The Revolutionary Assistant

The Revolutionary Assistant aims to be a partner to her manager. Fetching coffee and typing memos aren't her focus - she's fighting the good fight day by day with the boss, and she's getting things done.

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Revolutionary Reference

Revolutionary Reference

We've amassed years of administrative assistant knowledge here on this site, and it's time we share it with you.
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Revolutionary Quotes

Revolutionary Quotes

"Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much." (Helen Keller) Collaborate better with these helpful hints!
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Apps for Success

Apps for Success

Evernote allows you to keep all kinds of files together in one place, on the cloud, accessible by any device!
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Tips and Tricks

Tips and Tricks

Planning meetings across the globe? World Time Server is the best tool to ensure that you're not getting anyone out of bed to meet!
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Improving Your Strategic Thinking Skills

A Revolutionary Assistant is a business partner to her manager, and she can be an even better business partner by improving her strategic thinking skills.  Strategy is a part of your manager’s every-day job, and if you’re tuned in to your department’s strategy and how it fits into the company’s strategy , you’re an even bigger help.

A strategic thinker anticipates change, takes risks and is flexible in her approach to work.  If you don’t see how your work fits into the bigger picture, there’s no way for you to reach outside what you’ve been told to do and mean something more to your job.  That’s not a very revolutionary approach!

If you want to improve your strategic thinking skills, take a look at Nina Bowman’s article “Four Ways To Improve Your Strategic Thinking Skills” on the Harvard Business Review website.  You won’t be sorry you took a look!

 

Next Post:  Wednesday, February 26, 2017

Virtual Assistant Freelancing – Is It For You?

Being a Revolutionary Assistant can be a rewarding career, but it’s not always the best paying one.  Like many, you’re probably working for a manager who makes five or six (or a gazillion) times more than you do.  Sure, money doesn’t mean as much as job satisfaction for most of us, but every once in a while it would be nice to have a little extra cash.

If you’re looking to make a little extra cash, you might be checking out some of the freelance sites that are out there.  People are looking for “virtual assistants” right now, a person who can do data entry, research, or even actual administrative tasks, but they’re not ready to hire someone as a full-or part-time employee.

Sites like Guru.com and Upwork.com provides free access to people who are looking for candidates who have administrative skills to offer.  Some are full time positions, others are very specific tasks with a delivery date and are just one-time jobs.

You’ll find, as I did, that most people looking for freelance help are not willing to pay big bucks for the work, but many of the tasks are not such that they require a lot of effort.  Expect to see rates from $5 to $15 an hour, or fixed rate prices on jobs that extend anywhere from $20 to a couple hundred dollars.

Are you going to make your living being a freelance virtual assistant?  Not likely to happen on these sites, but if you’re looking for a project to bring in a little extra cash after the kids go to bed, it might be the best possible way to make a couple of bucks without leaving your couch.  Check out Upwork, Guru, and some of the other freelance sites out there to see for yourself.

Next Post:  Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Boss With No Expertise

A couple of companies ago, I worked for a manager who had his act together.  He worked in a discipline he knew inside and out, and he had the respect and admiration of most everyone he worked with.  Then, he was promoted, and he continued to oversee that discipline, along with a new discipline: Information Technology.

Information Technology.  This was a man who called me at home between Christmas and New Year because he couldn’t figure out how to make the copier create a .PDF file.

I mention this because I was wandering through the Harvard Business Review website and saw an article called “If Your Boss Could Do Your Job, You’re More Likely to be Happy at Work” (by Benjamin Artz, Amanda Goodall, and Andrew J. Oswald).  Most of the time, I agree with the things I read from HBR, but this time, I felt like the authors missed the mark…a little bit.

The article concluded that “employees are far happier when they are led by people with deep expertise in the core activity of the business.”  While it’s often a notion that it’s wrong to promote an engineer to lead engineers or an editor to lead editors, this article argues that a manager’s expertise in the field matters a great deal.  Employee satisfaction, according to their surveys in the US and Britain, go up when they feel like the boss can step in and do what they do.

A Revolutionary Assistant wants to support a manager no matter what the circumstances, and, as was the case for me, I had a manager who was suddenly overseeing a department where he had very little expertise.  And while it might be true that employees are happier when their boss has the same expertise, I saw a manager who made do without. Here’s how he was successful:

He didn’t claim expertise and respected those who had it – My manager walked in, equipped with an awareness of corporate goals and how IT needed to fit in.  He made every effort to understand the obstacles and involve the team in how they were going to reach their goals.

He was a great leader – Honestly, I’ve never worked with anyone before or since who was quite like him when it came to leadership skills.  He approached that aspect with great confidence, and his direct reports were likely to follow him anywhere.  He had confidence here, and he showed it.  If your manager can’t be an expert in the field he’s leading, you can cheer him on to be an expert leader.

He was a people manager – He wanted to see people succeed in their positions, and he was willing to help them get to the next level, especially when it came to those skills that were common no matter what the position.  When it came to presentation, speaking persuasively to senior management, he was a coach and cheerleader for the team members.

Authors Artz, Goodall, and Oswald are likely mostly correct when they say that employees are happier when the boss knows how to do their job.  There’s none of that, “He has no idea what he’s asking me to do!” and “Doesn’t he know how much time that’s going to take?”  But if your manager is faced with the task of leading a group of people and he’s not at all an expert, a little bit of respect, love of people and good old fashioned leadership might do the trick.

 

Next Post:  Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Happy Holidays!

Another year of Revolutionary conversations in the books!  Happy holidays to all my readers, and many thanks for celebrating our fifth year with us.

I hope that 2017 finds you looking to tackle all the revolutionary issues presented to you.  Have a delightful holiday season, and we’ll see you in January!

happy-holidays

 

 

 

Next post:  Wednesday, January 11

Crying in the Office

A while back we talked about women in the workplace and their tendencies to over-apologize.  Now we’re going to talk about crying.  Sure, it’s probably not 100% a female thing, but you can find a whole lot more women that cry than men, so worth talking about for a minute.

My own personal opinion:  I don’t if I can help it.  Crying gives away your power, and men look at you and think, “Typical female” when you’re standing in front of them sobbing.  So I just don’t do it.  This is not to say that I haven’t had moments where I’ve wanted to, whether it be from anger, frustration, or even extreme sadness.  Of those, only the latter is really worthwhile.

crying-at-workIf a man who cries “seems more human,” a woman is cursed with all the negatives.  She’s incompetent in her position, and she’s crying because she can’t handle it.  She’s manipulative, trying to get someone to feel sorry for her and help her.  Whatever the interpretation, women aren’t exactly praised when they shed a tear – it’s just another reason for others to judge them and their capabilities in the workplace.

It might not be right, but it is what it is, so I try to keep a promise to myself: keep my tears for the moments when they’re warranted (death, loss, etc.), and control them when they’re not (not getting my way, frustration over other people’s actions).  Mostly, I’ll forgive myself and my co-workers when it happens, because…it happens.

 

Some interesting articles and opinions on crying in the office:

 

Huffington Post:  What 15 Female Leaders Really Think About Crying at Work 

The Atlantic:  Is it Okay to Cry at Work?

Fast Company:  When It’s Okay to Cry at Work (and When It Isn’t)

 

Next Post:  Wednesday, December 21

 

Collecting Honest Employee Feedback

Not as easy as it sounds!  You can put out suggestion boxes, provide employee hotlines, tout your open door policy from the roof of the building, and still, your team members hesitate to contribute.  And – here’s a newsflash for you – it’s likely those people have valuable information they’re not sharing.  How do you get it out of them?

The reasons why employees are unlikely to share information about bad bosses, poor processes, or even ways to improve current operations, are pretty logical.  People are generally afraid to speak their minds in a work environment – they don’t want managers to take their feedback personally or seem disrespectful.  In some circumstances, they don’t want to risk reprimand or dismissal.  On the other end of the spectrum, they think, “Why bother?  Nothing’s going to change.”  In order to create an environment where employee feedback is given freely, a manager (and his Revolutionary Assistant!) needs to mitigate these conditions.

suggestion-boxThe payoff is excellent.  If employees feel comfortable sharing and provide feedback regularly, those companies usually experience a higher employee retention and usually higher performance.  Here’s how you can increase feedback in your office.

Don’t rely on the anonymous feedback opportunities – If no one knows who said what, then employees won’t be scared to contribute ad you’re going to get honest feedback, right?  Perhaps.  But consider this: it’s not very easy to follow up on a serious issue when protecting the anonymity of the employee who submitted it; even more difficult if you don’t know who submitted it at all.  So this method is not entirely helpful.  If that’s not bad enough, consider that “anonymous opportunities” like a suggestion box or a 360 assessment can make it seem like employees need the protection of anonymity.

Make your manager (and yourself, as his assistant) available – Like, REALLY available, in the work area of the employees on your team.  Be curious (in a good way) about what’s going on, and be helpful.   You two are the start of a culture of sharing and open dialogue in your office.  Be accessible all the time and…

Encourage your manager to be talkative and express his/her own opinions as an example for others – If your manager behaves like he or she is in the culture of sharing and open communication, employees are more likely to follow suit.  Transparency is key here, as it’d be easy for employees to think that your manager has a personal agenda if they’re not used to this behavior.

Make feedback a regular part of the routine – If your manager is holding weekly meetings, set aside a part of that meeting to encourage feedback as a part of the conversation.  Welcome all of it – even the bad ideas will get you to good ones, so no criticism and no picking on ideas that aren’t totally up to snuff!

Provide resources to address issues that come up – When you hear feedback that requires action, put someone on the case.  If employees aren’t sharing because they think nothing will be done, it’s your manager’s duty to make sure they aren’t right about that.

In order to encourage employee feedback, your manager has to work toward shifting the culture so that employees feel comfortable.  Once the suggestions start rolling in, take good care of them:  put adequate resources on them to see that good ideas come to fruition, and treasure even the bad ideas that come in.  Remember, you could work in an office where no one says anything at all!

 

Next Post:  Wednesday, December 7

 

Do They Know You’re Looking For Another Job?

Revolutionary Assistants are always looking for the next opportunity to prove themselves, and sometimes that opportunity is outside the four walls of your company.   But looking for a new career challenge isn’t the only reason that people look for new positions – they might be overworked and looking for a position that sticks a little closer to 40 hours, or perhaps they’re looking to get out of a bad social or management situation.  Whatever the reason, a person will take the usual steps to get themselves out on the market.

The question is: do their managers know they’re looking?

do-they-know-youre-looking-for-another-jobIt’s something to consider.  Technology has made job-hunting much easier, but it’s also easy to see the evidence.  People beef up their LinkedIn profiles, reach out to new connections and start conversations to get the word out, and if you’re doing that it’s not a huge leap to think that your manager can see it, too.  If you put your resume out on a job board, it’s out there for the whole world (and your boss) to review.  And if you’re using a head hunter, don’t be surprised if one of his associates or connections puts your resume right back in your manager’s hands.  They don’t always look too carefully before they send a qualified candidate along.

On top of those easy ways to give yourself away, though, your employer may be actively looking for all those signs and more to see if you’re looking for another job, and the reason why is pretty obvious:  employee turnover costs money.   Some companies have their eye on those employees that are most likely to leave and do things like track their comings and goings with access badge use or review activities on all their social media accounts.

Several of these concerned organizations have gone as far as retaining a company called Joberate to help them determine which of their employees are putting themselves on the market.  Joberate evaluates social media activity to pinpoint those people that are making all those tell-tale moves, and it’s allowing companies to nip attrition problems in the bud.  This doesn’t necessarily mean that they want to stop someone who’s looking to advance his or her career, but it does mean that they can possibly look for a more challenging position for that person within the company.  An employee might not be forthcoming that his manager is a poor leader and not easy to work with, but Jobrate is telling them that several people who work with that manager are putting themselves on the job market, and that’s helping them determine what the problem is.

So if you’re sneaking around, taking extra-long lunches and maybe one too many dentist and doctor appointments, it might not be the first thing that gave you away.  If you’re truly looking for a bigger challenge in your career and you like the company and the people you work for, it’s worth a discussion with your manager to see if you can take your next steps without parting ways.  If you have other reasons for leaving, that might be worth an honest conversation as well.  After all, they could already know all about it!

 

Next Post:  Wednesday, November 23

Women and Collaboration in the Workplace: An Unfair Game

I just finished managing a large event – more than 500 people for three days – and I’m just a puddle I’m so exhausted.  As is always the case with these events, I had with me a few really good collaborators and workers, and the rest of them said, “Please let me know what I can do to help!” and then never answered when I called.

women-collaboratingWhen I got home, I was looking over my Facebook account for the first time in a month and I saw a meme.  It said, “I’d like all the people who ‘helped’ me on my group projects to be pall bearers at my funeral, so they can let me down one more time.”  Many a truth has been spoken in jest.

Surprisingly, many women find themselves feeling the same way after a project is complete.   In fact, according to Harvard Business Review’s January 2016 article, “Collaboration Overload,” women are 66% more likely to roll up their sleeves and dive in to assist co-workers in times of need, while men are 36% more likely to share knowledge and expertise in a more hands-off way.  Tell me, which one do you think costs more time and energy?

I thought about this a lot when I reached out to ask for help at my event.  I sent out calendar invites to people at all levels of the org chart, and while many of the team members responded and came through, more of them were women than men.  And when I needed to staff my registration table?  All women, only one man.

When I wanted to get something done, I asked a female co-worker, and that’s my bad.  I should be considering all the men I have to choose from when a task needs to be completed, but for me women are more reliable and easier to work with.  They’ll get the job done and not change the process (and the outcome), nor will they delegate it to someone else who doesn’t “get” what we need to accomplish.

So, we’ve established that women get unfairly picked on when it comes to collaboration, and women should consider offering and giving their assistance carefully, so they don’t end up emotionally and physically exhausted.  Managers, too, should be careful when it comes to taking his direct reports with assisting on a project, knowing full well that the scales of labor tend to be tipped in the direction of their female employees.

BUT…

Yes, there’s always a “but.”  This is the unfair part.  As HBR wrote:

In an experiment led by the NYU psychologist Madeline Heilman, a man who stayed late to help colleagues earned 14% higher ratings than a woman who did the same.  When neither helped, the woman was rated 12% lower than the man.

The woman is supposed to help.  When the man lends a hand, he’s a good guy.

Such is the ongoing saga of a woman in the workplace…or just life in general.  As Revolutionary Assistants, we often wrangle the troops to get a task done, and help our managers do the same.  It’s imperative that we take into consideration the overburden of collaboration on female team members,  and help our managers do the same.  And when collaboration on a project is complete, we need to make sure that our female team members get equal credit where equal contributions have been made.

Seems like a simple thing, but as we know about women in the workplace, it’s anything but simple most of the time.

Next post:  Wednesday, November 9

Why Aren’t There More Male Administrative Professionals?

CNN and Money Magazine reported in 2013 that “secretary” was still the top job for females.  The feminist movement is, perhaps, responsible for the name change to “administrative assistant” or “office professional,” but no matter what you call it, it’s what females in the workplace do if they’re not being librarians or kindergarten teachers.

So, what about men in the administrative field?  Do they exist?  Why, yes!  The profession is 97% female (it’s why I use the pronoun “she” when I write), but three percent of us are men.  More than a century ago, 85% of all clerical-type work was done by men, but when women entered the workforce and showed preference for this kind of position, it became “feminized” and men were no longer as interested in doing it.

Man as assistantAlso, there’s the case where men are still expected to have a job that provides for a family, and administrative work (now that it’s feminized) is not the kind of position that pays well.

Not so if you hop the pond, though.  I read an article in The Guardian (from 2013) entitled, “Jobless Male Graduates Turn to Secretarial Work.”  Our British counterparts are valued a bit more than we are here in the states, it seems, because some administrative professionals earn upward of £75,000 (that’s a little less than $100,000, by the way).  British men find the salary adequate (no doubt!) and see it as a “stepping stone to other positions within the company.”

This doesn’t seem to happen in the United States, particularly because most of the time “administrative assistant” is a stepping stone to nothing…although that wasn’t always the case.  As Amy Eagle wrote in her Chicago Tribune article, “A Job Once Filled By Men Became a Pink Profession:”

The position of clerk (as secretaries were more commonly known then) had been an entry-level professional job. “Clerks often went on to become managers,” said Leon Fink, a history professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. As corporations grew and management required more specialized training, office support became “more of a permanent subordinate position,” he said.

Still, there are some men in the field.  I headed over to a write-up Monster.com posted called “The Few, The Proud: Men in the Admin Position” and what I read there was somewhat interesting.  They reported that women should expect to see more competition as the position grows and expands beyond typical secretarial duties.  “Men find the technological side of the profession more likeable than typewriters or mimeographs,” explained Ronald Hyman, CPS and president of the Florida division of the International Association of Professionals.

I can’t remember when I last touched a typewriter or even laid eyes on a mimeograph, but whatever.

As long as perceptions of the administrative position are tied to typing, calendar management and…um…mimeograph machines…we females will continue to dominate the field.  Men will hesitate to enter a “pink profession” because it’s not masculine, it doesn’t pay enough, and it’s not interesting because there are “typewriters.”   A Revolutionary Assistant, though, is a business partner to her executive, and does much more than that.  We could make this into a position that’s much more interesting.

But let’s keep it under wraps, because boys are gross.

Next Post:  Wednesday, October 26

 

What’s the Future of the Administrative Professional Position?

At my company, the “assistant” position is going away.  No one wants to be an assistant (“Oh my gosh, I’m not an assistant, I don’t run for coffee!”) and no executive thinks he or she really needs one (“I don’t need an assistant, I have a smart phone!”)

I see a bunch of people who just don’t get it.

An assistant is an executive’s partner in business.  If an executive is only using his assistant to keep a calendar and make flight arrangements, I have to wonder how hCrystal balle or she escalated to that position.  An assistant is so much more.

ChiefExecutive.com’s article “How to Get the Most Out of Your Executive Assistant” hit the nail on the head.  The directives were:

  • Include your executive assistant in strategy meetings
  • Keep your assistant informed about important business issues
  • Use your assistant as a sounding board

I say, yes.  All that and more.

In the article, former Charles Schwab CEO David Pottruck talked about how his assistant handled all of his budget meetings for him, allowing him to have one 10-minute meeting with the finance department instead of the several 45-minute meetings that seemed to be his fate.  She also met with the leaders of a charitable organization on a regular basis, managing the company’s sponsorship.

Both of those tasks free up her executive’s time and move company objectives forward.  And, as a Revolutionary Assistant, you should be using your business acumen to do the same for your executive.  By doing that, you’re adding value to your own position and to the administrative position.

And for those of you that are already reaching for your copy of Finance for Dummies, there is no need to force yourself to learn something new to do this.  Reach, instead, into your arsenal of skills and lend help where you can serve best.  For instance, my executive wouldn’t let me anywhere near the budget, but he never looked at a newsletter or wrote a memo the whole time I worked for him.

In whatever way you’re a business partner to your executive, know that putting those skills into gear is what the future of the administrative position is all about.  Like we mentioned in the very first article, without taking these steps to be a good business partner, the administrative position will become obsolete.

Next Post:  Wednesday, October 12