Archives for Revolutionary Assistant

What’s the Future of the Administrative Professional Position?

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

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

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

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

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

I say, yes.  All that and more.

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

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

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

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

Next Post:  Wednesday, October 12

Sorry! Women and Apologies in the Workplace

I’ve read a lot about how women saying “I’m sorry” in the workplace.  The irritating behavior, said writer Sloane Crosley in The New York Times, is “a Trojan horse for genuine annoyance, a tactic left over from centuries of having to couch basic demands in palatable packages in order to get what we want.”

SorryRefinery29 Web writer Lindsey Standberry did an experiment where she asked three co-workers to record how many times they apologized.  The women said “I’m sorry” as few as 9 but as many as 47 times during a workday.  All reported that it was a phrase they used when they were about to assert authority.

Finally, Washington Post writer Jessica Grose said, “’Sorry,’ but we don’t need new email plug-ins [that remind us not to use apologetic language in our written communications].  What we need is for people to stop picking apart the ways we communicate.”

This Revolutionary Assistant thinks the answer really lies somewhere in between, and it’s as much a personal issue as it is a badge of our gender.  Effective communication is a mix of a speaker’s confidence and her ability to gauge the way in which the listener will best accept, internalize and respond to her message.

Sometimes, the speaker is best served by very direct communication that will result in a very direct action.   For instance, if the building is on fire, a revolutionary communicator is not going to say, “I’m sorry, but can I ask you to head to the nearest stairwell?”  She’s going to calmly and firmly direct everyone to safety.

Similarly, a female communicator might find that a subordinate responds best when he is told directly and firmly to take a course of action.  However, that’s not always the case for women trying to communicate in the workplace.  As Washington Post writer Jessica Grose pointed out, women are not always well received when they buck the soft-spoken cultural norms that are expected of them:

Because we’re already fighting against so many cultural assumptions, in many instances, women have discovered that they are more respected and successful when they conform to those gendered expectations. In [her book] Talking from 9 to 5, [author and Georgetown University linguist Deborah] Tannen offers the example of a doctor who is one of the few women in her specialty. At first, this surgeon tried mimicking the military-style order barking of the male surgeons who trained her. But that approach backfired — none of the nurses would listen to her. So she changed her way of speaking, because she found, “if you try to be authoritarian, like many of your male colleagues are, it won’t work with most nurses, but if you ally yourself with them and respect them as professional colleagues, they will be your best allies.”

Is it really fair that a woman, who is equal to her male colleague in every way, has to adjust the way she communicates to achieve a goal, while that male colleague can do the same without a single thought to his approach?  Maybe not.  But in my opinion, this is where we are in our evolution of women in the workplace, and a woman’s success isn’t dependent on how many times she apologizes or softens her phrase.  A woman’s success is dependent on getting the result she wants.

In summary, if you’d like to count how many times you say “I’m sorry” in a day, by all means do so.  And there’s nothing wrong with wanting to strengthen your communication skills by becoming more direct.  But if you choose to soften a directive with a quick apology so that it’s well-received and stands a better chance of being acted upon, do it with confidence.  If that’s how you get what you want, if that’s how you achieve your goals, there’s nothing wrong with it.  Go forth and apologize unapologetically!

Next Post:  Wednesday, September 28

 

I Just Spent 10 Minutes Trying to Trick Siri

I read an article today about how Barbra Streisand called Apple CEO Tim Cook and asked him to correct Siri’s pronunciation of her last name.  “It’s pronounced with a soft S,” she explained in the interview, “like sand on a beach.”  And, because she’s Barbra Streisand, Tim Cook said, “Sure!” and the update is supposed to happen on September 30.

Of course, I wanted to hear Siri say “Streisand”, so I could hear how she was pronouncing it.

SiriLet me preface this: I’m not a Siri user.  My husband, he’s asking Siri to find him things all the time, but not me.  Siri and I just don’t get each other.  I ask her what time it is in Portland, Oregon, and I get the weather in Portland, Maine, if I’m lucky.   Today was no exception.

I said, “Siri, look up Barbra Streisand.”

After a moment, a ton of Barbra Streisand information came up on the screen.  She said, “Here you go.”

While this was probably the first time I’d actually received what I’d asked Siri for, my secret hopes to hear her mangled pronunciation of the superstar’s name was dashed.  So I tried again.

“Siri, who sang ‘Happy Days Are Here Again’?”

She responded by giving me episodes of the television show Happy Days to purchase on iTunes.

My husband grabbed the iPad out of my hand then and asked, “Siri, who sang ‘The Way We Were’?”

“Marvin Hamlisch,” she responded.  Hamlisch (which she pronounced “Hamlis-ch,” but it’s not likely anyone will be bringing that to Tim’s attention) wrote the song but obviously did not sing it.  So, being persistent, my husband said again, “Siri, who SANG ‘The Way We Were’?”

After a thoughtful moment, Siri responded, “Barbra Strei-ZAND ,” and gave me the option to purchase an album, single, or ringtone featuring the song.

Why am I telling you this?  Well, for one, sometimes I get tired of talking about business.  And for another thing, going through this little exercise got me to thinking about several business-related points:

  1. Whether you’re talking to Siri or a human, it’s often how you ask the question that gets you the correct answer.
  2. Barbra Streisand picked up the phone and called Tim Cook to get the problem solved, which is proof that all the texting and emailing I ask Siri to do is probably not the most effective way to communicate, and Siri knows that, which is why she always does it wrong for me.
  3. ‘The Way We Were’ is probably the lousiest choice for a ringtone ever.

Perhaps that last one wasn’t so business-related, but it bears mentioning.

At any rate, I plan to mark my calendar for September 30 so that I can check up on Siri and see if she pronounces Barbra’s name like “sand on a beach.”  I’ll have learned to ask the question the right way, and perhaps she’ll respond correctly on the first try.  If not, maybe I’ll pick up the phone and give Tim a call.

Next Post:  Wednesday, September 14

Make Data Resonate in a Presentation

“If I lined up all the bottled water the United States consumes in a week, the line would reach from here to the moon and back seventeen times.”

You know, I don’t actually know how many bottles of water we consume in a week, and if this sentence were actually true, I’m still not sure I’d understand how many bottles of water that meant.  I know it’s a long way from here to the moon, but I have no real perspective on that distance.   I haven’t been there yet.

Data resonate For instance, in Harvard Business Review’s Jan/Feb 2016 article “Vision Statement: How to Make Extreme Numbers Resonate,” the author wanted to make a point of how massive 18 billion coffee pods are.  To do it, s/he illustrated a building that took up an entire New York City block and extended to a height of thirty stories.  Add some little cars on the road to show just how big that building is and, wow, that’s a whole lot of coffee pods.

Let’s do one together.  In 2012, total U.S. bottled water consumption increased to 9.67 billion gallons.  (That’s actually a real fact, thank you very much International Bottled Water Association!)  That’s a whole lot of gallons of water.   The number sounds impressive, but how can we make it even more impressive?

Well, the average back-yard, in-ground swimming pool holds about 20,000 gallons of water.  We pretty much all know what one of those looks like.  So when we say that the U.S. alone consumed 483,500 swimming pools worth of water, that sounds pretty impressive.  If you still think that’s a hard thing to get your arms around, then compare the consumption to a nearby lake, or a water tower in the area.

Let’s try some more:

  • Over 158,000 people are expected to die from lung cancer this year.  Think about the tragedy of September 11 happening once a week all year.  That’s how many people will die of this disease.
  • More than one billion people are on Facebook.  If they all lived in one place, they’d be the third biggest country in the world.

 

So how about really small numbers?  The best and most familiar example might be a description of your chances of winning the lottery – you have a better chance of being hit by lightening (and you have a very small chance of being hit by lightening.  I think that’s pretty good, but try using a visual to show your audience just how the odds are stacked.  Make them look for a pinpoint on the slide, and the fact that it’s so hard to find will illustrate your point.

Before I close, I want to share with you a favorite example, offered by Duarte. Intel’s CEO Paul Otellini did when he presented at the 2010 CES in Las Vegas.  He said:

 “Today we have the industry’s first-shipping 32-nanometer process technology. A 32-nanometer microprocessor is 5,000 times faster; its transistors are 100,000 times cheaper than the 4004 processor that we began with. With all respect to our friends in the auto industry, if their products had produced the same kind of innovation, cars today would go 470,000 miles per hour. They’d get 100,000 miles per gallon and they’d cost three cents. We believe that these advances in technology are bringing us into a new era of computing.”

Everyone owns a car, right?  The perfect example of showing just how small and fast a number is.

So help your audience understand just how big, how small, or how impressive your number is by taking something that’s familiar to them, and using it to illustrate your fact!

 

Next Post:  Wednesday, August 31

I’m on Vacation Right Now – Have You Taken Your Paid Time Off?

Yup, I’ve worked a little ahead, put up my blog post in advance, and while you’re reading this I’m hopefully having the time of my life visiting National Parks out west.  And, yes, I’m using two weeks of paid vacation from my day job.

Apparently, this puts my husband and me in a class all our own, because studies show that 41% of Americans don’t use their time off.  Why is this case?  In a 2015 interview with marketwatch.com, Glassdoor’s career trends analyst Scott Dobroski simply cited, “Fear.”

The answer is “fear” because, even as the economy is recovering from the recession a few years back, companies are trying to do more with less people.  Employees are carrying a bigger burden, the workload of one-and-a-half or two people (or sometimes even more) and they’re in an “employment at will” situation with their employer, which means they can be fired for any reason (or no reason) and get no severance upon departure.  In fact, only about 77% of Americans get paid vacation days to use…the United States is one of the only first-world countries that does not require a company to give its workers paid time off.

Let’s not just blame industry, though, because they’re not the only thing to fear.  If you trust your employer will not fire you or lay you off for taking a week out of the office, you need to be wary of your co-workers.  Other reasons cited for not taking a vacation include hopes that less time away means a better chance at a promotion or getting an edge over other employees in the office.

So, in conclusion, I’m stupid for taking two weeks off to bond with my family and see a part of the world I’ve never seen before.

Maybe.  I went to my sister’s wedding in Las Vegas a dozen or so years back, and when I returned from those four days of celebration, I found that someone else had come in and taken my job.  I’m living proof that these fears can become a reality, and my tale of horror is proof that people should forget about vacations and stay at home.

American Gothic meets Disney Paris, 2014

American Gothic meets Disney Paris, 2014

WRONG.

Project: Time Off found in their 2014 study (linked above) that workers who left a large portion of their paid time off on the table were 6.5% less likely to get that raise or bonus they coveted than co-workers who did.  These same workers are also more likely to suffer stress and even heart attacks, and are more likely to suffer from depression.  If none of those things are happening, these workers, are at the very least, likely to engage in large arguments with their spouses and significant others about how much time is needed for their jobs.

I’m in a highly creative job, and getting away to recharge has always been a huge priority for me.  Even when I returned from my sister’s wedding and there was someone else sitting in my seat, I was happy and healthy, filled with memories of a wonderful experience.  The fact of the matter is, that would have happened whether I’d gone away for four days or not.  My former boss and I were not a match made in heaven, we only tolerated each other and I’d been looking for a new position anyway.

I have never hesitated to take a vacation.  I love to travel, and every time I come back, I’m ready to push myself to new heights, for my own benefit and for the company’s.  I’m a better employee for taking my time off and using it well, even though I come back and play a couple of days of catch-up, even though I’m in an at-will employment situation.  I’m good at what I do, and that speaks for itself whether I’m present or taking paid time off.

My former boss, however?  Maybe he should have more time off, too.  He was eventually shown the door.

What goes around comes around, right?

Be successful.  Go on vacation.

 

Next Post:  Wednesday, August 17

Assistants: Read The Assistants! You Won’t Be Disappointed

Revolutionary Assistants, we’ve all had our moments when we ask ourselves the following two questions:

 

Why do I do this for a living?

and

Does my boss really deserve me?

 

And if you’ve been lucky enough to work for a top-level executive at a large company, you might find yourself asking, “Does he really need that pair of socks that costs half my monthly salary?”

The AssistantsSuch is the premise of Camille Perri’s debut novel, The Assistants.  Heroine Tina Fontana is the 30-year-old assistant to the CEO of Titan Media.  The novel starts when her boss asks her to book a first class ticket on a commercial flight leaving in a couple of hours.  He also wants her to arrange to have the rest of the first class passengers on that flight booted so he can have the whole cabin to himself.  And the airline is, of course, expected to comp his ticket, because he’s the CEO of Titan Media.

Well, the airline doesn’t agree to comp his ticket, and Tina puts the $19,000 purchase on her own credit card when her boss’ card turns out to be expired.  Nineteen thousand dollars?  That’s the entire amount of her remaining student loan, spent so that her boss can fly four hours in a first-class cabin by himself.  What a waste!

Tina expenses the $19,000, and the day that her reimbursement check arrives on her desk is also the day that the airline calls to apologize.  That customer service representative, they say, has been fired, and of course her credit card will be refunded immediately.

Tina knows she should return the check…but it’s exactly the amount of those student loans that have been weighing her down financially.  In a weak moment, she deposits the check and pays off the student loan.  Her boss will never miss it.

Ah, but the assistant in finance, the one who approves all her expense reports, doesn’t miss it at all.  Tina is caught red-handed.  Is she on her way to the slammer?

Nope, not so long as she does the same thing to pay off that assistant’s student loans as well.

Before long, Tina and her new friend Emily find themselves in a downward embezzlement spiral, paying off student debt and liberating professional young women to start the lives they’ve dreamed for themselves.  What follows is a story of hilarious empowerment as these women who are “only assistants” realize the power they can wield, the systems they can game, and the lives they can build for themselves if they can just dig up enough confidence to rise to the occasion.

Wanna know if they all end up in jail?  Well, you’re going to have to read it to find out.

If you’re looking for a lighthearted, laugh-out-loud summer read, then check out Camille Perri’s The Assistants.  You won’t be disappointed.

 

Next Post:  Wednesday, August 3

Making Team Building Into Something More

I am in the midst of planning a meeting that is roughly four hours each day of meetings, and another four hours of team building.  Now, the “team building” part of the meeting includes going to a sports center, where our insanely competitive field leaders will be turned loose to engage with each other in a variety of competitive sports.

This is a group of people that get along pretty well on their own, so I never mind giving them an opportunity to bond a little bit more.  But if we send them out to bike race against each other, or to see who can climb the rock the fastest, is that really team building?  Or can it be tied back to the business a little more successfully, and mean something a little more than just a game between co-workers?

Team BuildingThe answer is yes, it can mean something more than just a competition.  A Revolutionary Assistant who’s on her game can make their game have a lasting business impression as well.

Tie the aspects of the game to the company’s brand – My own company is, in fact, going through a rebranding effort right now, and this session of team building is running adjacent to that initiative.  The branding initiative includes the idea of removing hassles from our customers’ shopping experiences with us.  So, part of our team building at the sports complex includes an obstacle course where you have to “remove the hassles” in order to succeed.  We can’t think of anything more appropriate considering the circumstances – this will be “hassle” in a very literal fashion!

Use team building to learn how others approach work – Have you ever tried one of those “locked in a room” things, where you have to work together to gain freedom? Try taking a personality assessment like Myers-Briggs or Strengthfinders first.  Review the results of the assessments as a group, and then go get yourselves locked in that room.  Assign duties and responsibilities based on those assessments, and watch each other work.  Once you’re free, review everyone’s contributions and see how they match their personality assessments.

Use team building to understand your company’s products – Separate teams into groups of three or four people, and give them a pile of your company’s products.  Have the teams assemble something with those products that will protect an egg from being broken when dropped from a high height.  If your company’s products aren’t conducive to protecting an egg, think about something else you can do with them.

Use team building to give back to the community – Most companies are somehow involved with a charity or a cause.  Help teach your company’s mission and values by donating time as a team to working at a charity.  Or, if your company isn’t currently affiliated with a particular cause, get your teams together with a local bike shop and build bikes for children in need.  Building bikes can be complicated and require team work on its own!

Team building is never a waste of time, but you can definitely make it mean more than just a couple of hours of fun.  Drive home important information about fellow team members, company mission, company products or giving back to the community at the same time, and the lessons will be twice as rewarding!

Next Post:  Wednesday, July 20

Safety: One of a Leader’s Best Qualities

I’ve been reading my Harvard Business Reviews again, and I came across a blog article called “The Most Important Leadership Competencies, According the Leaders Around the World,” written by Sunnie Giles, an executive coach and leadership development consultant.  She polled 195 leaders in 15 countries, working at 30 different global organizations.  And here’s the list of leadership qualities they came up with:

  • Strong ethics and safety
    • Has high ethical and moral standards
  • Self organizing
    • Provides goals and objectives with loose guidelines and direction
    • Clearly communicates expectations
  • Efficient learning
    • Has the flexibility to change opinions
  • Nurtures growth
    • Is committed to my ongoing training
  • Connection and belonging
    • Communicates often and openly
    • Is open to new ideas and approaches
    • Creates a feeling of succeeding and failing together
    • Helps me grow into a next-generation leader
    • Provides safety for trial and error

Interesting.  So I researched the internet and saw what Forbes Magazine had to say about the “Top 10 Qualities that Make a Great Leader.”  They mentioned:

  • Honesty
  • Delegation
  • Communication
  • Confidence
  • Commitment
  • Positive Attitude
  • Creativity
  • Intuition
  • Inspiration
  • Interaction with Others

That second Forbes article, perhaps not as well informed as the article written by the executive coach that asked 195 different leaders, was not too far off the mark, either.  When I looked at the lists together, one thing came to mind.

Confidence and safetySafety.  A good leader creates a culture of safety.

Does your manager allow her team to try and fail, all the while encouraging them to succeed? Does her team feel like they’re treated honestly and fairly in her command?  Teams that are watching their backs aren’t producing or innovating at their highest level, so helping your manager create a culture of safety is an imperative.

If your manager has high level of integrity, then you’re starting with the right building blocks.  Managers who are truthful and care about their teams have a shorter road to travel to create that culture of safety.  As a Revolutionary Assistant, you can help her reinforce that sense of safety with constant communication.

Help her encourage change – Safety is the devil you know!  Teams are more likely to venture into the unknown and embrace new ideas when their manager is at the helm, leading the charge.

Help her celebrate small successes – Teams that feel like they’re winners are more likely to want to charge ahead.

Help her acknowledge the defeats with grace – No blame!  Team members often make mistakes and that’s the price we all pay for being human.  If the team realizes their manager understands that failure is a possibility and they’re not going to pay the ultimate price, then they’re likely to keep testing new waters.

Encourage social networks – Team building and social time are important to a team, especially if they’re going to work well together.  Social time helps people learn to support each other, creating levels of trust within the team.

A fearless team is a successful team.  Help your manager develop that #1 leadership trait by assisting in the creation of a safety culture!

Next Post: Wednesday, July 6

Avoid Hiring the Wrong Kind of Employee

If you’re supporting a C-level executive, or even a vice president or senior vice president, chances are likely that you may have to interview some candidates here and there.  Heck, in one of my positions I was never on the interviewer list, but always one of the first people whose opinion hiring managers asked to hear, because I’d escorted the candidate all over the building all day for his or her interviews.  Very often, they’d let down their guard when they were “just with the assistant.”  Ha!

So, how do you tell if you’ve got the wrong person?  Here are some hints to make sure you’re avoiding the people that shouldn’t be a part of your company:

Is the candidate a big-time rule follower? – Every article I’ve ever read, and every manager I’ve ever talked to has warned me about the rule follower.  Sure, there are rules for a reason, but if you’re going to have a rule-following person in your office you want him to be a little more like Marvel’s Captain America and a little less like Major Frank Burns in the 4077th MASH unit.  If there’s a potential to hate this person for always chiming in with the “correct way” to do things, then get out fast!

ToxicIs the candidate looking to learn or does he think he knows everything? – Toxic employees tend to exhibit an overconfidence about their work and their mission, and that’s something to watch for.  Does your candidate seem anxious to learn new skills and gather new information, or does he boast about his all-encompassing knowledge?  Lean toward the former and run away from the latter.

Does the candidate’s values match the company message? – I currently work for a pet specialty retailer, and one of the things I always ask is if the candidate has any pets.  I’ll see an immediate change one way or the other.  The response will be, “Oh, yes, let me tell you about Fluffy!” and the phone comes out so I can see a million pictures.  Or, it’ll be, “No, I’m really too busy for pets,” or “I’m allergic.”  I look for a fondness in the face, a childhood story…something that lets me know that this person feels strongly about our mission.  If there’s a coldness in the response, the candidate will be thanked and sent on his way.

How are the candidate’s communication skills? – Is the candidate going to be the type that motivates the team toward a win, or one that shouts orders and demeans people who don’t get the job done?  Use behavioral interviewing to get to the crux of how this person manages.  “Explain a time when you an your team had a hard task ahead of you.  How did you motivate the team?  Did anyone let you down?  How did you handle the person who let you down?”

Is the candidate trustworthy? – It’s difficult to tell this for sure, but sometimes your gut tells you that this guy you’re talking to just isn’t as above-board as he claims.  He’s not likely to tell you any stories about how he beat up kids on the playground for their lunch money, but if he strikes you as the type, consider it a red flag.

There are no guarantees that the candidate you’re chatting with isn’t your next toxic employee, but these hints might help you expose one before the employment offer is made.  Toxic employees cost so much more than just turnover…keep them out if at all possible.

Next Post:  Wednesday, June 22

 

Meeting Chit-Chat: Distraction or Productivity Enabler?

I’ve read a couple of articles lately that are telling people what I have long known: connecting with your co-workers on a social level enhances productivity.

I’ve had a few jobs in my time, and the ones that I loved the most are the ones where I had warm relationships with my co-workers.  Why?  Because while I loved doing what I did, I loved it more when I was doing something for someone I really appreciated and respected.

If your manager thinks that chit-chat and socialization doesn’t belong in the meeting room, tell him to think again.

Chit ChatChit-chat boost happiness – And happiness is a boost to productivity.  I was most productive when I was at a company I loved with people I admired, and one of the reasons why I came to be in that place was because I’d been permitted chit-chat with them.  In this day and age, people don’t go out after work with their co-workers for drinks, and there aren’t too many company softball teams to join.  Pre-meeting conversation is one of the few ways you can help your co-workers establish these closer relationships.

Chit-chat promotes trust – Again, those admiration and mutual respect cards come into play again.  I work better with people that I trust, and one of the ways I came to trust these people is because I’ve learned about their backgrounds and the things that are important to them.

Chit-chat allows your manager to celebrate others – If he’s not already using meetings to give nods to employees who are doing fantastic work, he should be.  But some chit-chat gives him the opportunity to learn that his employees are doing triathalons, have kids that have graduated on Harvard’s dean’s list, and so on.  Celebrate everything, it makes people feel special, and that makes them want to do better work.

Chit-chat breaks restore focus – There are lots of studies out there that indicate breaks from work restore focus.  If you have a longer meeting, set up a break and allow the conversation to flourish.  Chances are likely they’ll be able to get back to work afterwards refreshed and ready to go.

If your manager feels like chit-chat is going to creep in on valuable meeting time, schedule it into the agenda.  If you plan it, let it happen, and then get on to other subjects, you’ll still get the same value.

Long live chit-chat!

Next Post: Wednesday, June 8