-Latinas like me have the opportunity to obtain the education I’ve been privileged to have, work at the institutions I’ve worked for, and advance in a career in a field that has been historically and predominantly run by males. There have been setbacks because of this — especially when prospective employers would see my zip code. In the face of these obstacles, I knew I had to push forward.
My son, Gabriel, and my family keep me motivated. I feel that showing Gabriel a strong work ethic and skills leaves a lasting impression. Plus, he’s gained insight into the work I have been doing all these years and has learned a lot — it’s never too early!
My family also inspires me. I am the first person to graduate college and have a full career. I have to make them proud –– they are the people who raised me and I love them dearly!
Now, I have even more motivation with a new baby boy on the way in June and a husband who is very proud of me.
Outside of work, I do a lot of traveling with Gabriel. If there is a weekend or holiday coming up, I have already booked tickets to visit someplace. I am proud that I am able to travel, and believe that traveling is a privilege not to be taken for granted.
How do you help your team members succeed?
I spend a lot of time getting to know my co-workers — both professionally and personally. This not only creates trust and communication, but also helps me anticipate people’s day-to-day work needs before they have to ask.
- Recommended specific tech platforms to help support workflow and project management, such as Mailchimp, Slack, Trello, Monday.com, Salesforce, and Zoom.
- Created communication tool guides, such as a personalized change management guide for staff.
- Provided training to interns and staff on project and task management.
“Sherrisse is a mind reader and a psychic. It’s not exactly how she would describe herself, but it is how we end up feeling having her as our office manager. She is uniquely aware of people’s needs even before they express it, and she always knows just when to ask “Is everything ok?” Sherrisse goes above and beyond for us, her family, and her career.” — Ikeia Miller, Project Director, HERE to HERE
What do you do when you’re stressed or upset at work?
When I was young I struggled with asserting myself in certain situations. In my culture, you don’t challenge situations in the workplace: the boss is always right, you might lose your job if you question things or stand up for yourself, work is stressful and that’s just how it is, etc. In those days, I managed my stress by taking a break and going for a walk outside. I’d return to my job once the feeling had passed, but I was still unhappy in many situations.
As I’ve matured and received guidance from others outside of my culture, I have learned that constructively talking to others about how I’m feeling is helpful — from both an emotional and professional standpoint. People respect you more when you speak up, express yourself, and let them know what you need and how they can help. This also frees you up to focus on doing your best work.
What is your greatest professional achievement?
One of my first huge strategic projects was organizing the relocation of the administrative office of my prior employer, NYHRE, from The Bronx to Harlem. It required me to work with many internal and external stakeholders, and I had to move according to a much faster timeline than organizations usually have to do these types of moves.
This project tested my leadership, interpersonal, and project management skills. Although I had support from the members of the leadership team, I was responsible for many of the decisions and planning. All eyes were on me — especially because the move would define the future of the organization and its mission. I learned many new things about my strengths and weaknesses while working on this project, and I’ll never forget this achievement because it turned me into a better operations professional.
Currently, I’m working on what will be another professional achievement: reopening the HERE to HERE office! Over the summer I drafted all of the reopening procedures and now I’m in the process of ensuring that they are all seamlessly executed. I am very committed to getting our beloved office back open.
Tell us about a specific time you found success in failure.
In my late teens, I would sometimes experience “task failure.” This weird cloud would come over me and I’d forget the smallest thing. But sometimes the smallest things are the most important things. At one of my first official office jobs, I forgot to enter a student’s grade into the system. This led to her not qualifying for a continuing adult education certification. Graduation was around the corner, and I didn’t find out about my mistake until she actually submitted her graduation application. After getting some coaching from my supervisor, I had an honest conversation with the student. She appreciated my candor and even gave me some life advice based on her own first job. She also did make it to graduation.
That one failure taught me to be more careful about even the seemingly smallest details. Although we all make mistakes, I never wanted to repeat that error. Since then, I have put mechanisms in place to help me remember, including everything from taking notes to using technology. I’m also proactive about asking for reorientation if I can’t remember something. Despite how bad it felt at the time, I know that present-day Sherrisse-Lee is a better operations person for that experience!
What does the “Admin+” unifier represent to you?
It means we are not just admins. The work we do is so much more. We are creating, managing, and leading efforts across HR, People Operations, and Business Operations, as well as supporting CEOs and keeping tabs with ad hoc projects. The role of the “Admin” has evolved, and everyone who identifies with the Admin+ designation proves it!
What’s something you’ve accomplished that you haven’t seen many others do?
Don’t be afraid to change careers to find one that caters more to your personality and strengths. I originally went to school to become a childhood education teacher because I love kids. But I always worked in operations. I ended up switching majors after researching the outlook for top careers. I realized that I was already doing the work and felt that I could make waves if I stayed in the field.
Although I do not have a degree focused in business administration or operational management, I obtained an interdisciplinary studies degree which helps me make connections to unexpected things. My degree made me a broad thinker and a solution finder. I topped that with certifications in the areas that operations professionals need to be successful, such as finance, business ops, nonprofit management, and others.
Anyone reading this in the business operations field would say it is a little unconventional because they might be looking for the usual MBA. But the work world has changed so much, and employers now value real-life experience, hands-on training, and certification in specialized areas.
How have you challenged the status quo to pave the way for yourself or others?
I was a single mother for the past nine years! I am a great example for women and individuals who have children, and don’t want to give up on having amazing careers. You can do both — I am proof!
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What’s the best (actionable) career advice you’ve ever received?
My former supervisor, Karen Echkaus, was the sweetest and most approachable person ever. She was a great coach to me on a personal and professional level when I was in my late teens and early 20s. Her advice — which left a major impression on me — was, “Although it might sound selfish, you need to think about yourself if you ever want to get anywhere. If you aren’t progressing and getting the support you need, seek and find another opportunity.”
I doubt Karen knows how much of an impact she made on me, but I have used her words as a guide ever since. They’ve helped me consistently select positive, supportive, and rewarding work environments.
Speaking of positive, supportive and rewarding work environments, HERE to HERE has provided me with just that! My current supervisor, Victoria Shire, hears me out, finds platforms and opportunities in which I can show my leadership, and has coached me in many areas that I am definitely taking with me into my mid-career and forward. She knows that I have a perfectionist work ethic and that I work until it’s done right. I set a high bar. She has also taught me over the past two years to be okay with not getting it right each time, and that I can improve by learning from the experience.
What are some resources you’ve built that have accelerated your career goals?
I wanted to incorporate skills I’d learned over the years into the work I do at HERE to HERE. In addition to advancing my career goals as an operations professional, I also wanted to train, coach, and lead more. I have created a few documents to support that interchange of knowledge, including the following:
- Change Management. I innovated Lewin’s change management theory to fit the way HERE to HERE works as an organization.
- Business. I have coached our young apprentices, interns, and fellows on basic business etiquette. This includes proper procedure and conduct in professional settings in order to boost their own professional profiles as well as HERE to HERE’s brand and image.
- Project Management. I created a document I use to coach all staff, ambassadors, interns, and fellows on Project Management 101, lean thinking, and time management.
It’s very useful to know we now have these resources/tools in place, and I’m proud of my role in making it happen.
What’s a common mistake made among smart Admin+ professionals for which you’ve devised an effective solution?
Many Admins+ professionals say “yes” to every project because it seems to fall under their role or because they may be seen as the only person who could get the job done. I’ve learned over the years that it’s okay to occasionally question the work and/or to say “No.”
My solution most of the time is to look more closely at how my skills are actually connected to the work. Do I feel confident in being able to effectively achieve the goals? How will it elevate me as an Admin+ professional? Also, it’s alright to bring in others to collaborate with you on these projects if you don’t think it is something you should be handling on your own.
You’ve helped to keep diversity and inclusion at the forefront at HERE to HERE. What specific diversity and inclusion initiatives have you been involved with?
I incorporate HERE to HERE’s Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) initiative into my operations work in the following ways:
- I contract with vendors that are Bronx-based and minority, people of color-owned businesses.
- I research vendors who are committed to the same type of work HERE to HERE does.
- I participate in trainings around racial and social justice.
- I offer tools to our DEI committee on measuring inclusivity.
- I coordinate a training with the DEI committee to offer a session to our apprentices, interns and fellows on our specific DEI initiatives.
While contributing to HERE to HERE’s JEDI initiative, I’ve seen the organization rapidly progress toward becoming an organization that truly works to improve DEI — not just within our organization, but with external stakeholders as well.
“Sherrisse has been an active participant in an effort to make sure that HERE to HERE has strong diversity and inclusion practices. She keeps staff reminded about the importance in every aspect of our work.” — Lucy Friedman, Operations Manager, HERE to HERE
As your company’s first point of contact with new hires, what do you see as the most important aspects of onboarding?
Welcoming new hires and representing how it feels to work at HERE to HERE is so important. I want new hires to understand that we are very intentional about giving new staff the support they need to succeed, and that we are very dedicated to our mission. We are also real people with a connection to the community we serve. Impressions are lasting. While we might not remember all the details, we definitely remember our feelings.
How did you manage HERE to HERE’s shift to remote work during the pandemic?
While many things were familiar to me because I’ve consulted for completely remote organizations in the past, what felt like more of a new experience was working with HERE to HERE leadership to transition to the headspace of functioning remotely. Much of our work revolves around relationship building, which includes lots of in-person programming, networking, meetings, and events — all of which promote our mission and our work.
Everything with the pandemic happened so quickly, and while I think I would have been fine handling many of the decisions on my own because of my experience with starting, running, and supporting a virtual office, an integral part of the successful transition hinged on the immediate support, trust, and approval of leadership. Having buy-in for my recommendations for the transition made everything — including getting the rest of the staff on board with new platforms — so much easier.
My advice to other admins? If you truly believe a system you are proposing will work, stand up for it, ask for support when needed, and be candid about what you can take on and what you cannot.
You’re involved with the development of a new program which serves local students in the South Bronx. Tell us about it.
This is a high visibility program supported by several major NYC employers, including JP Morgan. HERE to HERE also serves as a fiscal sponsor to programs with similar missions. My supervisor, Victoria Shire, was aware of my skills and knew I would be able to quickly help around start-up and support for this new initiative, called The Emerging Leaders Program (ELP). She immediately connected me with the project’s head, John Garibaldi, and told him that I was the person he could go to for all operations and for any question he may have. It has been really exciting to see ELP roll out the way it has — and very quickly, too!
I would tell admins to let your supervisor know you are always looking for more ways to align and connect your skills to the work — that you are eager to take on bigger projects, and would like more chances to lead and make decisions.
“Sherrisse supported my efforts across all needs from creating technology platforms, communications, website development, administration of student enrollment, processing stipends and other random tasks required to get us launched with 4 high schools, 120 students, and 8 corporations. She was critical to the execution with strong controls and timely launch.” — John Garibaldi, Operations Manager, HERE to HERE
What’s your favorite thing about being an Office Ninja?
My favorite thing about being an Office Ninja is the satisfaction I get from working through challenging problems, improving systems, and supporting staff. My current work is very important and personal because I’m working for the South Bronx community where I grew up. I also have the opportunity to engage with young people who remind me of who I used to be. I love being part of HERE to HERE’s amazing mission that builds equitable career pathways for the youth through powerful partnerships.
Sherrisse-Lee is a role model and inspiration for anyone who’s ready to take the reins in their professional life. What will you take with you from her story?
Onyx generously gifted each All-Star winner with a luxury gift package.
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Take a few minutes to congratulate 2021 All-Star, Sherrisse-Lee Lewis, and share what her story means to you. And if you have a question for Sherrisse-Lee, please include it with your comment.