The Parachute of the Organisation 

“I’m often referred to as a parachute as I’m frequently ‘dropped’ into an area of the business to either kickstart a project that has stalled or explore why initiatives are not progressing as they should.” 

Jo Jones, deputy chief of staff at the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries (a Royal chartered professional membership body dedicated to educating, developing and regulating actuaries internationally), isn’t just our new career columnist – she’s an Executive PA Media award winner, too. And it’s time to get to know her a little better…   

How did you know you an EA was the career for you? 

I have, slowly and steadily, worked my way up, experiencing different organisations and industries and I think I knew that I wanted to make a difference. Just doing a 9-5 and switching off didn’t cut it for me. My motivation is knowing that I’m adding value to the greater good and I’ve always wanted to be doing this – I just didn’t know what this was called back then. Without really knowing it, I was working towards a career in senior administration.   

What has been your career highlight so far? 

I was fortunate enough to be recognised as the UK’s number one EA in 2017 through Executive PA Media and that moment will forever be the highlight of my career. I think I mentioned in my speech that all the long days and late nights were guiding me to that moment, and being awarded meant I got to meet some extraordinary EAs and PAs too.  

Did you implement any changes or feel a new zest for work life as a result of your award? 

I felt that the award went a long way in putting professional administration on the map, certainly in my own organisation at the time. From then on, it has given me the additional confidence to speak up on behalf of my peers, helping them recognise that being a professional administrator is a really rewarding career path. We are pinnacle in ensuring our organisations are successful and let’s face it, there’s a reason why leadership is rolled out ‘polished’, right? That doesn’t just happen – it’s what we do behind the scenes and I recognise that without doubt now. 

What are your main responsibilities in your current role? 

My main responsibility, in a nutshell, is stakeholder management – ensuring that my colleagues, our members and the senior volunteers that I work closest with have a positive experience interacting with IFoA. I’m often referred to as a parachute as I’m frequently ‘dropped’ into an area of the business to either kickstart a project that has stalled or explore why initiatives are not progressing as they should. 

How does your organisation show appreciation for staff?   

In lots of ways. We have a great benefits package, additional days off, celebration of success vouchers, an annual in-person away day with dinner and entertainment in the summer and, more recently, a financial award (to all colleagues except the executive leadership) to help address the cost-of-living crisis. The latter was particularly appreciated and welcomed by all.  

What is the working environment like?  

We’re hybrid and are trusted to make our own decisions about where we work. So, we have the choice to work from home, go into the hubs (we no longer say office) or we can do a mixture of both.  I choose to join colleagues in the London hub as often as I can – being very much a people person, I need regular human interaction! 

Can you tell us more about your ‘hubs?’ 

Post-pandemic when we were looking at our colleagues’ wellbeing against the future property strategy, the priority was connectivity. And, following UK government guidelines of course, we had to limit the colleagues returning to a physical space on a daily basis. Thinking about the space we needed to come back together and reconnect, the term ‘hub’ felt more appropriate – ‘office’ didn’t seem right for so many different reasons. When I think about the word ‘hub’, it means the ‘heart of’ and it works so well for me and for so many of us. 

What’s your office Christmas party like?   

It no longer exists in my organisation – we take the opportunity to use the summer annual get together for real celebration and connection. The end of the year is marked with a virtual get-together with a bit of business and some organised fun – we had chocolate-making one year and a taskmaster game show last year! 

Do you do anything different to the norm when a new employee joins?  

The onboarding of a new colleague is tighter and more targeted than it used to be as we’re all hybrid working these days. I started my current role in lockdown and felt that my induction programme was super intense. But the flip side is that I was up and running a lot quicker, I feel, than if I’d been in a physical space. Because of the remote element, I had to work a lot harder and swifter in building those relationships I needed to make me successful.  

Do you use any interesting technology to improve the work environment, safety or wellbeing of employees in some way?   

We’re working hard towards being known as a ‘digital first’ organisation for both our members and colleagues. My team have a weekly virtual ‘huddle’ then in-person meetings with dinner and drinks once a quarter. Everyone makes a special effort to attend. Outside of these I know I can call on any one of my team members for support – just yesterday, I was feeling the pinch of a heavy week and put a call out asking if anyone fancied a ‘virtual coffee’ as I needed to be with humans. Out of the team of ten, six showed up in an instant. I feel very lucky to be in the position I find myself in! 

Tell us about your direct report(s).  

I’m blessed to manage our CEO team administrator, Jemma. When my boss asked me to undertake this piece of recruitment she said: “Jo, what we really need is another ‘you’”. And I think we should be careful what we wish for because Jemma is a mini-me and I had no idea how much so until we started working together… Watch this space!   

How does she support you?  

Jemma just naturally takes away the day-to-day from me so I can focus on the future and visionary piece of my organisation with my boss. She’s quite simply, and very quickly, made my life easier.   

And how do you support her?   

I try to be there for Jemma whenever she needs me.  It’s a real pleasure offering support, advice and guidance, and I have an overwhelming desire to set her up for success. I just know she is going to make a huge difference to, not only the team, but our organisation overall. 

What would Jemma say about you?   

She may say that I push her to be her best at all times, and that I possibly churn out her work at a rate, pace and volume that she’s not quite used to yet! But I do know she’s enjoying her role so far. Just last week she messaged me, out of the blue, saying she was having a lovely day and was excited to be working with me. I can’t ask for more than that really.   

And finally, what are your top tips for senior level PAs looking to create a great culture in their organisation?  

Always be the bigger person in the room, and hold a professional, warm, friendly style and tone. Role model desirable behaviours at all times, regardless of whatever and whoever you are faced with.