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

To say nothing, especially when speaking, is half the art of diplomacy. (Will Durant) Public speaking will get both you and your manager farther in your career.
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Apps for Success

Apps for Success

Video conference and desktop sharing are a breeze with FuzeBox. Save your company money on meeting travel using this great tool!
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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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Enhancing the Manager/Assistant Relationship

In my last blog post, I talked about stepping aside for that new assistant who’s followed her manager to a new job.  This is not good for you, especially if her manager’s new job is your manager’s old one.  But it’s great that an assistant has such a good working relationship with her manager that they decide to stick together.  It’s likely that the two of them have a mutually satisfying relationship that fosters professional and personal growth for both parties, because they have common interests and a common approach to life that bonds them.

You could have that too.

Friendships and common bonds won’t always grow between two people, but here are a couple of ways that you can try for “something more” with your manager without crossing professional boundaries.

Set aside a daily snippet of time for conversation and catch-up – Dialogue won’t open up if there’s no time for it.  Sit down with your manager and agree to meet for five or ten minutes at the beginning or end of every day, so you can cover topics that need to be addressed.

Share your enthusiasm with your manager – The best way to find out what someone else is all about is to share what makes you tick.  If you spent all weekend at a flea market and came home with an antique radio that makes your heart soar, by all means, tell your manager all about it.  It doesn’t have to be a long conversation; it just has to be a little glimpse of who you are.  It’ll encourage reciprocation.

Set up the “every six months whether we need it or not” time out of the office – I’ve invoked this rule with several of my managers over the years.  I want to get out with them in a social setting at least once every six months, so we can be ourselves and just talk about something other than work.  Perhaps it’s dinner with the spouses along, or maybe it’s a relaxing lunch with a no-cell-phones rule.  Whatever the plan, aim to get out of the work cage and run around in the wild for a little bit, so you can each see a different side of the other.

Ask her what she thinks – Whenever there’s a change at work or a new initiative, there’s something new to talk about.  Ask your manager her opinion on different things that are going on in the office – perhaps you see things the same way and can find some common ground.  If not, you can at least get a glimpse of her perspective.

It could be that you and your manager never find that sweet spot, and if not, that’s okay.  You can still do your job or, if this is really important to you, head off and find someone new to support.  But even if you have a little bit of appreciation for what motivates your manager to get up and go in the morning, you’ll find it easier to do your job for her.  No one likes helping a jerk, but it’s easy to work hard for a manager you understand something about her on a deeper level.

Next Post:  Wednesday, January 7

When the New Manager Brings His Assistant Along

It happens to more assistants than I even care to think about, because executives get moved around, hired and let go so frequently that it makes your head spin.  Any of us in that top position are in danger of hearing those words, “They’re hiring a replacement for your manager, and he has an assistant he’s bringing with him.”

But I’m here to tell you that this is a good thing.  Maybe not immediately for you, because you’re the one that’s being asked to step aside for this new assistant.  But for the person who’s being brought along, it’s a real feather in her cap, something she can be proud of.  She’s cultivated a relationship with her manager that he or she considers to be irreplaceable.  Kudos to her.

This is what we all should want.

I’ve spent a lot of time supporting managers that weren’t really my kind of folk.  I didn’t click with them, they didn’t click with me, and supporting them was an exercise in black-and-white secretarial exercises that weren’t any too fulfilling.  Sure, I still anticipated their needs, delivered the goods, but I was phoning it in.  Putting a smile on my manager’s face was my job, but it didn’t reach my heart.

My best days as an assistant were when I invested myself in someone I could believe in.  If I was 100% attentive to the manager I didn’t click with, then I was 150% in tune with the manager whose success was my primary goal.  If the manager for whom I felt so-so needed his tire fixed, I’d for sure call for an appointment, but the manager to whom I was devoted?  Well, I’d stand out in the rain with an umbrella while they adjusted that rim.  Nothing was too much to ask if it kept my manager working at what he or she did best.

I am here to tell you there is nothing better than that when you’re an assistant.  Just like a good marriage, you and your manager bring out the best in each other, and when it’s right, it’s golden.  Suddenly, where you were only phoning in the job, you’re now giving it your all because someone you admire is aiming to succeed, and you can help make it happen.

And you yourself are reaching heights you never thought possible, learning things you never thought you could comprehend.  It may seem like your work is selfless, but you yourself are growing by leaps and bounds because you’re jumping impossible hurdles for your manager.  When you’re presented with a problem, you figure out a way around it.

That’s what happens when you really click with your manager.

So you’re packing up your desk and stepping aside for the new assistant.  Maybe you’re being shifted to another department, maybe you’re headed to the unemployment line, but I’m telling you right now, don’t fret.  Revolutionary Assistants are still in high demand.  You’ll land on your feet, and you’ll be just fine.

Go out and find that manager.

Next Post:  Wednesday, December 17

What to Do When You’re Feeling Left Out at the Office

We just talked about how, as a Revolutionary Assistant, you can assist your manager in making sure everyone feels included.  A manager who goes out of her way to make sure everyone is heard is bound to mine special things from her team.

But if you’re not feeling included in the important meetings – or even in the office get-togethers – there are things you can do to help yourself.  Consider some of these suggestions.

Make sure you set aside time for your co-workers, socially as well as professionally – This can be hard, especially as you get older and have more personal responsibilities on your plate.  Children going off to school and spouses who are waiting for dinner are hard to ignore.  But even during the regular 8:00 to 5:00 work hours, there are opportunities to bond with your co-workers.  Ask a team member to join you in the cafeteria downstairs for coffee or out for lunch.  Staying in the thick of co-worker social time can take some effort, so be prepared.

Use that social time to stay “top of mind” for future projects – When you’re socializing with co-workers, you’re talking about that one thing you all have in common: the office.  Staying visible and engaged with the group will keep you in the forefront when it comes time to choose team members to work on a special project or a committee.

Show off what you got! – Make sure that the folks in your office understand all the unique and fabulous things you bring to the table.  For me, I do that with my writing.  I send out a couple of memos to the office about the copy room or the coffee machine, and pretty soon everyone wants me to write stuff for them.  I not only make myself a good choice for other writing projects, but I attract the kind of project that’s most interesting to me.

When all else fails, ask for it – I don’t know about you, but in my office there are all kinds of things going on, and we’re always short-handed.  People generally appreciate any help they can get, so when I see an interesting human resources or marketing project and think that I can contribute, I let people know.  Sometimes I’m slightly off in my prediction of what they might need, but sometimes I’m spot on and am invited into the fold.

Be realistic about what you can contribute – Let’s face it, you can’t be a part of every project and initiative that’s going on in your office, and you should be careful not to ask to be a part of every little thing!  If your own work is slipping a little here and there, be wise about what you ask to get involved with, because that’ll only take up more of your time.

So, don’t just rely on your manager to make you feel included.  Sure, she plays a part in ensuring that everyone has their time in the sun, but you can be stoking those fires as well!

Next post:  Wednesday, December 3

Helping Your Manager Make Sure Everyone Feels (and is) Included

In this era of remote workers, it’s easy to accidentally leave someone out of a conversation or a meeting.  Even more, you can accidentally pass over an introverted person in a meeting or exclude someone who’s culturally different from the rest of the group.

You don’t want to be missing those good ideas these folks aren’t sharing!

If your manager is interested in making sure everyone is included (and she should be!), you can help her by being the bug in her ear, reminding her of these important ways she can make sure no one feels left out.

Seek input in discussions – If your organization is lucky enough to have a diverse staff, then it’s likely you might encounter folks who culturally don’t care for the idea of speaking up in a crowd.  Or you could just have an introvert in the group who hesitates to speak.  These people could have amazing ideas, so encourage your manager to solicit their opinions and thoughts before moving on to the next subject.  Or speak up yourself and suggest that the team hear what’s on their minds!

Encourage video conferences for distributed team members – People work from home nowadays, and it’s easy for them to feel left out of home office goings on.  Tools like Skype, FaceTime and Fuze provide ways for you to see your remote team members when you’re talking to them.  The video services are mostly free, and so worth it!

Keep meeting minutes and notes in a place where everyone can access them – This is particularly nice to do if you’re a group with remote team members, too.  Whether your notes are securely placed on the cloud or on a network drive for easy access, this will help keep the whole team in the loop.

Allow all your team members to have their moment in the spotlight – If it makes sense, encourage your manager to allow each of his direct reports the opportunity to run the team meeting, or something similar.  Your manager should be allowing others to be seen, both within her own team and to other internal and external customers.  Employees feel very included when they have an opportunity to develop their skills and show them off.

Be careful you’re not inadvertently excluding co-workers – Maybe you’re always forgetting to invite a team member to a meeting on a subject that has impact on that person’s work.  Or maybe it’s a more subtle behavior:  I have a co-worker who addresses each of our male team members as “mister” but addresses every female employee by her first name.  While it’s nice to show our male counterparts respect in the office, if you don’t extend that same respect to your female co-workers, they can feel excluded.  I’m sure this hasn’t even occurred to her, but as a female, I’ve definitely noticed!

Celebrate differences – That same person who’s culturally programmed to say very little in meetings might feel a bit left out when the rest of the group partakes of behavior that’s common to their own culture.  Give everyone equal time to show off their differences.  This is where all the good ideas come from.

Making everyone feel a part of the team, and making everyone feel important, is a full-time job.  Every day should be a new effort for your manager, and every day you can be looking for more opportunities to make inclusion happen.  The ‘next great thing’ might be the germ of an idea that’s currently sitting quietly in your most introverted employee’s head.  Don’t miss out!  Include.

Next Post:  Wednesday, November 19

What NOT To Do in Meetings

I’ve read a lot of long lists of things you should do in meetings, but I rarely see a list of what not to do.  And I figure I should see more of the “what not to do” lists considering that every time I go to a meeting, I see about ten different thing that irritate the living daylights out of me.  So maybe if I write an article about what not to do in a meeting, people will stop doing those things.

Please.

At any rate, here are some of my biggest pet peeves:

Waltzing in late – Can you hear the sarcasm in my voice?  I hate it when people come strolling in ten minutes.  I got to the meeting on time, my co-workers got to the meeting on time, and clearly this tardy person doesn’t respect the fact that I have other things to do!  Not only that, but if we started our discussion, we need to catch that person up!

Working on other stuff while you’re in the meeting – Hey, person who is shopping on line during the meeting, or checking the weather (seriously, that happened in one of my meetings just today), I’m talking to you.  If you’re paying attention to your email or surfing the web during the meeting, you’re not paying attention to what we’re talking about.  You ask questions about things we already covered, take up our time…I don’t like it when you’re not paying attention.  When you’re in the meeting, work on paying attention in the meeting.

Heading down a rabbit hole – If we’re in a meeting about the production of widgets, another attendee shouldn’t jump in the minute he sees an opportunity to talk about the production of thingamajigs.  We don’t want to talk about thingamajigs.  Really.  So be quiet!

Having an opinion you’re sharing but not respectfully – If you don’t agree with something I say, don’t roll your eyes or heave a sigh and fold your arms in protest.  Say, “Revolutionary Assistant, I’m not sure I agree with you, can we discuss this further?”  I like that better than when you act like a second grader.

Act like you’re superior to me in a way that makes me want to punch you – I read this article on LinkedIn by Gretchen Rubin that talked about all the ways people make themselves look bad in meetings.  Most of it was what they said and how they said it.  The one I enjoyed the most was, “I can see why you might think that.”  That sentence is usually followed by a reason or two why you’re ignorant and short-sighted.  Check out Gretchen’s list for more phrases to avoid, she hit the nail on the head!

Meetings are a pain in the butt as it is, but when you have all these shenanigans going on, they become unnecessarily aggravating.  When you’re off to your next meeting, remember to behave yourself, and as a Revolutionary Assistant you can keep people in check so they behave themselves, too!

Next post:  Wednesday, November 5

Are You Too Smart to Be “Just an Assistant”?

I just read a really fun article on LinkedIn by Liz Ryan, founder and CEO of Human Workplace.  Called “Seven Signs You’re Too Smart for Your Job,” the article talks about all the signs you should look for that tell you that you’re operating at a lower level than you should be.

I’ve never felt I’m too smart for my job.  Others apparently think I am, though.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “You’re too good for this job,” or “You can do much better than this position.”  Why is it, because the word “assistant” is part of my title that people think I’m at the bottom of the business food chain?  That couldn’t be further from the truth.

Being an assistant is one of those jobs that grows with you.  When you’re young and fresh out of school, an administrative position helping a whole department with a specific kind of task is a good place to start.  As you advance, you learn to become an invaluable part of an executive/assistant team, taking on work that requires brains and integrity.  An assistant doesn’t have to rethink her career – there’s always a new position into which she can grow, a more challenging assignment to be had.

This isn’t to say that I disagree with Liz Ryan about being too smart for a job.  But what she’s really saying throughout most of her article is that you can be too ambitious, too energized, and…well, too smart…for your company.  And that’s something that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

When your values and your philosophy don’t match the people you’re supporting, your motivation and happiness can deteriorate quickly.  This is particularly true of an assistant, who is heavily steeped in the drive and attitude of her manager, the scope of his position and the culture he’s created.  So when you…

  • Work with a bunch of slugs who just punch the time clock,
  • Can’t find a single person in your office that inspires you to reach for the next level, the next success story,
  • Have a boss that doesn’t care what you do as long as his travel reservations are made,
  • Can’t sell a new idea because your co-workers are uncomfortable with anything that’s not the status quo

…then it’s likely you’re too “smart” for your company.  Their values aren’t the same as yours.   Go look for some inspiration.

But being too “smart” to be an assistant? Nah.  This job isn’t about making travel reservations and taking dictation.  I’ve worked my way up the ladder, honing my communication skills, gathering up business acumen, until I could contribute more than my fair share to executive teams that run companies.  I participate in important conversations, have an impact on our results.

And yet I can go home and sleep at night, because even though I have a great time when I’m up to my elbows in business strategy, I’m not responsible for it.  My executive bears that weight on his shoulders.

So tell me again, who’s the dumb one?  :-)

Next post:  Wednesday, October 22

How to Start the Work Day Right

Looking at the title, I feel like I’m setting myself up for a breakfast cereal ad:  “Start your workday off right by eating Wheaties!”

I started thinking seriously about this subject when I noticed that some days were much more productive than others.  And I have no real morning routine once I hit the office door.  What did I do that made those good mornings so good?

Turns out, a lot of people have thoughts on how to start your workday right, and I agree with a bunch of their suggestions:

Arrive on time – I hit a lot of traffic in the morning, but I try to be at work by a certain time.  If I’m earlier than usual, I feel like I’m already ahead of the game.  I like that feeling and it tends to affect the outlook I have on my work that day.

Don’t start the morning reading email – Nothing pulls you in quite like that email inbox.  On days when I’ve not let that be my first activity, I can get more done.  Certainly, I don’t keep my inbox right where I can see every email that comes in, either!  I find those little email notifications that show up in the lower right corner of my screen to be annoying and unnecessary.

Leave busy work for later, tackle the big stuff now – On days when I go in and start my morning with something menial, like entering expenses, I do feel like I’ve accomplished something, yes.  But it’s not an accomplishment that motivates me for the rest of the day.  A bigger project leaves me with more satisfaction, and I can usually tackle it with a good attitude, because I’ve had a good night’s sleep and my brain is ready for action!

Check in with colleagues or direct reports – Because our managers are motivated to get work done, we sometimes have more than one person working on a particular task.  A huddle with your colleagues can ensure that you’re not working at cross-purposes, and can even result in some extra help or advice!  Conversely, if you have direct reports, you can also take five minutes to brief them on your goals for the day, just to make sure you’re all rowing in the same direction.

Leave the crankiness at home – Even if I wake up in a bad mood (and I am NOT a morning person!), I force a smile and act happy to see everyone.  Usually, my mood turns good in a matter of minutes.  People enjoy a smile and react positively to a happy, “Good morning!” when they encounter you in the hallway.

Putting a plan in place to have a productive morning lays the foundation for a fantastic day.  Try these hints as a start toward making your day more fruitful.

(Oh, and eat your Wheaties, too!  Experts universally agree that breakfast is important to get your mind and body going!)

Next post:  Wednesday, October 8

Doling Out the Negative Feedback

Everyone loves giving “atta boys” to fellow co-workers and direct reports, but when it comes to giving negative feedback, even your manager would rather run in the other direction.  Studies would suggest that people actually crave corrective suggestions from others, but what good is that if no one wants to jump in and talk about what’s going wrong?

Well, rest assured, there are some suggestions out there for giving negative feedback, and how to do it in such a way that it does more good than harm.

Don’t give a feedback sandwich – It might be your instinct to give negative feedback bookended with positive feedback, but essentially that doesn’t smooth the edges like you might think.  In fact, sandwiching the good with the bad makes the good feedback seem insincere, and that’s the last thing you want!

Ask permission to give the feedback – Sometimes, just giving the other person a heads-up that you’re about to mention something negative gives him enough prep time to brace himself, allowing for a better discussion.

Stick with the facts – If your feedback isn’t regarding a specific observation, a situation which yielded specific results, then perhaps you need to reconsider this particular feedback discussion.  Gathering the facts before the discussion will help you stay focused on the action/reaction aspect of the issue.  And along these same lines…

…Don’t jump to conclusions – If you’re giving feedback to an employee who has seemed distracted or is making mistakes, perhaps it’s because he or she has a family issue at home that you don’t know about.  Assuming the person is lazy or just slacking off is probably not the right way to approach the conversation!

Go easy on the novices – A study featured in The Journal of Consumer Research indicates that people who are experts in their fields want to hear that negative feedback because it pushes them to do better.  Novices in their fields, however, are looking for positive reinforcement.  So go easy on those novices!  You don’t want to be the reason they changed from nuclear engineering to accounting.

Feedback is feedback, and the best way you can issue some is to separate as much emotion as possible from it.  The end the purpose of it is not to make the recipient feel better; it’s to help that person do better.  And who doesn’t want to do better?

Next Post:  Wednesday, September 24

Finding Your Motivation

I learned a long time ago that my biggest motivation for being good at my job – heck, my motivation for working at all! – is because I want to do good things for good people.

Of course, this makes it difficult when I’m doing good things for less-than-good people.  And, Revolutionary though an assistant may be, when she is told that she’s just the gum on the bottom of someone’s shoe, not “really” a member of her team, or otherwise, that motivation tends to go away, and a stronger “screw you” attitude moves in and takes motivation’s place.

So, how does one keep motivation at a high when one’s attitude is rock bottom?

Remember some of the good reasons why you’re doing what you do – And some of those good reasons may not even be work related!  Whether it’s a cute little mouth to feed at home or putting up with the bad because you get to work on a team that makes charitable contributions to children’s education, there are a couple of good things about your job.  Connect your tasks back to your values.

Find a cheerleader – Even in the darkest situations, you can probably find someone who will cheer you on.  Perhaps it’s a spouse, a fellow co-worker…just someone who doesn’t ignore you and recognizes the value of your contribution.  Talk to that person when you’re convinced your contribution has no value.

Ask yourself how you can make a task more enjoyable – Sometimes, even the most menial of tasks can be something to look forward to.  Perhaps alphabetizing files is absolutely mind-numbing, but doesn’t it also give you a chance to think?  Can you practice your singing while you’re locked in the file room?  If you start thinking about the tasks you hate, I bet you can think of a way to make them fun.  Give it a try!

Reward yourself – If you wreck your whole to-do list today, treat yourself to some Famous Amos cookies out of the machine, or sneak out of the office ten minutes early to get a jump on traffic.  Rewards don’t need to come from someone else – you can step in and reward yourself for a job well done.

Split big goals into smaller ones – This makes so much sense!  If you’re on a diet and you need to lose twenty pounds, are you only accomplishing your task when you’re twenty pounds lighter?  No, you’re doing all kinds of good work along the way!  Setting goals of five pounds at a time will help the end of the road seem closer.  The same holds true for big projects.  Try to see it in bite-sized chunks, and tackle those chunks one at a time, celebrating each time you get to the end of that smaller path.

Be positive with other people – Even if you’re being treated poorly, putting good stuff out there means that good stuff will come back to you.  If your manager is treating you like a slave, or a group of co-workers are being particularly unkind in their words or expectations, you’ll still be able to find some happiness by smiling at others, complimenting good work and cheering people on.

Motivation comes in all shapes and sizes, and there’s some out there that you can tap into!  The day goes so much better when you’re wired to accomplish great things!

Next post:  Wednesday, September 10

Tuesdays at 3PM

I just read an article in Entrepreneur magazine telling me that a company called WhenIsGood.net conducted research in 2009 and determined that Tuesdays at 3PM are the best time to have meetings.

I, of course, laughed when I read this.  I mean, that’s great for one meeting, but I believe at last count my manager had about 6-10 meetings a day, lasting for various lengths of time.  Many other managers here are in the same boat.  And the question always comes up – how can we do with a little less when it comes to meetings?

Meetings are supposed to be productive, but so many aren’t.  The article I referenced above does a great job of pointing out what should be done, and it’s the same story every time I read one of these:

  • Concise agendas that are followed to the “T” – Make a list of what you’re going to talk about and talk about it.  Doesn’t sound hard, does it?
  • Hold people responsible – If you have Jane in charge of reporting on last week’s sales, it follows logically that Jane should have that information when she comes to the meeting.  Jane is good like that, isn’t she?
  • Keep to a start and end time for your meeting – If you stick to the amount of time given to each subject on your agenda, you should just be able to walk out the door happy at the strike of the hour.  Sure!  Happens all the time!

All these things work out well for you, unless there are humans on your meeting invite list.  Humans will muck up the whole plan, because on one end, there’s the human meeting attendee who goes off on a passionate tangent and takes the agenda down a rabbit hole with her.  And on the other end, your manager, who’s a nice guy and…well, he lets her.  I can sit there and be the timekeeping Gestapo, but usually I’m ignored or regarded for the remainder of the day as the Queen B&%$! with the Watch.

The key to a productive meeting are those three things above, but the key to successful execution of those things is fun. Humans don’t mind adhering to the rules as much when everyone is having a good time.  Here are some suggestions to get control of your meetings, tongue-in-cheek style:

Do your meeting stand-up style – Google is famous for this kind of thing.  You can meet as long as you want, but in an area where no one can sit down.  You’d be amazed at how quickly a person can cover his points when he can’t kick back and relax.

The walking meeting – Have a one-on-one status with someone that always goes long?  If it’s nice outside, conduct your meeting walking around.  When you get back to the starting point, the meeting is over!

Create games around staying on point/keeping on time – Create fun consequences for those who break the time and subject rules, and perhaps even reward the others in attendance at the meetings when the rules are broken by a fellow attendee.

Ask the attendees to get involved in the process – Usually, attendees are upset when someone goes off on a tangent as well.  With the group, define what they consider to be unwanted meeting behaviors, and then allow them to call out others on those behaviors.  Every group that meets regularly should have a set of rules that they all agree are good ones to follow, but there’s no reason why they can’t have a good time following them.

Fun can help you move a meeting to the next level of productivity.  Of course, if your manager runs a tight ship, you may not need to invoke fun.  But if you struggle with a bunch of chatty-Cathies who are so nice to one another that they let conversations go on and on, this may be the way to keep the meeting on track, whether it’s on Tuesdays at 3PM or not.

Next Post:  Wednesday, August 27