Professional Image

How to Be Taken Seriously

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Next Post:  Wednesday, November 15

Take a Risk, Tell the Joke!

What kind of vegetable do drummers like best?

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

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

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

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

And by the way, drummers like beets best.

 

Next Post:  Wednesday, September 6

Surviving the 24/7, High-Intensity Workplace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Next Post:  Wednesday, August 9

 

 

 

The Exit Interview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Next Post:  Wednesday, June 14

“I’m Out of the Office Today…”

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

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

Here are some suggestions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Post:  Wednesday, May 31

Developing Your Emotional Intelligence

Emotional IntelligenceNothing stood the business world on its ear like the concept of emotional intelligence and its effect on a person’s success in the corporate world.  Emotional Intelligence is the ability to recognize your own emotions and keep them in control, and to recognize others’ emotions as well.  Studies have shown that people with greater “emotional intelligence” are more stable and are better leaders, and they perform better at the office.

There’s a book about it by Daniel Goleman, if you care to check it out.  You probably should.

At any rate, if you believe in “emotional intelligence” the next step is getting some for yourself.  Well, you already have a natural level of emotional intelligence, just like you have a level of actual intelligence.  And just like your actual intelligence, you can increase it a little with some studying.  Here are a few hints to enhancing your emotional intelligence.

Get in touch with how you feel – This might sound a little elementary, but it’s more complicated than you think!  Emotions are more complicated than “happy” and “sad,” so spend some time thinking about what you feel and why you’re feeling it.  Force yourself to stop and take pause a few times a day.  Ask yourself, “What am I feeling?”  Ask yourself what the origin of that feeling might be.  Pay attention to your physical reaction as well.

How do you act when you’re feeling that way? – Emotions will always impact your actions and reactions.  Start paying attention to how you behave when you’re frustrated, when you’ve just been given bad news or have been sent back to the drawing board.  Is the little voice in your head eating away at your confidence?  Is that affecting how you communicate, how you act around others?  Pay attention, and take responsibility for your behaviors.

Reduce negative emotions – I know, I know.  How do I do that?  Well, it’s not easy.  But you can try.  Stop jumping to negative conclusions.  Quit listening to that little voice in your head chipping away at your self-confidence.  Think about all the ways you can view a situation before you act on it.  One of my managers told me once, “There’s really no place in business – or in life – for anger.  You can accomplish everything you want, and overcome every obstacle, without it.”

Focus on others, and less on yourself – This can be a hard one.  You spend a lot of time at the office doing the best job you can do so you will get praise and more money.  Emotionally intelligent people focus on others.  Look at what your co-workers bring to the table, what their individual strengths are.  Learn what motivates them, and rely on that knowledge when you need to bring people together to work on a project.

Be a pleasure to work with, and explore new things – Be the person other people like to be around.  Be fun, be adventurous, and try to bring out that same attitude in others.  Don’t ever stop learning.

Easier to read than to accomplish?  That may be true, but one can only grow by pushing yourself and exploring new territory.  So go out there and improve your emotional intelligence – the effort will take you far!

 

Next Post:  Wednesday, May 5, 2017

Crying in the Office

A while back we talked about women in the workplace and their tendencies to over-apologize.  Now we’re going to talk about crying.  Sure, it’s probably not 100% a female thing, but you can find a whole lot more women that cry than men, so worth talking about for a minute.

My own personal opinion:  I don’t if I can help it.  Crying gives away your power, and men look at you and think, “Typical female” when you’re standing in front of them sobbing.  So I just don’t do it.  This is not to say that I haven’t had moments where I’ve wanted to, whether it be from anger, frustration, or even extreme sadness.  Of those, only the latter is really worthwhile.

crying-at-workIf a man who cries “seems more human,” a woman is cursed with all the negatives.  She’s incompetent in her position, and she’s crying because she can’t handle it.  She’s manipulative, trying to get someone to feel sorry for her and help her.  Whatever the interpretation, women aren’t exactly praised when they shed a tear – it’s just another reason for others to judge them and their capabilities in the workplace.

It might not be right, but it is what it is, so I try to keep a promise to myself: keep my tears for the moments when they’re warranted (death, loss, etc.), and control them when they’re not (not getting my way, frustration over other people’s actions).  Mostly, I’ll forgive myself and my co-workers when it happens, because…it happens.

 

Some interesting articles and opinions on crying in the office:

 

Huffington Post:  What 15 Female Leaders Really Think About Crying at Work 

The Atlantic:  Is it Okay to Cry at Work?

Fast Company:  When It’s Okay to Cry at Work (and When It Isn’t)

 

Next Post:  Wednesday, December 21

 

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

Oops

That’s nOopsot just the title of this article, it should be the title of my life. The older I get, the more I forget things, the more I make mistakes. I would agree I’m definitely wiser than I was ten, twenty years ago, but boy, the information seems harder to access every day!

Luckily, I’ve not made any critical mistakes at work that have cost the company money or compromised anyone. Still, we are all fallible. And it’s how you handle the mistake that makes the difference.

Fess up – Never was there better advice. Trying to escape notice or telling a boldface lie to get out of a tight situation isn’t going to help you at all. Your mistake probably resulted in a problem, and you are at your best when you’re solving them and not creating more of them. Telling tall tales or making excuses just chips away at your credibility, and you don’t want your credibility damaged.

Don’t make too many excuses – Occasionally, it’s okay to make an excuse (especially if there’s a great one involved), but any manager appreciates someone who can address the matter at hand. If you go into too much detail on your excuse, you could start to look defensive. There’s no need for that. It’s all a bunch of chatter. You recognize what the right path is now, so go for it and get it done!

Apologize and admit you were wrong – You made things a little worse than they were, rather than better, so always best to apologize from the heart! Likewise, admitting you were wrong goes a long way toward repairing credibility.

Be a part of the new solution – If you’ve created a problem, come up with the right answer to solve it. A Revolutionary Assistant inspires confidence, and you’ll inspire some new and renewed confidence in your manager by coming up with all the answers to address the problem.

I wish I was perfect, but I am definitely not. Until I am, I like to live by these four little rules to help get me back on track after I’ve made a mistake, because it makes me look as good as I possibly can with egg on my face!

Trustworthy in the Workplace

I’ve been reading the Harvard Business Review again, and I ran across an article on conveying and cultivating trustworthiness In the workplace.  I felt like this was something I needed to read.  After all, as a Revolutionary Assistant, I want people to understand that I’m trustworthy.  I also need to make sure that I work with people I can trust, as we assistants always rely on others to get our work done.

But I also have to trust vendors, consultants…oh, the list goes on and on.  How do I know when folks are being square with me?  According to HBR contributing author David DeSteno, body language is a tell-tale sign.

But not really.

“All those books that promise to teach you how to spot a liar through body language?” DeSteno writes.  “None has empirical support.”  Still, when someone leans away from you, touches his hands or his face, or crosses his arms, this can be a sign that your trust is misplaced.

DeSteno and his team did a study that programmed a humanoid robot to perform these body cues with a perfection not found in actual humans, and test subjects reported that they thought the robot would cheat them.  Of course, the test subjects were picking up on obvious signals, and humans would not be so consistent.  “These findings demonstrate that we have built-in trust detectors,” DeSteno writes.  It’s important to go with your gut feeling.

So, how do you foster trustworthiness, then?  Well, it helps to be trustworthy yourself.  You can:

Be careful of proprietary business information
Be careful of your own body language
Build a rapport with others, make sure they know you care about them
Be generous with yourself, your information and knowledge, and your time

That’s just about you.  You can also build trustworthiness by creating a common interest, helping the other person decide that you are not all that different.  And avoid leveling punishment on others.  Exacting a penalty for undesirable behavior might work in the short term, but you’re likely to experience long-term issues.

A Revolutionary Assistant counts on trustworthy connections to help her do her job.  Hopefully, these hints will help encourage interactions to stay above-board and mutually beneficial!

Next Post: Wednesday, June 3