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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…And So It Goes…

Because all good things come to a logical end, I hope this doesn’t come as too much of a surprise…. This is my last blog post on The Revolutionary Assistant.

The last six and a half years have been a blast, and a great way for me to pass down some little kernels of wisdom from my twenty-year long career assisting executives in businesses big and small.   I can’t tell you how much I loved being an assistant – especially when the boss was someone who deserved the love and attention I put into my work.  But, alas, that time in my life has past, and it’s actually been over three years since I’ve been an assistant.  It’s getting harder and harder for me to share my experiences with you, because those experiences only come when I deal with people who are still in the role.

The endI’d like to thank all the people along the way who supported my work, and especially the people who supported this blog by reading it or contributing to it.  This has been a great endeavor, a labor of love and a chance for me to learn as much as teach.

The website is going to remain up as a reference site, so feel free to go out there often and search it for the information that will help you.  I’m going to do a little revamping to make sure it’s easy to find what you need, and I’ll still be featuring handy products, quotes, and words of wisdom now and then on the homepage.

I hope that you’ve been able to put some of these tidbits into action in your own careers.  Carry on with your revolutionary pursuits, assistants.  Be Robin to your Batman.

Newsflash: Managers Delegate Bad Stuff

Okay, I read something in my favorite Harvard Business Review, and it Cracked. Me. Up.  It was a little article called “Why We Pass the Buck.”   In the December 2016 article, researchers Mary Steffel, Elanor Williams and Jaclyn Perrmann-Graham suggest that managers delegate “when the consequences would affect other people, especially when all the options were unappealing.”

True story.  And let’s face it, why wouldn’t they?

Pass the buckSo yes, if the consequences of their decision affected other people, and if the choices were unappealing, managers were two to three times more likely to delegate that work to someone else.  According to the authors performing the study, the decision was motivated by the desire to avoid criticism or blame, and the desire not to be responsible if something bad happened to someone.  They preferred to delegate over quicker decision options (like flipping a coin).  But here’s the interesting part:

They delegated to a peer or someone of higher authority.

That’s good news for you, Revolutionary Assistant.  At least the issue isn’t landing on your desk!

But this is an interesting little finding.  Not so much that you can do anything about it, but it’s useful to recognize the affinity for doing this when you’re working with young managers looking to develop their leadership skills.

For instance, the manager has a choice between three ugly options to find some extra money in payroll.  No matter what the decision, someone’s hours are going to be cut right before the holidays.  Vacillating between solution A, B, and C is prolonged because the young manager doesn’t like any of them.

This is where you can step in.  Appeal to your own manager to step in and help the new manager on your team.  If your own manager can help address the situation, and assure the manager that he or she will not be held responsible for the decision, the delegation can be avoided and the decision made quicker.

And that’s better for everyone.

 

Next Post:  Wednesday, December 13

The Perfect To-Do List

Is there such a thing?  I’m sure that, if there is, it’s a Revolutionary Assistant that’s come up with it.  We Revolutionary Assistants rely on our to-do lists, and we’ve each got our own way of creating one that motivates us and keeps us on track.  But we went out to the Internet, anyway, to see what other people were doing – just in case we hadn’t thought of everything.

Turns out, there are all kinds of ideas out there.  Let’s take a look at some suggestions and ideas you might not currently be using.  Some of them contradict each other but, hey, we’re not all alike!

to do listWrite your list the night before – Coming off of your eight (ten, twelve?) hour work day, you know what you finished, what you left behind to do tomorrow and what kind of things are going to come up.

Do the hardest thing first – While you’re fresh, jump into the hardest task on your list and get it out of the way.  You’re already successful before you hit item number two!

Limit (or go all out with) the number of items on your list – Some successful to-do list users claim that having any more than three items on your list just sets you up for failure.  If you’re like me, you put EVERYTHING on your list, because crossing stuff off motivates me to do more.  What’s your magic number of items?  Take a moment to figure out how many line items work for you.

Assign time estimates – How long do you think it’ll take you to do each item?  Take a moment to jot it down so you can see if you have enough time in your day to address them all.

Batch similar tasks together – If you’re spending a certain amount of time answering correspondence and then need to look at emails…well, those are actually similar tasks.  They require the same kind of energy, and it could be easier to plan to go right from one to another.  Similarly, creating a Powerpoint presentation and reviewing data for a report require different parts of the brain.  Don’t pair those up, they won’t go well together.

Divide the list into sections – You may want to have three sections to your list: a list of meetings you have to attend, what needs to be accomplished in those meetings, and items to be done that don’t have anything to do with those meetings.

Put your list out there for people to see – This is something I do with some success.  I make my little white board public so that my co-workers can make their comments.  I hear, “Wow, you’re almost done!” or “Hey, you’ve got a lot left to do!”  I work hard on my list to hear more of the former and less of the latter comments!

Evaluate your items…especially what’s left at the end of the night – I’ve had a couple of things on my list that I think, “That’s been there for weeks and not done, do I really need to do it?”  You might want to eliminate it all together.  Stop for a moment to think about how urgent each of the items on your list are.  Will a bad situation get worse if you don’t address it right away?  Is it important for that item to get done so that other parts of a project can move forward?

Understand the difference between a task, a project, and a goal on your list – I have a “list of lofty goals” I create every year on January 2.  These are items I’d love to do but may or may not get to.  Another is a list of projects I need to complete.  Finally, a list of tasks.  Those tasks lead into completed projects, and those projects might even be portions of my lofty goals.  It’s helpful because I can see all the pieces that need to be done, but I don’t get overwhelmed by looking at projects and goals as a whole.

In the end, the perfect to-do list is the one that motivates you to get things done.  Your list might have some of the features above, and you may have tried others only to find that they didn’t really work for you.  These are only suggestions by people who’ve found they work.   Everyone’s job and list should be different, and the only perfect list is the one that works for you.

 

Next post:  Wednesday, November 29

How to Be Taken Seriously

One of the hardest things about being a Revolutionary Assistant is sitting in the room with the brass, and when you have an idea or a thought, they dismiss it as though it had never come out of your mouth.  You sit, you think about what you said, how stupid the idea must have been…and then, lo and behold, one of the brass says, “How about this?”  Your idea is reintroduced as though it belongs to a member of the senior team, and it’s accepted as though it’s worth its weight in happy shareholders.Taken Seriously

Aggravating, yes, but if you take the right steps to be taken seriously, people (at all levels of rank and file) will listen when you speak.  Here are a few things you can do (and not do) to send the message to co-workers that you mean business:

Ensure excellent follow through – Don’t promise something you can’t deliver, and always deliver what you promise.  If you’re launching projects and then letting them fizzle, that speaks volumes about the kind of worker you are.  The same holds true at the task level – if you take a task off someone’s hands and then don’t see it through to completion, your co-workers are going to think you’re all talk and no action.

Separate work and play – The more your co-workers know about you, the more you get filed under “personal” and not “professional.”  This is not to say that you shouldn’t foster relationships in the office, but be careful that supervisors aren’t the ones thinking their relationships are becoming personal.  Think twice before you hit the bar with your manager, and certainly don’t have more than one drink if you’re following the whole department over.  Don’t give anyone a reason to pass you over when you have an idea or interest in working on a project.

Remember the boss isn’t always right – I’ve written entire articles about this one.  I loathe the person that comes in championing the awful idea because “it’s what the boss wants!”  Your job, particularly as a Revolutionary Assistant, is to determine the right path for a project, not necessarily be the mouthpiece for a manager with lousy ideas.  Don’t be that guy.  Your co-workers and other managers won’t take you seriously if they don’t think you have a mind of your own.

Resolve your own conflicts – If you’re running to your manager with every issue that comes up between you and a co-worker, you’re not a quality team member, you’re a tattle-tale.  A Revolutionary Assistant’s job is to keep incidental, unimportant things off the manager’s desk, so unless your issue is HR-worthy, work out your differences with your co-worker on your own.

Go with the flow in the office – Try your best to adapt to the office culture around you.  This isn’t always easy, because sometimes during an interview you read a company as having a Google culture and it turns out to be as buttoned up as EDS.  If your co-workers are chatty and friendly, try to blend in even if it’s not your way.  Appearing to be stiff and unwilling to share isn’t your way into their hearts.  Same is true if they’re disinclined to want to hear about your weekend and you’re dying to tell them.  Co-workers lend their support to others who make them feel comfortable, seem to understand the game and want to play along.

Of course, following these rules doesn’t mean that the CEO is going to love your next idea, but Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither is your office reputation.  These are just a few steps toward being taken seriously – I’m sure you can add a few more!

 

Next Post:  Wednesday, November 15

When and Why Do the Members of Your Manager’s Team Go Job Hunting?

So, my thirtieth high school reunion is coming up in a couple of weeks.  It’s time, at the ripe old age of 48, to review my life, think about what I’ve accomplished, and yes, compare myself (with some level of anguish) to my fellow high school classmates.

It’s enough to drive me out to Indeed.com.

Jump ShipI just read a pretty benign article on Forbes.com called Ten Unmistakable Signs Your Employees are Job Hunting, and the list is kind of laughable.  If your team members are suddenly interested in project completion dates, or going out to lunch with co-workers they never spared two words for, then they might be looking for other employment.  But, come on, that’s an expensive guessing game.  Attrition costs companies a huge amount of money, and that’s why they’re applying a certain level of big-brother technology to help identify those who might be about to jump ship.  And when.

Sure, employees still jump ship because they don’t like their bosses, because they were offered better jobs with higher pay, and so on.  But CEB (now acquired by Gartner) determined that there’s a “when” factor in job hunting as well.  In the September 2016 Harvard Business Review article “Why People Quit Their Jobs,” CEB HR practice leader Brian Knopp suggests that any event that encourages an employee to compare him- or herself to peers is incentive for job hunting.  In fact their studies show that:

  • Job hunting increases between 6% and 9% when employees reach a work anniversary
  • Job hunting jumps 12% just before birthdays (milestone birthdays, in particular)
  • Job hunting increases 16% when an employee has a reunion

Some companies are also examining when employees are badge-swiping in and out to determine if it’s possible they’re interviewing outside the company.  Other companies are examining their employees’ use of social media.  For instance, if an employee uses his cell phone to follow that LinkedIn message that says, “These ten employers are looking for someone with your skills!” his name could get added to the short list of people possibly looking to leave the company.

As a Revolutionary Assistant, you have the ability to help your manager get ahead of this attrition issue, particularly where life circumstances are concerned.  A member of your manager’s team isn’t hitting a milestone birthday without you knowing it, let’s face it.  Work anniversaries are easy to get your hands on, and the celebrations you plan around them have just become more meaningful than ever.  Now, you can take that a step further and schedule some “career discussion” time between your manager and that employee, to make sure everyone’s on the same page and that employee is growing with the company in the way he or she wants to.

Another interesting thing the article mentioned was the approach Credit Suisse decided to take for this issue.  Their recruiting department took to cold-calling their own employees about job openings they might be interested in.  By doing so, they reduced their 2014 attrition by 1%, which saved their company millions of dollars.  A program worth looking into?  Bring it up to your manager and see what she thinks!

Getting ahead of employee intent to leave is better than trying to make a counter offer when the employee has another fish on the line.  In fact in 50% of all cases where a counter offer is accepted, the employee makes a decision to leave within 12 months, anyway.  So help your manager manage attrition just a little bit better with these revolutionary facts and an action plan.

 

Next Post:  Wednesday, November 1

Don’t Bother Putting This Stuff on Your Resume

We’ve spent the last couple of weeks talking about employee engagement and your work’s purpose, but sometimes it just isn’t meant to be and you need to get that resume back up to date.  A Revolutionary Assistant’s resume should speak for itself, but if you really want to set yourself apart from the crowd, there are a few things you should avoid.Resume

“Resume” – When I’m looking through resumes, I am amazed at how many times I see that word at the top of people’s resumes.  Do I not know what I’m looking at?  Adding “Resume” to the top of your resume, like it’s a title, is just redundant.  Don’t include it.

“Unemployed” – If you’ve got gaps in your employment history, don’t call them out by putting in a line item that gives dates and says “unemployed.”  That’s just pointing out the bad stuff.  Include the companies you’ve worked for and the dates you worked there, and let the gaps speak for themselves.  Your new employer will notice them and still want to address them, but there’s no sense in calling it out.

Objectives – I am personally irritated by objective statements at the top of a resume.  I know that your objective is to become employed by my company, and that you have X, Y, and Z skills that you’d like to use.  I prefer to see what kind of experiences you’ve called out in your past positions to see if there’s an indication that you can do the job we need you to do.

Skills – I find the list of computer programs you’re familiar with equally annoying.  If I’m looking for someone who’s going to be using Microsoft Access 75% of her day, I’d like to see that addressed as a bullet point in the resume or maybe even in the cover letter.  What I don’t need to see is that you’re an expert in MS Word and have intermediate knowledge of MS Excel and…yawn.  It just takes up space.  Look at the job description and make sure that you reassure your future employer that you are familiar with the applications that are important to them.

Personal Information – It’s not only irrelevant, it’s actually not legal for companies to ask you about your marital status, whether you have kids, how old you are, or anything else.  Don’t include it on a resume and make your prospective employer squirm.  And don’t include a photo either!

“References Available Upon Request” – Don’t worry, they’ll ask.  If you include it, you will seem overanxious.

I probably don’t need to mention that misspellings, bad grammar and bad formatting are also big no-nos on a resume, but I don’t mind saying it again.  The last ten or twelve resumes I’ve reviewed (and I usually review them AFTER they’ve been hired), have included some sort of error that almost blinded me.  Don’t be that guy.  Your resume speaks to the quality of work you do, and it should be perfect.  There’s no second chance at a first impression. – make sure yours is revolutionary!

 

Next Post:  Wednesday, October 18

Purpose

As a Revolutionary Assistant, my purpose was to make my manager bigger, further reaching and more accessible than he would be without me.

That was my mission from the moment I sat down at the desk outside his office.  I made it known to everyone that I was there for this purpose.  They understood that if they needed him, I would find them time, if he was responsible for X, Y, and Z, I would take on Z so that he could give his all to X and Y.  It’s the fundamental core of what being an assistant is all about.

PurposeKnowing your job description is good, but understanding your purpose takes you to a whole new level of job engagement.  So, I’m asking you… what’s your purpose?

It might seem logical that every Revolutionary Assistant’s purpose is pretty much the same, but this blog alone would tell you that there are many niche areas of expertise that you can focus on, and many areas where your manager might need help.  There are ways you can match your passions and skills to what your manager needs.

Think about what you like and how you can incorporate it into your day – When I started as an assistant, there was one thing that I really did well that most others could not:  I could write.  I loved writing, and I could always lend my manager a hand with his communications.  What started out as a test of my skills to see if I could take a memo or two off my manager’s plate ended up being a full-time deal.  What do you do best?  Maybe you have a gift for numbers and enjoy digging into a good balance sheet.  See how you can use those skills to help your manager.

Think about the work that’s excited you the most – One of the things I loved best was events, because I could be creative and really reach people with a message or a mission.  I could connect people emotionally to the company’s agenda and strategies and watch it happen in real time.  It required me to draw on my creative juices, but it also made me learn about space contracts, food and beverage, and much, much more.  I loved it!  Think about what kind of projects you have most enjoyed and why you liked them so much.  Can you incorporate that into your purpose?

Think about where you want to be 10, 20 or 30 years from now – The business climate and technology is changing at the speed of light, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t give some thought to what the 50- or 60-year-old you is going to be doing for a living.  Are you learning the things you need to learn in order to be that person?

Your job description is a list of bullet points, but your purpose can really be anything you want it to be.  Think about what you really stand for every day at the office, and how you can play on those strengths to live up to your purpose!

 

Next Post:  Wednesday, October 4

What’s Better: A Satisfied Employee or an Engaged Employee?

Companies spend a lot of money to find out just how engaged their employees are, and they’re right to do so: turnover costs organizations thousands and thousands of dollars.  In fact, if an employee makes a salary of $40,000 a year, it can cost $30,000 in recruiting and training fees to replace him.

Not so good for the bottom line.

SatisfiedAccording to McKinsey, an organization that conducts employee engagement surveys on behalf of companies looking to stay in touch with their team members, there’s a difference between a satisfied employee and one that’s engaged.  And you want the engaged type of employees.

A satisfied employee just “does his thing” at the office.  He’s happy with his current situation, doesn’t go out of his way to get involved or help others but turns in his work on time and done right.  That doesn’t sound like such a bad deal, right?

An engaged employee, on the other hand, takes steps to understand his role within the company and how he affects the bottom line and how his work fits into the scheme of things.  He goes out of his way to help others, he’s an ambassador for the company and its brand, and he may even look for additional work, take on additional projects, or identify and capitalize on opportunities to improve company performance.

Companies usually have a mixture of satisfied employees and engaged employees, but it’s those engaged employees that really drive the organization forward.  So, logically, companies want to understand just what their “mix” of employees is, and work on improving the company’s relationship with those team members so that engagement (and quality of work) increase.  How does a company like McKinsey help them to do that?

McKinsey weighs employees’ responses against engagement “drivers.”  They ask questions specific to areas their research tells them impacts engagement.  These areas include things like your relationship with your coworkers, work-life balance, and even compensation and benefits.  After asking the organization’s employees to agree or disagree with a variety of statements, they’re able to determine their levels of engagement.

Companies that find their number of engaged employees is a little disappointing might think they need to spruce up their office a bit, but that’s not always the case.  Moving in a ping pong table or buying the team lunch may be a great gesture of goodwill, but sometimes better communication and an enhanced rewards and recognition program may more efficiently address the situation.  Engagement survey results are usually prescriptive, and companies are often willing to share the tips and tricks that worked best for them.

I’m using McKinsey as an example, but there are plenty of companies out there that run engagement surveys and offer similar results.  In the event your company is small or doesn’t want to make a huge investment, survey apps like SurveyMonkey offer suggestions and tips on creating your own engagement survey.  There’s no need to guess if your employees are engaged or just satisfied…ask them!  It can be the start of a more productive environment!

 

Next Post:  Wednesday, September 20

Take a Risk, Tell the Joke!

What kind of vegetable do drummers like best?

JokeA new study covered in the August 2016 issue of the Harvard Business Review suggests that people who tell jokes benefit from them – if they’re funny.

Researchers led by T. Bradford  Bitterly of the Whatrton School looked at causal links between humor and status in business.  After studying humor in job interviews, business presentations, and more, they concluded that humor is not such a bad thing, and the person telling the joke can benefit from it.  They found that:

  • If a person tells a joke and it’s good, the person’s status and competence becomes more highly rated
  • If a person tells a joke and it’s bad, the person’s status and competence stays the same
  • If a person tells an inappropriate joke, status and competence suffers, but confidence becomes more highly rated

Relatively speaking, there’s upside to telling a well-received joke, and little downside to telling one that’s not so very funny.  The moral of the story:  tell that joke!  It can’t hurt.

And by the way, drummers like beets best.

 

Next Post:  Wednesday, September 6

In Communication, It’s All About the Emotion

The world of communication intersects with an administrative assistant’s life all the time, whether it’s a note from her manager to his subordinates or an important message to the entire company.  Being somewhat familiar with the written word, I was happy to jump in and take care of basic communications for my manager.  It was something I did well and I was happy to make those skills available to him…he, in fact, did not do it as well, so he always took me up on it.

Its all about emotionsThe reason why he did not do very well at it wasn’t because he couldn’t form a complete sentence.  On the contrary, I still consider him a genius and he was pretty darned good at everything he did.  But he communicated in rambling sentences, giving away more detail than he needed, and the message suffered for it.  And he didn’t understand that one very important communication “thing.”

A good communication taps employees’ emotions.  It’s as simple as that, and yet so few communicators understand and use that knowledge to the company’s benefit.  Many of them will tell you straight out, “I’m not writing a romance novel here.”  But yeah, you kind of are…and it’s a romance between the employee and the company for which he works.

Let’s take, for instance, a communication that explains that a well-liked but inefficient executive is leaving the company to “pursue other interests.”  That’s a hard message to write, because people are going to be sad (that he’s leaving), worried (about their own seemingly uncertain futures) and unclear (on the direction of the company).  They’re going to know that this executive has been let go no matter how you express that detail, and they’re going to be angry with their company for doing it.

How do you conquer the employee emotions of sadness, worry, uncertainty and anger?  With a little certainty and an optimistic view of the company’s future:

Minimize words to create a feeling of authority and control – I always use Jean-Luc Picard as my example for why a writer shouldn’t ramble on in a message.  Jean-Luc could have told his crew, “You know, I’d like to move our blasters a little bit to the left and maybe increase our speed to warp 2 if we’ve got enough power, and then I feel strongly that we’ll catch that bad guy.”  Nope.  He said, “Engage!”  Everything else fell into place and his crew knew what to do.  Using a few well-chosen words conveys to your employees that you’re in control, that you know they know their jobs, and you’re confident the results will be as expected.

Don’t gloss over the details – An employee reading your communication is going to wonder, “Why?” and “What about me?” and he shouldn’t have to look far for the answers.  Quell all their fears and give them the details they need to know.  If any details should be conveyed privately, set up a schedule and ensure that those are passed along before a blanket communication goes out.

Address the elephant in the room, even if it’s only a subtle attempt – Yes, everyone is going to be angry that this well-liked executive has been asked to leave, but chances are a good many of them know that he was ineffective.  You don’t have to say that, but you can say, “We wish him well in his next endeavors and thank him for his contributions.”

End on a positive note – This new organizational structure, minus the ineffective executive, is going to benefit the company because of X, Y, and Z.  There should be no, “We think…” or “We believe…” involved in that.  You made a decision, it’s for the best, and the result will be good.  Give your employees a sense of confidence.

Be available for questions – Always, always, always leave your door open and invite discussion about events.  Employees should be able to discuss their concerns with managers in private, or even in a public forum, if the situation warrants one.

Not all communications assuage negative emotions, but they all convey emotions.  Some communications get the employees excited about where they work and what they do.  Others serve to recognize employees who have made great contributions (and, conversely, incent other employees to strive for those same goals).  All of them should serve to improve an employee’s engagement with his manager, co-workers and the organization, and that can only be done with…you got it….emotion.

 

Next Post:  Wednesday, August 23