How does an Administrative Professional Set Up an Official Process? Ask an Admin


Welcome back to Ask an Admin! The blog series that allows administrative professionals to ask any questions they may have and have their peers give the best advice they can provide.

This week Stacey asks:

I am the Executive Assistant to the President and CEO, and the only assistant (the only admin, really) at this location. Coworkers leave documents on my desk; the expectation is that I secure the signature of the President and CEO, and then return it to the requestor (who’s assistant am I, anyway?). I would like to know how does an administrative professional set up an official process to obtain signatures and return the documents, but I could use some advice. How do other assistants deal with this? Or am I just being a jerk for not wanting to run other people’s signed documents all over the building to return them?

Thanks a lot for your time!

Stacey does ask a great question. This administrative professional has documents that need to be signed by the President and CEO then has to run the signed papers back to her co-workers. So, how does an administrative professional set up an official process?

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35 thoughts on “How does an Administrative Professional Set Up an Official Process? Ask an Admin”

  1. I wish I could thank all of you individually! I’ve learned a lot from all of you, thanks so much!

    I wrote this procedure, ran it by my boss, then sent it to the Manager/Supervisor distribution list:

    Dear all,

    Please forward to your direct reports as appropriate.

    If you need (P/CEO)’s signature on a document, and he already knows the details, you may:

    • Bring your document to your one on one (1:1), or
    • other meeting where (P/CEO) is in attendance, or
    • leave it in his “In Box” located on the cabinet to the right of his office door (pictured below).
    • Once signed, documents will be returned to the In Box by 8:30am, most mornings, for you to pick-up.

    “(P/CEO)’s Out of Office Calendar” hangs on the white board next to my desk.

    If the document requires explanation he’s usually available for signatures 8:15-8:30 most days, 8:45am-9am Thursdays. Alternately you can send a short meeting invitation (5-10 minutes) during a time (P/CEO)’s calendar shows free.

    See email below for requesting meetings with (P/CEO).

    Thanks for your time and help!

    1. Rhonda Ostwald


      Years ago I attended a conference and they advised to set up a color-coded file for signatures in the office. We use ORANGE and people can drop their orange folder on desks and people can sign and return to them. Usually on the tab of the folder it will say – Signature Needed – Return to NAME. We actually route them through our internal mail unless someone advises me it is important they get them back on the same day.

      Just last week someone dropped something for our CEO to sign and wasn’t aware we had this system in place. I have a box of orange folders I give to those requesting signatures. It is helpful not only for the CEO, but everyone in the company. Good luck.

  2. I think it’s great you want to change or add a process!

    My recommendation is that they place in a Red or color of your choice folder that is located on your desk (in the same place all the time) for you to obtain the signature when your President/CEO is available. Let them know or have a note on the folder that the expectation is they let you know if it’s ok to scan it back to them or if they would like to pick it up. Another way is perhaps you call them when it’s signed and say, your xyz paper is signed. Do you prefer I scan it to you or would you like to pick it up? That will set the expectation. Hope this helps! Everyone is busy but it’s your job to facilitate the paperwork for signature, not run it all over the place. Your first responsibility is to be there for your principal!

  3. You are not being a jerk for wanting to change the current standard. Unless you are the mail delivery person as well, you shouldn’t be expected to deliver these. Unless this is a process that is written down in your ‘Admin Duties’, you should be able to change the expectations. When I have documents dropped off at my desk for signature, I inform the employees that I will notify them when it has been completed and is ready for pick-up. I will call them or send them an email to let them know the document is ready. You may be the only admin in the office, but your duty is to the President and CEO first and foremost. You take the responsibility to get the documents in front of him/her for signature in a timely manner and maybe double check that the forms have been filled out properly. I have seen other admins that have an ‘Incoming’ basket on their desk with a little note attached explaining that notifications will be sent out when items are ready for pick-up.

    You should speak with your CEO about this as well. If this is the process that he/she expects of you, then let him/her know that you’d like to change the process to help ensure you are fully available and attentive to cover the most important needs for their requirements as the executive. It may take a little bit of tracking to see how much of your time is wasted by walking all over the building delivering documents every day. That is time better spent attending to critical duties for the CEO and his/her leadership team. It will take a little time for everyone to get used to the new process, but it will soon become the new standard.

  4. Dianne Richards

    You probably have a lot of other work as well!

    You need to re-set the expectation. Yes, you will bring the document to your CEO, but let people know that they are expected to retrieve it when signed.

    Sample language: You need Bill’s signature? Great! I can get that for you. When do you need it by? Once he signs it, do you want pick it up? Or I can send it back to you through interoffice mail.

  5. Personally I like to go return them as it gives me a reason to stretch my legs; however I also know that it can be time consuming to do that all the time. I’ve known EAs that have collected all docs signed and at say 2 or 3pm sends an email out to those waiting saying “docs are signed and can be picked up at my desk” (or specify yellow folder or outbox). Good luck!

  6. Return them as a courtesy when time permits or if you’re going that way anyway, but if not then call them and ask them to pick them up at their convenience. It’s their document — they are responsible for it. I never encountered a problem when asking people to come and get their documents back. You’ve done your part in getting the signature. People just appreciated that the signature was done.

  7. Katherine Morgan

    If I don’t have time to return a signed document to someone, I will email them or call them and tell them it is signed and available at my desk for pickup at their convenience. Most people are happy to come get it.

  8. Hi Stacey,
    I work for a large government agency. Anytime a signature is needed by the Executive Office, we are required to have a routing slip on the outside of bi-folder, with documentation inside. The routing slips asks for: writer, support staff, section/unit manager, division director, deputy commissioner, commissioner, etc. Comments and special instructions, date due, etc. There is a section for approval/not approved/need more information. Cover all your who, what, where, why, how’s. Each division is assigned a special colored folder for easy identification. Since our EO is in another building, delivery by interoffice mail, we ask the requestor to allow plenty of time for processing 7-10 business days (for their signature and interoffice mail delivery). If an emergency, we walk the request to the EO office. It would help to have a special tray just for the signature items on your desk. Then you can set aside time to review these with your Executives. If your EO’s approve, send an email to staff of the process. Expect this will take a little time to adjust, but it benefits all. Hope this helps. Good luck.

  9. For my daily or monthly consistent processes, I created a process binder. In the event that I am out of the office for a long period of time, co-workers and supervisor will know what steps are needed to complete a task.

  10. What I’ve done in the past is ask each person to put their documents in a file folder with their name on it. Once the document was signed I would let them know, by phone or email, that the document was ready and they could pick it up at my desk. After a little bit of “training” it worked.

  11. If you are really too busy to return everyone’s requests, I’d suggest they bring the documents to you in a red folder marked “signature” and include a post-it on the front with their name and phone number and that you advise that the process is that you will contact them when the document is signed and ready for pickup. I’d also say that all documents requiring a signature should have a cover letter/executive summary explaining what is being signed.

  12. I put the document in a folder with a post-it on front with my name and for the Admin to call, email, or IM me when it’s signed and I’ll come pick it up.

  13. My procedure is this: They put the contract (that is in some sort of file folder and labeled with their contact information and what and why they need signature), for signature in the appropriate bin (marked for signature) on my desk, once it has been signed I follow up with them either via email or phone and they swing by to pick it up in the appropriate bin (signed\ready for pickup) on my desk. This seems to work very well.

  14. Stacey:
    I have a green “signature” folder for my boss and she prefers me to let several documents accumulate before I put the folder on her desk, that way she can sign many documents at once. My prior boss preferred the same thing. Once documents are signed, I do one of two things:
    1. If I want a walk, or some extra steps, I may deliver the document.
    2. Otherwise, I will contact the originator and let them know they can stop by my desk and pick up their signed documents.
    3. You may want to use inter-office mail as well.

  15. I think what you should ask yourself is: What process would YOU like to see happen? If you can define the process that you would like to see, then it should be relatively easy to set it up. When I think of implementing a new process that would help streamline my work, I think through the steps and see who it might affect. I then run my thoughts by my supervisor. If you can explain to your President & CEO the need for a process and get their buy-in or approval, then you should be comfortable moving forward & implementing the new process. In our organization, procedural changes are shared in our weekly staff bulletin. If there are only a few “repeat offenders,” you could send a dedicated email to just those individuals to explain the process. In your situation, it sounds to me you could have a separate inbox labeled “Signatures Requested” and ask that people place documents there. On the label, you could even say “Documents delivered by 2 PM tomorrow” or something like that – whatever dedicated time the next day or whenever you choose. It would eliminate the drive-bys who drop-off & run, but you won’t have things randomly placed on your desk. You may have to do work on your end to deliver but you can do it at a day/time that is convenient for YOU.

    The main thing is follow through. If you change a procedure, don’t be afraid to push-back and continue to reiterate the change. You will sound like a broken record but over time, people will start to comply with the new procedure. Good luck!

  16. I would suggest using an instant messenger to alert them when their documents have been signed and having a tray dedicated to document pickup.

    This way they are aware as soon as their document is ready and you can tend to your other administrative tasks instead of taking laps around the building.

    No need to make a big announcement, when
    you instant message them the first time, let them know where they can find them.

  17. In our office, each has a folder with their name on it for anything that needs to be signed so it can be left on my desk and I know who it came from. I get the signatures and let the person know it is ready to be picked up – unless I or the EVP has the time or needs to go their direction for something, we take it with us and drop it off. Usually works out fairly evenly between picking up and delivering so no one is burdened.

    If the expectation is that they need to pick it up, there should be a drop off/pick up area designated and the admin should monitor it, get the signatures and let the others know it is ready to be picked up.

  18. I would tell the person leaving the document that you will email them when the document is signed and ready for them to pick-up. Then, once the CEO signs the document, a simple email with the subject line as: Your signed document is ready for pick-up. EOM
    She could leave a folder on her desk with the recipient’s name on it for pick up in case she happens to be away from her desk when they arrive to retrieve the document.

  19. Angie McCracken

    In our office everyone one has “Return To” folders with their name on it. When they need something reviewed, approved or signed by the President or CFO they put the folder in their in box. I will empty the “Out Box” of the President and return to whomever. As for the CFO, he will return the folder to that person on his own. Our President is the only one with an “out box”. Most of time I do not know what is inside the folder as I just assume it is non of my business until I am asked to do something else with it. Our folder system seems to work well in our office.

  20. Melissa Hunter

    Rather than running around, why not put it back onto the person dropping off the document?

    Just let them know when they drop the document off that you will call them when it’s signed and ready for pick up. They can either come get it or you can send it through the interoffice mail.

    that way, either they can come get it, or send their assistant over to pick up it.

  21. After signature is obtained, e-mail the requestor and say come & pick up your documents. Avoids any running around on Stacey part and makes the requestor responsible for they own document

  22. Hi Stacey,
    Maybe you can have an “outbox” in your work area and any forms that have been signed can be returned to this box. When someone comes in to drop something off let them know it will be waiting for them in the “outbox” when it has been completed. This will let them know they will have to come back at their convenience to retrieve it.

  23. I track the documents my leader signs. I keep track of date in, name from, document type, date out. That way I know exactly what has come through and when. When it comes to returning those documents, if they are a short distance away I will walk it to them. If they are on a different floor, I email or call them that their document is ready for pickup. I do have a sign at my desk that documents for his signature do come to me first for tracking purposes. I didn’t establish the return policy though. I just did it.

  24. Rhonda S Hervey

    I maintain a signature log on a clipboard with a signature folder beneath it. The log is a spreadsheet with columns for “Date received”, “From”, and “Description of document.” They sign in the document and place it in my folder beside the log. At the end of the day, I give the signature folder to my executive. He signs everything and returns to me. I check off each signed item on the log and deposit in my “pickup” bin on the side of my desk. I DO NOT HAND DELIVER signed items. Everyone knows to come back to my desk for pickup. Sometimes I will give a courtesy call or send a quick email to let someone know it’s ready, especially when I know it’s time-sensitive or very important. Most people just stop back the following day to check my pickup box. It works! Email me and I will send you photos/examples.

  25. Hi Stacey,

    Does your office utilize inter office mail? If so, I would return documents (without a strict deadline) via inter office mail.

    Otherwise, I would send an email to the requestor letting them know you have obtained the signatures they have asked for and that it is now ready to be picked up. You could start an outbox and place the document in a folder/envelope/with a cover sheet, with their name on it. This way they can come by and pick up the item(s) when they have a moment and hopefully not have to bug you in the process.

    I hope this helps – and no, I don’t think you are being a jerk!

  26. When someone needs a signature from the boss, they leave it with me and I always say…I’ll email you when it’s signed and ready for pick up. I don’t let them ask me to return it to them {unless they are on crutches). It’s a you dropped it off – you pick it up. Sounds kind of mean but it’s not because I’ve set my boundaries and my responsibilities. There might be a grumble at first but it doesn’t last long. 🙂

  27. Is there a central mailbox location? Typically, I’m able to run them back to the person.., but if I have a bunch I have my Exec sign them all and then I put them in the mailroom slots (including those that are interoffice by our courier), rather than dropping them off individually or having them stop by.

  28. I usually tell them that I’ll gladly obtain the signature and email them when it’s ready for them to come back and get it, or I send it back electronically, whichever they prefer. I never suggest that I will bring it back to them, and I don’t.

  29. Hi Stacey,

    I don’t think you are being a jerk. I send an email letting the person know their signed document is at my desk to pick up at their convenience or I scan the document and send it to them in an email depending on what it is.

    I believe it is their responsibility not mine.

  30. I, too, am the only admin in a quickly growing company. I support the CEO as well as his 11 VP’s and Senior Manager’s, both on and off location. If someone in the company needs my CEO’s signatures, I have a red folder that I specifically use for this purpose. They come to my office and ask for his signature, but if I don’t have time to return it to them (I use this time for a quick, brisk walk), I just IM them using Skype, letting them know that they can come and pick up their signed documents. They don’t complain, as it’s them that’s needing a service.

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