Archives for Revolutionary Assistant

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

Surviving the 24/7, High-Intensity Workplace

High Intensity WorkplaceIf all work and no play makes Jack a very dull boy, then some of us are about as boring as we can get.  If she manages a busy executive, a Revolutionary Assistant may have to be available 24/7 even in a low-key workplace.  But in the world of Wall Street or other 24/7, high-intensity businesses, a Revolutionary Assistant can work herself to death if she’s not careful.

I’ve been reading my Harvard Business Review again, and the June 2016 issue talks about the unrealistic expectations being placed on employees in a high-intensity industry.  It can be difficult to “find your place” in a workplace that demands you be available at 3PM and 3AM, and in order to cope, employees must make adjustments in their lives.  In fact, “Managing the High Intensity Workplace” authors Erin Reid and Lakshmi Ramarajan say that they find three employee strategies emerging within those “always available” cultures:  accepting, passing, and revealing.

These three strategies each have their merits, and they emerge based on the employee’s innate tendencies.  There are benefits and pitfalls to each.

Accepting – These are the employees that grit their teeth and do what’s expected of them.  When that call comes in at midnight, the employee not only answers but possibly does a little bit of work to address the issue.  If they manage subordinates, they expect them to take the same approach to their careers.

  • Benefits – They’re blending in well and living up to expectations
  • Pitfalls – They may burn out quickly; they may also have a hard time developing promoteable employees

Passing – These employees make it look as though they are available for work 24/7, but they really aren’t.  They just aren’t letting on.  They might respond to an email right away, but say, “I’m working on it, will be back to you in a few hours” and then go on about their lives until they have a moment when they can address the issue.

  • Benefits – This employee protects his career but still enjoys other aspects of his life.
  • Pitfalls – Not only are they probably not building close relationships at work (for risk of being “found out”) but they also perpetuate the “ideal employee” myth by fulfilling unrealistic expectations

Revealing – The most “rebellious” of the three strategies, the employee simply says, “I will get to this later tonight.  I’m at my daughter’s swim meet.”  They reveal themselves as resisting the norm and may think that the 24/7 culture needs to change

  • Benefits – These employees enjoy open relationships with colleagues, protect their free time and have lives outside of work
  • Pitfalls – They could damage their careers by not “playing along” and may not be credible enough to move the organization away from the high-intensity culture should they try.

The article goes on to recommend changes to each of these employees’ strategies – accepting workers should carve out time for their personal lives and not expect subordinates to behave like they do; passing employees should try to develop relationships with a small group of co-workers and reinforce to the boss that outside activities don’t hurt performance; revealing strategists should focus on results instead of time spent and encourage others to be open about carving out personal times in an effort to change the culture.

But what of the Revolutionary Assistant?  If she supports an executive, it’s pretty likely that executive is one of those “accepting” sorts, and while many of them learn early on that they shouldn’t expect 24/7 from their subordinates, Revolutionary Assistants are often caught in the cross-fire of last-minute travel and off-hour meeting scheduling.  Here are some suggestions that might work:

Revolutionary buddy system – If you know you’re going to be away for a few days or over a weekend, alert your manager and arrange for a member of your admin network to cover for any emergencies that might come up.  Reinforce with your manager your need to detach and recharge your batteries for a few days before you leave.

Carve out time for you and the family – If having dinner with your family is important, then make sure that you’re free during that time.  Turn off your mobile device and enjoy them, and after everyone has gone to bed, check in one more time to see if there are any last-minute needs.  Let your manager know that this will be your daily practice.

Encourage your manager to step away from this kind of culture – Sure, time is money, but well-rested, many-faceted employees make a better company.  S/he should take a few hours away from work each night, a couple of weeks of vacation each year…and set an example for the subordinates.

As a high-powered Revolutionary Assistant, I’ve done the 24/7 thing and burnt myself out plenty of times.  Be a great employee…take time for yourself.

 

Next Post:  Wednesday, August 9

 

 

 

The Co-workers Who Resist Change

The only thing that’s constant is change, right?  Companies have to change with the needs of the customers it helps, or they’re just not going to be around in a few years.  It’s a fact of business, and it’s also a fact that employees within those companies are going to resist any alteration to the status quo they’ve become accustomed to.Resist

So, what can a Revolutionary Assistant and her manager do?

Most of the time change is thrust upon employees and they’re told to deal with it.  That approach has met with some success, but it’s not always the kindest of procedures.  Better still is to understand that employees resist change because

  • They aren’t confident change will succeed
  • They don’t trust those who are leading the change initiative
  • They think the change isn’t necessary
  • They fear for their own personal position in the company
  • They have a harder time than most handling the disruption

When your manager is trying to initiate change, he or she may enlist your help to ensure a smooth implementation of the project.  That could mean interacting with and influencing these change resisters.  Change management experts across the globe have offered up some suggestions that might help:

Respect, respect, respect – You might feel a very strong urge to just tell these change resisters to “shut up and do it” but it may not be in your best interest.  If resisters haven’t been consulted, they could feel like important information (which they possess) has not been considered, or they may just feel that they missed their chance to be a part of the change conversation.  Encourage your manager to set up time with these resisters so he can hear their point of view and give it thoughtful consideration.

Encourage open discussion – This change affects everyone, and if it’s a new “thing” than perhaps not every angle has been studied.  Encourage plenty of conversation and feedback throughout the process…and be a great listener, otherwise the feedback and conversation will grind to a halt.  No one wants to talk to someone who’s not really listening.

“Diagnose” the resistance – Your manager has to give careful thought to the feedback she’s hearing.   Do you consider that point of view more thoroughly, or do you dismiss it and move on to the next point of interest?

Involve them in the change implementation – Resisters will often take more ownership for the change if they play a part in making it happen.  Hands-on work, and being called upon to bring other co-workers up to speed, is an education for the resister.

Be open to change yourself – Your idea about what this final product will look like may not be the way it actually looks when it’s done.  Your manager should not be married to any of his expectations.  This maelstrom of conversation and resistance is likely to result in something better than what was originally imagined, so keep minds open!

Organizations need to change in order to survive, and many fail to deal with change resisters in a productive way.  Don’t hit a dead end and create a critical situation for the company!  Encouraging conversation with resisters, considering their points of view and involving them in the change process helps your organization reach the finish line successfully.

 

Next Post:  Wednesday, July 26

Mergers and Acquisitions: A Recipe for Disaster?

So, big buzz in my office this past month: the number one player in our industry signed on the dotted line to purchase a huge up-and-come-er, mostly because of its e commerce success.  Our team members, and the team members of other industry players, watched the whole thing happen with eyes open wide.  Our competitor bought the company for an exorbitant amount of money.

Thing is, the company they bought is less than five years old and lost $100 million last year.

Our deep-pocketed competitor has acquired other e commerce companies in the past, and the results were not necessarily to their benefit.  They weren’t able to get their plans off the ground, and eventually the company, its mission and its success was just folded in with their larger counterpart’s business-as-usual practices.  Their mergers were not star-studded successes.

This is why my interest was piqued when I found an article in the June 2016 issue of Harvard Business Review, “M&A: The One Thing You Need to Get Right.”  In it, author Roger L. Martin states, “M&A is a mug’s game: typically 70%-90% of acquisitions are abysmal failures.”

UmpteenWhen I search the internet and other sources, I find that Martin is not alone in his opinion, but his declaration is out there a little further and a little bolder than most.  When companies look to obtain value for themselves – access to a new market or capability – they’re spotting the same opportunity that other companies see, and the value of that opportunity will be lost in the bidding war.  He says that when a company acquires or seeks to merge with another company to take what they have, the merger is not likely to be as successful as when they look to infuse the acquired company’s assets with their own to make it more successful.

When the company I work for was acquired by a private investment capital firm, they were looking to do exactly that.  They looked at our company as an investment and they did everything Martin recommended:

They were smart providers of capital – They wanted to see our company grow so their investment would pay off.  They provided capital so we could expand our national footprint with new locations, improve our distribution center, and so on.

They provided better managerial oversight – When our owners purchased us, we didn’t really have expertise in place.  They allowed us access to their marketing experts, their legal team, and so on.  They helped us hire our own experts and stand on our own two feet as a growing company in a whole new league from where we were before.  They managed us like a larger business, and we became one because of it.

They shared resources – Our investor’s collection of companies allowed us access to fabulous discounts and buying power we didn’t have before.

I don’t think our competitor purchased this company because they wanted to give the company an injection of their money and skills.  In fact, this acquired company was stealing customers right out from under them.  Our competitor is buying their customers back.  But the acquired company has converted them into unprofitable online customers, and the parent company is now going to be charged with the miracle of making those customers profitable again.

It remains to be seen if this will be a success or a failure.

Revolutionary Assistants aren’t often involved in mergers and acquisitions, and if we are we’re pushing the paper and watching it all fall in place from the sidelines.  But if your company is involved in a merger, whether you’re the buyer or the seller, it pays to know a little bit about what you’re looking at.  Take a moment to ask your manager to explain the circumstances, see if it passes the above test for success.  You might be surprised at what you find.

 

Next Post:  Wednesday, July 12

Women Book Travel Earlier Than Men (and Does It Matter?)

True story!  Women tend to book their business travel earlier than their male counterparts.  And, wait, there’s more.  This same study (led by Carlson Wagonlit Travel and highlighted in the June 2016 Harvard Business Review) showed that women book approximately 2 days ahead of men; that millennial women get the shortest head start on their male millennial counterparts; and the older you are, the earlier you book.

There are articles everywhere that dispense sage advice about when to book a flight, how to book a flight, how long out to book a flight…does any of it really matter?  What does the data really show?

In their January, 2017 article, “The Best Time to Buy Airline Tickets,” Conde Nast Traveler admitted, “Airlines change their fares multiple times a day, so you never really know.”  Indeed, it is like taking a blindfolded swing at a piñata, even when the last five players missed it entirely.  You book your flight and hope tTravelhat the cheapest option isn’t the Sunday evening flight out or the 6AM departure with the connection in Dulles.

All that aside, Expedia’s study of billions of airline transactions resulted in this sage advice:  buy your ticket on a Sunday.  They also recommended to purchase tickets more than 21 days in advance (47 days, if you want to go by CheapAir.com’s study) and, unless you’re headed to North Asia or China, include a Saturday night stay in your itinerary.

Travel budgets are a consistent target for trimming in today’s corporations, so a Revolutionary Assistant knows to be mindful of her manager’s travel schedule.  Still booking more than 21 days out isn’t always possible, and she’s not always hanging out on her computer on Sundays looking for the best deal for the boss (she has to have a day off, after all!).  The report suggests that while Sunday is the best day to book, those Monday-thru-Friday workers booking travel should definitely AVOID booking on a Friday, when fares are at their highest.

Back to the above study by Carlson Wagonlit, though…those women who book earlier than men, do they actually save their companies money?  “Controlling for other factors,” the article said, “women save about $17 a trip, or 2% of the ticket price.  For a multinational company with 21,000 travelers and typical gender and travel patterns, the researchers say, that could yield savings of $1 million a year.”

No small change.

Oh, and I should mention that this holds true for those travelers that don’t travel frequently.  When a traveler made upwards of 20 trips a year, the gender differences nearly disappeared.

Hm.

 

Next Post:  Wednesday, June 28

The Exit Interview

Any good business is interested to know why its people are leaving, so being asked to do an exit interview upon your departure is not unusual and not at all a bad thing.  In fact, a Revolutionary Assistant should be eager to share his or her thoughts on what the organization is doing right and where it could improve.

Like any other interview, you should prepare your thoughts and enter the discussion with positive intentions.  After all, you don’t want to “slam the door shut behind you” when you leave.  Here are some things to think about, and some tips for the interview itself, that you might find handy:

Exit InterviewPlan your comments ahead of time – Even constructive criticism should be thoughtfully delivered.  Think about the reasons why you’re leaving the company, and if there is indeed something about the organization that’s causing your departure (e.g., lack of advancement opportunities, uncompetitive pay), by all means bring it up.  These are the things that the HR department needs to hear.  Make a list of those things you want to discuss, the items you think would be most helpful for the organization to understand.

Work on subtracting the emotion from your delivery – You might not be leaving on the best of terms.  If you’re marching out the front door in a huff, we’re very sorry to hear it.  Resist the urge to unload all your angst on the poor, well-meaning HR generalist.  Do your complaining and venting ahead of time, and approach your exit interview with as much positivity as you can muster.   And, with that in mind…

Refrain from commenting on specifics – The person conducting the exit interview should not be bringing up any specific instances that have caused your departure…in other words, if you’re a victim of sexual harassment, your interviewer should not be asking you questions specific to that incident.  The questions you answer should be general, high-level questions about the company and its leadership.  Decline to answer any questions that jump into that level of detail.

Don’t burn bridges – Your departure from the company may be largely fueled by your hatred for a particular manager or director, but you should be cautious about spewing your opinion of this person.  If it’s one thing I’ve learned in my nearly 30 years in the business world, it’s that industries are smaller than you think, and the likelihood that you’ll run into that horrible person again is bigger than you think.

Do your own “exit interview” with co-workers – As you prepare to leave, use your remaining time to connect with co-workers and let them know how much it’s meant to you that you’ve had the opportunity to work with them.  Spread a little sunshine…and be missed a little more.  It can’t hurt.

At the end of the day, be professional.  This is your last chance to leave on a good note, secure that personal and professional reference.  Don’t leave them with a bad final memory of your time with the company…but don’t walk away from them with information they could use to make the company better for those who remain, either.

 

Next Post:  Wednesday, June 14

“I’m Out of the Office Today…”

Admit it: your automatic “out of the office” email is just an afterthought as you’re running out the door to your vacation (or even your business trip).  A few quick words to let people know that you’re not tied to your keyboard these next few days, and you’re gone.

Out of officeAt the very least, you should be letting emailers know the dates you’ll be away from the office, and who they can contact in your absence.  That’s the bare bones option.  But what if you want to go a step further?  Your out-of-office response is an opportunity to show your professionalism, to remind clients and customers that your company provides a service, or to let emailers know you have a sense of humor and want to brighten their day.

Here are some suggestions:

Share an article or sales material – Are you an assistant supporting the sales department (or its sales leader)?  If you often receive inquiries by email or phone, consider sharing your sales materials as an attachment to your out-of-office message.  Or, perhaps you’ve just read an article that you found informative or inspiring.  If it’s professional in nature, consider sharing it and spreading the knowledge.

Share pictures – Sharing photos can be amusing and memorable.  If you’re out of office on vacation, you can say something like, “Here’s a picture of me as I’m leaving the office for my vacation” or “This is what I plan to be doing for the next week.”  Include a photo of manically happy you on your way out the door, or a picture of your feet as you’re lying on a towel at the beach.   Or, go the Facebook/Twitter route and share a cute animal to make the emailer’s day better.  “I’m sorry I’m not here, but behold…here’s a golden retriever puppy to help make up for that.”

Use your automatic response even when you’re working – If you’re offsite running an event or attending a six-hour meeting, use your automatic response option to let people know that you won’t get back to them right away.  They’ll appreciate the heads up!

Brag on your co-workers – Let your emailers know that you’re referring them to the world’s best second-choice option ever:  “I’m not in the office today, but feel free to reach out to Julie, who is perhaps the world’s best answerer of your question.”  Doing so will help the emailer feel more confident about going to Julie, and Julie will feel extra good while you’re gone.

Share information your emailer might be looking for – If you’re managing an event or anticipate that people may be trying to contact you for specific information, consider sharing that information (or links to it) in your out-of-office, to minimize your need to respond when you return.  OR…use the automatic responder even when you’re in the office to give others the information you know they’re seeking.

Let people know about business news or a recent accomplishment – Along with the basic out-of-office information, you could add, “And by the way, did you know that Smith, Incorporated was voted best consulting firm by Consulting Digest for the third year running?”  Or, brag a little about yourself:  “I’m out of the office today, taking a break after working with my team to open three new locations in the state of New Jersey!”

Revolutionary Assistants are standouts, and I mean in everything from the work they deliver to their manager all the way down to their out-of-office responses.  Don’t miss an opportunity to set yourself apart from the herd.  Put some thought and energy into your outgoing message!

Next Post:  Wednesday, May 31