Partnership

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

Training an Exec on How to Use an Assistant

Wouldn’t it be nice if an executive could go to a class to learn how to use an assistant?  I know that, if such a class had existed, there were a couple of managers I’d have sent to learn a thing or two.

I’d been an assistant for about ten years before I made it to the C-level, and when I did, the first manager I found Trainingthere was a sponge.  Constantly open to ideas about how I could make his life easier, he started by handing me his typing and his travel schedule and ended up allowing me to manage portions of projects that had huge impact on the company.  We sat down once or twice a week and just talked:  not only about his schedule, but about his projects, the expected outcomes, and so on.  With regular dialogue, I was able to speak up when I saw he was working on something where I could contribute.

I thought this was the norm, but when I moved on to my next position supporting a C-level executive, I got exactly the opposite.  He was, in fact, not only clueless on how to use an assistant to his best advantage, he was pretty adamant that there was no part of his job I could do as well as him and insisted I only do his travel and expenses.

I probably don’t have to tell you that executive #1 is tremendously successful today, and executive #2 is no longer an executive.

Because no real training exists for an executive, here are some helpful hints you can use to start the ball rolling on a better working relationship:

Bring a list of your skills to the table – Your manager should know what you do well.  If you’re all about the numbers, tell him you’re up for some budget management or watching payroll.  If you’re into the communication side of things, you can manage his correspondence, newsletters, etc.  Make sure everything is represented – if you’ve been with the company twenty years and he just started, you know a lot better how things operate and that’s something he will find useful.

Communicate, communicate, communicate – Some assistants are lucky to get a once-a-week status meeting with their managers.  If you can sit down with your manager every day, even for ten or fifteen minutes at the end of the day, and hash over what happened today and what’s going to happen tomorrow, you’ll have a better idea from day to day where you can jump in.  If he says he’s too busy to connect, tell him, “That’s why we have to connect!”

Watch his output for work you can take over – My manager used to have to communicate leadership changes on a regular basis, and he’d get something started on paper and then say, “What do you think?”  I’d make a couple of changes to what he wrote, tighten it up, make it sound more powerful (he was, on his own, not one to blow his own horn), and then give it back to him.  Eventually, he’d give me a list of things he wanted to say and let me do it.  Other things, like regular correspondence, department purchasing, or even project management, will follow suit.  Look at his work and decide what you could do as well, and then speak up.

Ask for the “why” along with the task – A revolutionary assistant can’t anticipate needs until she knows why tasks are being completed, who benefits from them, and what happens to the work from there.  Get the complete story behind decisions and requests so you can see the strategy.

Give the relationship time – When you’ve worked together for a year or two, you’ll have an instinct for each other that makes the relationship successful.  If you’re new to each other, remember that you’ll need your manager’s guidance and opinion every step of the way.  Both of you should know and remember that it won’t always be this way.

When the manager/assistant partnership is a well-oiled machine, everyone is at their most productive.  Do what you can to help your manager use you better!

 

Next Post:  Wednesday, March 8

Improving Your Strategic Thinking Skills

A Revolutionary Assistant is a business partner to her manager, and she can be an even better business partner by improving her strategic thinking skills.  Strategy is a part of your manager’s every-day job, and if you’re tuned in to your department’s strategy and how it fits into the company’s strategy , you’re an even bigger help.

A strategic thinker anticipates change, takes risks and is flexible in her approach to work.  If you don’t see how your work fits into the bigger picture, there’s no way for you to reach outside what you’ve been told to do and mean something more to your job.  That’s not a very revolutionary approach!

If you want to improve your strategic thinking skills, take a look at Nina Bowman’s article “Four Ways To Improve Your Strategic Thinking Skills” on the Harvard Business Review website.  You won’t be sorry you took a look!

 

Next Post:  Wednesday, February 26, 2017

The Boss With No Expertise

A couple of companies ago, I worked for a manager who had his act together.  He worked in a discipline he knew inside and out, and he had the respect and admiration of most everyone he worked with.  Then, he was promoted, and he continued to oversee that discipline, along with a new discipline: Information Technology.

Information Technology.  This was a man who called me at home between Christmas and New Year because he couldn’t figure out how to make the copier create a .PDF file.

I mention this because I was wandering through the Harvard Business Review website and saw an article called “If Your Boss Could Do Your Job, You’re More Likely to be Happy at Work” (by Benjamin Artz, Amanda Goodall, and Andrew J. Oswald).  Most of the time, I agree with the things I read from HBR, but this time, I felt like the authors missed the mark…a little bit.

The article concluded that “employees are far happier when they are led by people with deep expertise in the core activity of the business.”  While it’s often a notion that it’s wrong to promote an engineer to lead engineers or an editor to lead editors, this article argues that a manager’s expertise in the field matters a great deal.  Employee satisfaction, according to their surveys in the US and Britain, go up when they feel like the boss can step in and do what they do.

A Revolutionary Assistant wants to support a manager no matter what the circumstances, and, as was the case for me, I had a manager who was suddenly overseeing a department where he had very little expertise.  And while it might be true that employees are happier when their boss has the same expertise, I saw a manager who made do without. Here’s how he was successful:

He didn’t claim expertise and respected those who had it – My manager walked in, equipped with an awareness of corporate goals and how IT needed to fit in.  He made every effort to understand the obstacles and involve the team in how they were going to reach their goals.

He was a great leader – Honestly, I’ve never worked with anyone before or since who was quite like him when it came to leadership skills.  He approached that aspect with great confidence, and his direct reports were likely to follow him anywhere.  He had confidence here, and he showed it.  If your manager can’t be an expert in the field he’s leading, you can cheer him on to be an expert leader.

He was a people manager – He wanted to see people succeed in their positions, and he was willing to help them get to the next level, especially when it came to those skills that were common no matter what the position.  When it came to presentation, speaking persuasively to senior management, he was a coach and cheerleader for the team members.

Authors Artz, Goodall, and Oswald are likely mostly correct when they say that employees are happier when the boss knows how to do their job.  There’s none of that, “He has no idea what he’s asking me to do!” and “Doesn’t he know how much time that’s going to take?”  But if your manager is faced with the task of leading a group of people and he’s not at all an expert, a little bit of respect, love of people and good old fashioned leadership might do the trick.

 

Next Post:  Wednesday, January 25, 2017

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

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

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

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

Just Because He’s the Boss Doesn’t Mean He Knows Everything

I was told in a meeting last week that I have a “God-given talent for telling senior leaders no and not sounding insubordinate.” The person who noted this said, “Please don’t change that. I often want to tell them no and end up asking them ‘how high?’”

I laughed. It’s actually a talent I developed early on in my administrative career when I realized that just because my manager was the top dog didn’t mean he knew everything. (Of course, don’t tell him that.)

My manager wanted me to manage him and manage the things I’d been put in charge of. Setting realistic expectations is part of that package.

Here’s an example: We were rolling out an Intranet/Sharepoint site to our office, and the site was far from done. The consultants helping us were not delivering on what needed to be accomplished, and several aspects of the home page did not function properly and/or did not look polished and professional.

Our senior leader, the chief operating officer, said, “It’s not supposed to be finished, it’s always going to be a work in progress, let’s roll with it.”

None of our team members were happy to hear this. We’d worked long and hard on this site and when we showed the rest of our company, we wanted it to work the way it should and be loved the way it should. So I spoke up and told our chief operating officer that we were not interested in rolling it out as is. I explained to him that, if we wanted adoption of the tool, it had to work correctly and not look like something a ten-year-old had put together. When the rest of my team nodded in agreement, he backed down, and the roll-out was postponed.

There was not another person in the room that would have told him that. If I hadn’t, we may have rolled it out prematurely and the tool might have failed.

As a Revolutionary Assistant, if you say the words, “It’s what the boss wants” or “as long as she’s happy that’s all that matters” then you’re not doing your job the way you should. I am in my position to make my manager more successful and more productive. That isn’t necessarily the same thing as “do it this way because the boss said so.” Your manager wants things done right, and if his wishes conflict with that goal, you need to be the one to step up and tell him.

 

Next Post:  Wednesday, January 20

Making Sure Your Manager Is Productive on the Road

In my time as a Revolutionary Assistant, I have sent my manager on some grueling trips. I remember one where he had to fly all over the west coast and lay off people who had been with the company three and four times as long as he had. It was a whirlwind trip that lasted only two days and left a trail of bodies, and that’s no one’s favorite thing to do.

So, how do you make something like that, or any other treadmill-like trip more productive for your manager? It’s not really about micromanaging the itinerary – your manager has gone to an airport take-away and gotten sushi without your direction in the past, and chances are it’s going to happen again – but really more about making sure he’s prepared and able to get the most done in the least amount of movement:Travel

Reserve travel, hotel and ground transportation with convenience in mind – My manager travels a lot, and he has his favorite hotels and restaurants in mind most of the time. But when that’s not the case, I get to work and discuss the best places to eat and spend the night with assistants at the companies my manager is visiting. It’s a great way to make connections and make sure your manager is only a few minutes from his meeting places. I also like to reserve in advance to save money!

Make sure your manager knows about – and knows how to use – the latest and greatest in smartphone apps – Travel is made easier by phone apps that can get you what you need when you need it. For instance, an app like Gate Guru or Flight Tracker provides flight information and terminal maps right at your fingertips, so you can hit a Starbucks or grab some aspirin in no time flat. New services like Uber provide quick rides, and the app Waze (which I just downloaded myself!) tells you how to avoid traffic based on the advice of thousands of other drivers on the road. Translation apps are available for people traveling in foreign countries, which is also very handy!

Capitalize on his flight time – If he’s in the air for a while, that’s a great time to get reading done, review reports, etc. I try to book flights where wi-fi is available, but if not, I create PDFs of documents he needs to review and add them to his tablet so he’s able to sift through paperwork without carrying a stack of items with him.

Ask if his devices are charged and business cards are packed – Or ask about anything else he might forget to do or pack. There’s nothing worse than running out to an Apple Store across town to purchase a new charger – it’s a time waster and a huge irritation. (But, here’s a helpful hint: Hotels find themselves with BOXES of chargers and power cords left behind by forgetful guests, so tell your manager to check the front desk first!)

Arrange for car service if he’s attending a convention or a trade show – I work in retail, and there’s no bigger nightmare than getting your manager from hotel to hotel when he’s at that ICSC show in Las Vegas each May. Those of you in the IT industry probably experience the same thing with the big Las Vegas show in the summer. It’s crazy! I like to arrange for car service wherever possible, because if my manager tries to catch a cab he’s going to be waiting for an hour and paying just as much money!

Plan for a nice reward after a busy day – I don’t know about your manager, but mine was likely to find a McDonald’s after a day at work. If he’s going to be alone at the end of the day, think about making a reservation at a nice restaurant or a late-afternoon massage appointment.

Of course, the best way to be productive is to not travel at all. If a video conference or Skype call will suffice for a face-to-face meeting, that’s going to be the best way to go! If your manager isn’t familiar with those kinds of tools, it’s time to show him right now!

Business travel is a test of mettle and determination most of the time, and a Revolutionary Assistant takes every step to minimize the effects of the demons on the road!