The Revolutionary Assistant

The Revolutionary Assistant aims to be a partner to her manager. Fetching coffee and typing memos aren't her focus - she's fighting the good fight day by day with the boss, and she's getting things done.

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Revolutionary Reference

Revolutionary Reference

We've amassed years of administrative assistant knowledge here on this site, and it's time we share it with you.
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Revolutionary Quotes

Revolutionary Quotes

To say nothing, especially when speaking, is half the art of diplomacy. (Will Durant) Public speaking will get both you and your manager farther in your career.
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Apps for Success

Apps for Success

Video conference and desktop sharing are a breeze with FuzeBox. Save your company money on meeting travel using this great tool!
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Tips and Tricks

Tips and Tricks

Planning meetings across the globe? World Time Server is the best tool to ensure that you're not getting anyone out of bed to meet!
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More About Working with Those Creative Types

Okay, so not too long ago, I did a quick blog entry about how to work with your graphic department. If you give them the right kind of direction, you’ll get back something that’s close to what you’re looking for. And, boy, it helps if you speak the right language, otherwise the art in front of you might be light-years away from your concept.

Well, it just so happens that I was reading my Harvard Business Reviews again, and in one of the magazines was an article about how to work with a creative person. Lo and behold, even more great information I could share with you!

The article talked about a scenario where the creative department of a toy company was presenting their latest concept, a car-and-racetrack game. One of the people in the marketing department pointed out that he thought the car needed a monster. The comment was disregarded by the creative department, but later it was determined that a monster was indeed what the game called for. But at this point, deadlines were missed and more production costs incurred.

Creative peopleSo, how could that feedback have been given so that the artist in this equation didn’t ignore it, wasn’t annoyed by it? The authors of “Collaborating with Creative Peers” offered these suggestions:

Offer suggestions that are broad, unfinished ideas – By proposing a broad, not-totally-thought-through suggestion, you leave the idea open for an artistic person to explore. Conversely, if you propose a very complete and well thought through concept, a creative person might think that you’re putting your creative stamp on it, and be less likely to offer suggestions of his own.

Don’t get too excited – As a creative person, I tend to like it when people get excited about something I proposed, but authors Kimberly Elsbach, Brook Brown-Saracino and Francis J. Flynn suggest that you could be sending messages that you’re going to take the idea over. That could cause the creative person to withdraw, thinking he’s not needed anymore or that things won’t be done his way.

Give them time to think it over – Artistic team members like the opportunity to walk away with feedback, chew on it a bit, and figure out how to incorporate it into their work without losing their own artistic stamp.

These suggestions might make it sound like a creative person is very controlling, and that’s certainly not what this is meant to imply. The left-brained assistant wants to organize and arrange and isn’t necessarily tuned in to the creative mind, but the more effort that’s made, the better the relationship will go. The artist wants to keep some level of control over his ideas, see it come to fruition. If he sees that (a) you understand this, (b) that you don’t want to take over the idea and own it, and (c) give him time to digest feedback and suggestions so he can make them his own, then he’s going to be more willing to work with you!

Next Post:  Wednesday, April 13

Open Workspaces – Couldn’t They Be a Little More Closed?

My office is in the midst of a remodel right now, and the plans are to take away my 72” cubicle walls and make them 48” so I can see all 45 of the co-workers sitting around me. I’m so thrilled about the new layout that I’m wondering how many days I’m going to have to work at home in order to get something done.

Now, I have some of the world’s best co-workers and we’re not likely to go around interrupting each other throughout the day just because our walls a little bit lower. But when a recent Gallup survey shows us that only 11% of workers consider themselves truly “engaged,” and noise and lack of privacy are workers’ chief complaints, why do we keep pushing for the “open, collaborative environment”?

Open office spaceThe words alone make me shiver.

It’s not just about the noise, though the noise in an office with no cubicles to absorb and block is bad enough. Back in 2010, author Patrick Skerrett (HBR, November, 2010) analyzed fifteen different noise studies and concluded that noise disrupts concentration, decreases productivity, and increases stress. It also isn’t good for blood pressure and your cardiovascular system.

My coworkers default to earbuds, and sometimes full-on headphones, to beat the distracting noise and ward off would-be intruders. Often, they aren’t even listening to any music, they’re just blocking out the cacophony of phone calls and copy machine conversations going on around them. Our HR person retreats to a closet with a phone in order to have private conversations with company employees. That’s a nice option for her, but if my husband calls to let me know the dog had an accident on the carpet, the whole office knows about it.

People’s need for privacy is as instinctive as their need for mixing and conversing with others of the human race. But in a world where information sharing has become so imperative, is team work and collaboration prized above all else? Or can there still be consideration given to the more introverted co-worker who is more productive when she can produce something she’s proud to put her name on?

The answer is a fairly simple one. In a world where every person has a slightly different working style, offices should provide open work spaces and places where people can find some privacy and get work done. “The question is not whether we need privacy in our office spaces,” writes Shane Ferro in his Huffington Post article “To Work, Open Offices Need to be a Little Less Open.” “The question is how to configure the space so that workers can move to the right type of environment for whatever task they happen to be working on.”

Studies have been done by office design firms Coalesse, Steelcase, and Knoll to try to determine the best combinations of space that allow creativity to thrive and workers to keep their sanity. The answer seems to be variety. As Donna Flynn, Director of Workspace Futures at Steelcase, puts it, “A big insight from our research was that the way each person controls distractions is very different.”

When an office remodel is underway, an assistant is often involved and policing the situation. A Revolutionary Assistant can get involved, do her research, and offer suggestions that ensure privacy and open collaboration areas are available for a variety of work styles. After all, the objective is to help elevate productivity!

Next post:  Wednesday, March 30

Managing Successful Global Teams

I’d worked for several “international” companies before, but never was I so integrated with a global team as I was when I worked for Google. I found myself constantly communicating with people in India, Denmark, Holland, Ireland, London…my co-workers were everywhere. But we definitely always felt like a team. I may have had to wait for a few hours to get an answer to my questions, but none of us felt left out in the cold.

Other companies are growing and becoming global, and managing those teams don’t always come easy. But, don’t fear! I’ve been reading my Harvard Business Review again and an article I found in the October, 2015 issue reminded me how my manager got the most out of his global team…and how you can help your manager do the same.

Help your manager create a sense of unity for the team – In my current position, we just purchased a company that’s on the other side of the country. Granted, they’re only a few time zones away and still a part of the United States, but I’m bent on making sure we know each other and become friendly. When you’re dealing with different cultures, this is very important. Set aside a few minutes in every meeting to talk about what’s going on in each others’ worlds, focus on what’s unique about each other’s culture. The idea here is to create balance, so no one feels like someone else has more of the manager’s attention.

Make sure your manager is accessible to the whole team – This might mean your manager taking Internationalcalls during off hours, especially if he has teams in Singapore or India, but all team members should feel they have as much of the manager’s attention as they need. And allow for unstructured conversations here as well – talk about that work commute whether it leads to your door or to a door halfway around the world.

Is everyone understanding and being understood? – In the midst of an exciting conversation, it’s easy for someone who doesn’t speak English as her native tongue to miss some of the conversation. In your duties of taking minutes, this is an excellent opportunity to stop the conversation, summarize, and make sure everyone in the group understands what’s been decided.

Exercise redundant communication – As an assistant, you can assist your manager in making sure that messages are heard. Follow up after meetings and conversations with emails that restate the mandates and decisions the group and your manager arrived at.  This will confirm that everyone in the group understands the direction in which the team is headed.

Being a part of a global team is a very rewarding experience. I remember celebrating Indian holidays on video conference with our team in Dehli, or asking our Australian counterparts what my day was going to be like tomorrow. Learning about the rest of the world is great fun, and working with a diverse set of people to accomplish great things is even better. As a Revolutionary Assistant you can help guide your manager to success with an international group.

Next post:  Wednesday, March 16

Performance Reviews: Is It Time For Your Self-Review?

It’s that time of year when you sit down with your manager and talk about last year’s performance and objectives, how you did, what you accomplished, and what you didn’t. If you had a good year, you look forward to the conversation and if you didn’t…well, it’s going to be a long meeting.

If you want to take the opportunity to remind your manager about the great job you did last year, you need to take advantage of the self-review. The self-review allows you to put a comprehensive list of your accomplishments in front of the boss, include metrics, and add color commentary.

How do you approach a self-review most effectively? Here are a few hints you can put into action:

Emphasize your accomplishments – But don’t break your arm patting yourself on the back. Think about your accomplishments from your manager’s point of view. How did your work impact the team, the bottom line? Once you’ve taken that approach, sit back and think about all the things that fall under the “other duties as assigned” category, that your manager won’t necessarily think about when he or she goes to jot down his performance review thoughts.

Make sure you include your failures – Leaving them out will just make you a little less trustworthy. But definitely include them, and play them up as recognized opportunities. If you say, “This went horribly wrong because I wasn’t on my game,” your manager could agree with you and ding you on her final appraisal. Better that you tell her, “This happened, and I took it as an opportunity to learn from my mistakes. When the situation came up again, I was able to avoid similar outcomes by doing X.”

Use the opportunity to make a wish list – If you’d like to see things change next year, this is the time to start talking about it. Need to take a class in a particular software, bring it up! Want to add something new to an ongoing project you’ve been working on? Bingo! Self-reviews are the perfect time to do mention items like this!

Don’t take the time to coperf reviewmplain or blame other people – The self-appraisal is about you, so keep it focused on you. Sure, there might be a guy in marketing that wouldn’t cooperate, and now you can’t get your job done. That’s a different conversation. Focus your self-review on what you COULD accomplish.

Understand how your manager will use the appraisal – Will he or she look at it at all, or is the self-review something that’s required by HR but disregarded in your department? Don’t waste too much time if you know he won’t look at it at all. If you know he’ll use it or even cut and paste right from it, make it easy for him to do so.

If you’re looking to get a nice raise at merit time, don’t gloss over the self-review portion of your company’s performance appraisal process. This is your one opportunity to affect your rating and your review, so embrace the opportunity. It could mean the difference between a good raise and a great raise!

Next post:  Wednesday, March 2

Getting What You Want From the Creative Department

Creative people are a different breed, aren’t they? I can say that because I’m one of those creative types, and I can tell you that when my boss says, “I need this to stand out more” or “I want this to really look sleek” he has a very specific idea in his head of what his document/presentation should look like.

artistAnd I don’t have a clue.

I can’t tell you how much easier it would be if he said, “I want the font to be bolder” or “I want it to be blue instead of red.” Those are things I can understand. Sleek? Well, that can be interpreted a variety of ways, and I bet my idea of sleek is different than his is!

If you want sleek and you’re not getting it, here are a couple of tips from me on how you can get fabulous results from your creative department:

Give them time – I’m often asked to write scripts and shoot videos that drive home an operational point to our field staff. When I get these requests, they’re often accompanied by the requisite “I know whatever you do, it’ll be funny/cute/great, and I need it by Friday.” Well, here I have absolutely no specifics to work with, and I have three days to get it done. The creative idea you’re looking for me to provide often does not pop immediately into my head or, if it does, it requires more than three days to execute. The more time I’m given, the better the final product will be.

Set up time to provide feedback often – Presumably, you’ve taken my advice and given your creative person some time. That being the case, set up time to talk with him or her a few days from now to see how the project is going, or to get some preliminary ideas. Maybe even see a few drafts.

Be specific about your feedback (and kind) – I was told once to “get rid of that third-grade font.” Not only did a bristle at the bluntness of the remark, I have no idea what she actually did want. I had to pursue her, and probing led to the discovery that she didn’t like sans-serif fonts, but I wouldn’t have known that if I hadn’t gone marching into her office asking for more. Never mind that I was offended by the idea that I was trying to appeal to third-graders…

If you can help the process by saying, “I’d like to see a fancier/bolder/more delicate font” that’s something a creative person can act on. If you’re thinking of something in a specific color, say so. If you want to create a feeling with the art, articulate that. Or find some examples that are similar to what you’re looking for, and share them with your creative person. That helps, too!

Remember that they know their job better than you do – Creative people are well schooled on what they can and can’t do with company logos, brand messaging, colors, etc., and they know how to work within those parameters. Marketers get angry when they’re asked to do something outside of those brand parameters. Also, they’re good at making things pretty, and if you give them a little latitude, they’re going to come up with something better than you dreamed it could be.

Being a creative person in a corporate world is a lot of pressure. I, for one, am always worried that I’ve had my last good idea and that I’ll never come up with something original again (it hasn’t happened yet, but there’s always tomorrow!). Don’t make their jobs even harder by being unkind in your opinions and vague in your feedback, or it’ll take even longer to get what you want!

Next Post:  Wednesday, February 17

Travel Tips for the Not-So-Experienced Business Traveler

Happy TravelerThe not-so-experienced traveler is getting harder and harder to find as the world becomes a smaller place.  Even I, as an assistant, am required to travel five or six times a year now, and each time I head to the airport I end up learning something new,

If you, or your manager, are only infrequently called upon to travel, then some of these hints might be just what you need to make your trip a productive one.

Pull your boarding pass online – I think almost everyone knows this now, but in case you don’t, it’ll save you loads of time.  Have your flight confirmation number handy and log on to your airline’s website twenty-four hours before your flight.  After entering your information, you can print or send a boarding pass to your mobile phone. Better yet, check in and grab the seat you want for your flight, and then opt to print your boarding pass at the airport kiosk.

Try to avoid checking in luggage – For the same reason you don’t want to check in to your flight in person at the airport, you also don’t want to check your bag.  Checking your bag at the counter costs you time and nowadays it costs you money, too.  Then, when you hand it over to them, they lose it and you end up with no clothes when you arrive.  Pack everything you need in a carry-on sized bag (22″ X 14″ X 9″ – check your airline’s website to confirm). And if you’re worried about how you’re going fit everything in and keep it from wrinkling…

Pick a color for the trip and stick with it – You can never go wrong with black. But if you’re all about purple, go with it. Make sure you can mix and match your clothing, and if you can wear something more than once, definitely do it!

Bring just one pair of shoes with you – If your clothes are all the same color, it should be easy to match a comfortable pair of shoes to them. If you have to bring more than one pair, wear the bulkier of the two pair on the plane.

Pack to minimize wrinkling – If you want to avoid ironing or sending your clothes out to be pressed, then pack jackets and shirts on top, and tee shirts and night clothes at the bottom of the suitcase. If you want to make sure a jacket doesn’t wrinkle, turn it inside out and roll it around some tightly folded tee-shirts and night clothes. Or, my husband swears by rolling up his clothes. He says that it spares him the wrinkles and takes up less room in his case.

Choose your outerwear to go with all your travel outfits – …and then wear it on the plane. It’s the bulkiest thing you’ll carry with you, and it’s much easier to travel with it on your back.

The less toiletries, the better – You can always use the hotel’s shampoo and conditioner. Buy small containers of contact solution and other necessities. I’m probably breaking the law when I tell you that I never put my little bottles in a Ziplock bag, because I only have one or two. If you find yourself with twelve, reevaluate!

Don’t wait till the last minute to pack your chargers – You’ll forget them if you do! In fact, if you know you’re going to be doing a lot of traveling, invest in a second set of them and just leave them in your bag. You won’t regret it. And by the way, make sure all your electronics are 100% charged when you leave so you can be productive on the flight.

Pack your “personal item” with all the on-plane necessities – I carry a “wristlet” with all my money and cards, which makes it easy for me to transfer from a purse to a tote bag for a flight. I can fit my laptop and tablet into my tote, so I can be productive on the plane. But, if I choose not to be productive on the plane I have a pocket for my laptop in my carry-on. As long as I’m not checking my bag, I feel comfortable leaving it in there.

If you’re an experienced globetrotter, then this blog entry probably hasn’t helped you out one bit! But if you’re new to the travel scene or if your manager is heading out on a trip for the first time (I see it at my office all the time) then hopefully these hints help make your trip more successful!

Next post:  Wednesday, February 3

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

Happy Holidays!

Happy HolidaysThank you for sticking with us for another year!  We have a lot planned for 2016 so please come back and visit the site!

A special thank you goes out this year to my wonderful husband, Mitch, who never fails to inspire and give me incentive to keep writing.  Also, a big thank you to my company and my fellow co-workers, who never let me run out of material!

My biggest thank you goes out to you, our readers.  Have a wonderful holiday season, and let us know if you want to talk about anything in particular in the coming year!

Your Resume Needs to Reflect Your Work Standards

So, today I received a note from a vendor I work with frequently. She was helping a friend circulate her resume. “If you have a need for an administrative professional,” she wrote, “I would appreciate you giving this person your consideration.”

We had just filled an admin position four weeks ago, so the timing was off for us, but I opened the resume anyway. And, lo and behold, it needed some work.Resume

The resume was full of bullet points, and they weren’t formatted so that second lines indented with the first. Some were, but not all of them. There were headers for each section, and most of them were in all capital letters, but one was not. They all had a shaded bar over them…except one. Words were randomly capitalized. Two different fonts were used, and not for effect. Dates of employment were featured on the same line as the names of the companies, but they were neither right-margin aligned nor all evenly tabbed.

So I wrote her back and I told her, “If I were reviewing this resume and it did not come through an applicant hiring system (because, less face it, formatting is out the window in an applicant hiring system), I would not call her for an interview.” I pointed out the problems I saw and suggested that, if this was a friend, that she tell her to fix these issues before sending it out elsewhere.

When, say, an IT person sends out a resume, formatting and random capitalization issues would probably not be noticed. I mean, who cares if he can format a resume, we want him to be able to write code, right? But when mistakes and sloppiness abound in the administrative professional’s resume, that candidate is showing the hiring manager that she can’t do the job she’s being considered for. I mean, if your admin can’t format bullet points, who in the office can? It’s as important that your resume is pretty as it is full of good and concise employment information.

I received a note back that this particular candidate was facing some personal problems and hadn’t had the time or the tools to correct the resume. I was not impressed with that response and, in fact, took exactly four minutes of my time to line up those bullet points, correct those randomly capitalized nouns, fix the fonts, line up the dates of employment, make ALL the headers all caps and put a shaded bar over the one that was lacking it. Then, I made a PDF of it and sent it back to my friend, suggesting that she not circulate the bad one any further.

So, this candidate had two strikes against her before I even finished reading the resume because (1) she showed no attention to detail, and (2) she showed poor judgment in sending out something that was so riddled with mistakes. Don’t be this candidate. Your resume should show quality work as well as quality job time. If it doesn’t, you’re losing an opportunity and turning off hiring managers.

Next Post:  Wednesday, December 16

Why Strategy Fails in Execution

Strategy Fails in ExecutionI’ve been reading my Harvard Business Review again (goshdarnit, I love my HBR!) and I came upon an interesting article in the March 2015 issue I wanted to share with you. It’s about why your company’s strategy fails in execution.

The article talks about how your organization can have the clearest, simplest objectives, the most logical and easy-to-comprehend strategy, and still, employees can’t get the job done. Why does it happen?

Authors Donald Sull, Charles Sull and Rebecca Homkes offered some interesting theories based on results of a survey taken by 8,000 managers in more than 250 companies. Here are their thoughts:

Departments work well, but not together – Apparently, companies are very good at managing up and down the silo. The operations department is charged with a task and they can work to get it done without an issue. But when accomplishing the objective relies on cross-departmental work, that’s when things get sketchy. Apparently, the minute that operations department looks to sales or distribution to complete a portion of the work, everything goes south. Managers claim that team members outside their own departments are only about as reliable as vendors. Agility across business units is a frequently neglected component.

Success doesn’t necessarily mean sticking to the plan – Too many companies put objectives down on paper and then worship it as Gospel. I loved the authors’ turn of phrase when they wrote, “No Gantt chart survives contact with reality.” That’s so true! The Grand Plan can’t anticipate every curve ball its thrown, and managers should be encouraged to deviate from the path if it means achieving success.

Don’t measure how much you communicate, measure how much the team understands – I was particularly fascinated by this one. The authors used the example of a CEO beginning her monthly meetings with a review of the objectives. But when her management team was asked to describe the firm’s strategy and objectives in their own words, fewer than 1/3 were able to cover two major points. Wow! I’m already contemplating how to fix that…

The wrong qualities are being rewarded – Most organizations reward for past performance, but findings of this survey indicate that the companies most likely to accomplish their objectives do so because their managers show great agility in responding to challenges. That particular behavior is, in many organizations, not rewarded.

Execution should be driven at every level – The article sites the importance of “distributed managers” in accomplishing objectives. These are not just managers that lead disciplines and navigate cross-functional areas well, but also technical and domain experts who are key influencers in getting things done.

So, there are where the problems lie. What to do about them? This the Revolutionary question that needs answering. Is your manager looking out for these land mines?