Archives for Revolutionary Assistant

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

Is The New Boss Going to Make a Good Partner?

This Revolutionary Assistant blog is all about being a good partner to your manager.  But, let’s face it, not every manager is going to be a great partner.  It’s not new news: there are managers out there who are really lousy bosses.Bad Boss

The primary reason that people leave their jobs is because they don’t like their managers, and if an assistant doesn’t like her manager, that can make for a very bad situation.  So, when you interview for a new position, how can you tell if you’re going to get along?

First things first: think about the type of manager you’d be most successful supporting.   Do you enjoy a manager that is very hands-on and guides you every step of the way, or do you want one that gives you a task and lets you figure out how to accomplish it?  Do you want a manager that advocates a flexible work schedule and understands the importance of work/life balance, or would you rather someone who is as Type A as you are?  Put some thought into the personality characteristics a manager might exhibit that would make you most happy, and the ones that would really get your dander up.

Then, off to the interview you go.  Here are some more things to look for:

Does this manager’s team get good results? – A team that’s disengaged from its manager doesn’t usually produce good results.  When it’s your turn to ask questions in the interview, make sure you cover things like, “What are the goals of the team?” and “Are you tracking to achieve those goals?”  If you find out that the team is way behind, that should be a red flag.  Managers who don’t have good teams won’t likely be good partners to their assistants, either.

Does this manager have integrity? – Chances are you won’t just be interviewed by the manager herself, you’ll have the opportunity to talk to some other people on the team.  When you do, try to get a feel for this manager’s integrity.  Does she care about the team?  Is she able to get them charged up about their mission, and do they want to do a good job for her?   Use indirect questions to figure out how the team feels about the manager, and do the same to find out how the manager feels about the team.

How’s this manager’s employee retention? – If employees are leaving this manager in droves, that’s a bad sign.  How can you tell if a manager has high turnover rates?  Well, for one, you can ask about the last person who held your position.  Did she leave the company, transfer to another department?  You can also ask questions about his team, what kind of positions make up that team, and what they do…and then use that information to look up his LinkedIn profile and the profile of those who seem to have worked for him.  Reach out to a couple of these folks and ask what it was like to work with this manager.

Does this manager have a singular focus…and it’s him? – If the manager talks about all the things that he’s accomplished, and where he’s going with his career, then he may not be too concerned about the careers and the happiness of his team.

Don’t ignore your gut feelings – You can get a bad feeling about a manager when she’s not engaging in dialogue with you, when she’s dodging questions, and so on.  If you get that foreboding feeling when you’re talking to a prospective new boss, pay attention to it!  These are warning signs.

When you’re an average working Joe, a bad manager can make for a very long work week, but when you’re a Revolutionary Assistant, it can be agony.  There are no guarantees that you’re going to get a great manager, but these hints can help you avoid some of a bad boss’ more obvious characteristics!

Next Post:  Wednesday, May 25

Happy Fifth Anniversary, Revolutionary Assistant!

Video shotsI can’t believe that the Revolutionary Assistant is five years old today!  We’ve had a lot of fun making videos, writing and researching articles, and hopefully making better assistants out of our many loyal readers!

Of all of my favorite moments, I have to say that making our Professional Relationships puppet video was among the best.  New to the world of filming, I wrote a script for the video that required one long, continuous shot.  My sister and my husband, both theater professionals, were the puppeteers, and my multi-talented brother-in-law was the puppet creator and director/editor.

I finally got all my lines right after 37 takes.  Yup, you read that right!  It took 37 takes.  My sister’s and husband’s arms were SO TIRED holding the puppets up over the cube wall for hours.  Of course, they flubbed up on their lines sometimes, too.  And more than once, my brother-in-law yelled “Cut!” because one of them had brought their puppet up from a horizontal to a vertical position over the cube wall, making it look like Dracula was rising from the grave!

So, Revolutionary Assistants, I present to you my all-time favorite video, written in a Panera Bread and filmed in my sister’s living room.  It’s proof that when you have the right, most spectacular team for the job, you can do anything…

…in 37 or so tries…

 

Next Post:  Wednesday, May 11

Are Administrative Assistants Becoming Obsolete?

The Revolutionary Assistant celebrates its fifth anniversary this month, and I looked around to find that I’m still championing the manager/assistant business partnership, and still asking that question: Are you Alfred, or are you Robin?  The reason why I continue to ask it is because the Alfred assistant is becoming obsolete.

Allow me to explain. I use DC Coretro worriedmic superhero Batman and his support system – butler Alfred and sidekick Robin – to explain the difference between someone who assists and someone who partners with their manager.  To recap our very first post, Alfred assists Batman by polishing the Batmobile and getting the Batsuit dry cleaned.  Robin partners with Batman by standing at his side, fighting the bad guys and providing solutions to the problems they encounter.  The assistant who’s more like Robin increases her manager’s reach.  The assistant who’s like Alfred…well, she’s eventually victim of a reduction in force.

A 2013 Oxford University study examined just how susceptible today’s jobs are to computerization, and they discovered that an astounding 47% of them are vulnerable.  So it stands to reason that assistants who concentrate only on getting the coffee and keeping the calendar up to date are in danger of being replaced by technology.

How do you take steps to ensure you don’t become obsolete?  Here are some hints!

Read this blog – We’ve spent the last five years talking about how to be a better partner to your manager.  Check out our videos and our reference section to answer specific questions…and have a good laugh!

Take the scary step – If you’re going to work every day and you’re not just a little bit scared, you’re not doing it right.  Learn something new, take on a new responsibility even if you have no idea how you’re going to do it.  Being a little scared is a good thing.  You’ll figure it out, you’ll learn, and you’ll become a more important cog in the organizational machinery.

Make your work important to others – If you’re not working for someone’s benefit (like your manager’s), then you might as well not be doing anything at all.  If your manager doesn’t find your work important, and his direct reports don’t either…reassess your situation and make a career move. They should feel like you’re making them bigger and better than they are alone.  You should feel fulfilled in making their lives better.  If those aspects of your service are not connecting, you either need to fix it or move on.

Find someone to challenge you – You know those people in the office, the ones who make your stretch your thinking to new levels.  Spend time with them, and force yourself to make new connections and be more accepting of new ideas.

Update your technology skills – I’m not talking about Microsoft Outlook here!  Don’t be the person that always has to ask for help plugging in the projector or getting the new software to work.  Be the person that gets asked.  Read up on available technology in computer periodicals and hang out with the young folks to see how they’re using their phone apps.

Get some business knowledge – I read the Harvard Business Review every month, because it helps me understand the challenges that my manager and my company face.  Social marketing and big data are not a part of my day-to-day work, but understanding trends helps me keep up with the conversation and offer viable solutions to problems we’re facing.  If you’re not into the Harvard Business Review, get a subscription to Fast Company, Inc., or Entrepreneur.  Or follow them on Twitter, and you’ll be able to read a lot of their articles for free.

It’s time for assistants to step up their game and go from ordinary to revolutionary, and from Alfred to Robin!  Don’t run the risk of technology taking over your job…use these steps to stay relevant (and employed!)

 

Next Post:  Wednesday, April 27