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

"Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much." (Helen Keller) Collaborate better with these helpful hints!
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Apps for Success

Apps for Success

Evernote allows you to keep all kinds of files together in one place, on the cloud, accessible by any device!
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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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Happy Holidays!

Another year of Revolutionary conversations in the books!  Happy holidays to all my readers, and many thanks for celebrating our fifth year with us.

I hope that 2017 finds you looking to tackle all the revolutionary issues presented to you.  Have a delightful holiday season, and we’ll see you in January!





Next post:  Wednesday, January 11

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


Collecting Honest Employee Feedback

Not as easy as it sounds!  You can put out suggestion boxes, provide employee hotlines, tout your open door policy from the roof of the building, and still, your team members hesitate to contribute.  And – here’s a newsflash for you – it’s likely those people have valuable information they’re not sharing.  How do you get it out of them?

The reasons why employees are unlikely to share information about bad bosses, poor processes, or even ways to improve current operations, are pretty logical.  People are generally afraid to speak their minds in a work environment – they don’t want managers to take their feedback personally or seem disrespectful.  In some circumstances, they don’t want to risk reprimand or dismissal.  On the other end of the spectrum, they think, “Why bother?  Nothing’s going to change.”  In order to create an environment where employee feedback is given freely, a manager (and his Revolutionary Assistant!) needs to mitigate these conditions.

suggestion-boxThe payoff is excellent.  If employees feel comfortable sharing and provide feedback regularly, those companies usually experience a higher employee retention and usually higher performance.  Here’s how you can increase feedback in your office.

Don’t rely on the anonymous feedback opportunities – If no one knows who said what, then employees won’t be scared to contribute ad you’re going to get honest feedback, right?  Perhaps.  But consider this: it’s not very easy to follow up on a serious issue when protecting the anonymity of the employee who submitted it; even more difficult if you don’t know who submitted it at all.  So this method is not entirely helpful.  If that’s not bad enough, consider that “anonymous opportunities” like a suggestion box or a 360 assessment can make it seem like employees need the protection of anonymity.

Make your manager (and yourself, as his assistant) available – Like, REALLY available, in the work area of the employees on your team.  Be curious (in a good way) about what’s going on, and be helpful.   You two are the start of a culture of sharing and open dialogue in your office.  Be accessible all the time and…

Encourage your manager to be talkative and express his/her own opinions as an example for others – If your manager behaves like he or she is in the culture of sharing and open communication, employees are more likely to follow suit.  Transparency is key here, as it’d be easy for employees to think that your manager has a personal agenda if they’re not used to this behavior.

Make feedback a regular part of the routine – If your manager is holding weekly meetings, set aside a part of that meeting to encourage feedback as a part of the conversation.  Welcome all of it – even the bad ideas will get you to good ones, so no criticism and no picking on ideas that aren’t totally up to snuff!

Provide resources to address issues that come up – When you hear feedback that requires action, put someone on the case.  If employees aren’t sharing because they think nothing will be done, it’s your manager’s duty to make sure they aren’t right about that.

In order to encourage employee feedback, your manager has to work toward shifting the culture so that employees feel comfortable.  Once the suggestions start rolling in, take good care of them:  put adequate resources on them to see that good ideas come to fruition, and treasure even the bad ideas that come in.  Remember, you could work in an office where no one says anything at all!


Next Post:  Wednesday, December 7


Do They Know You’re Looking For Another Job?

Revolutionary Assistants are always looking for the next opportunity to prove themselves, and sometimes that opportunity is outside the four walls of your company.   But looking for a new career challenge isn’t the only reason that people look for new positions – they might be overworked and looking for a position that sticks a little closer to 40 hours, or perhaps they’re looking to get out of a bad social or management situation.  Whatever the reason, a person will take the usual steps to get themselves out on the market.

The question is: do their managers know they’re looking?

do-they-know-youre-looking-for-another-jobIt’s something to consider.  Technology has made job-hunting much easier, but it’s also easy to see the evidence.  People beef up their LinkedIn profiles, reach out to new connections and start conversations to get the word out, and if you’re doing that it’s not a huge leap to think that your manager can see it, too.  If you put your resume out on a job board, it’s out there for the whole world (and your boss) to review.  And if you’re using a head hunter, don’t be surprised if one of his associates or connections puts your resume right back in your manager’s hands.  They don’t always look too carefully before they send a qualified candidate along.

On top of those easy ways to give yourself away, though, your employer may be actively looking for all those signs and more to see if you’re looking for another job, and the reason why is pretty obvious:  employee turnover costs money.   Some companies have their eye on those employees that are most likely to leave and do things like track their comings and goings with access badge use or review activities on all their social media accounts.

Several of these concerned organizations have gone as far as retaining a company called Joberate to help them determine which of their employees are putting themselves on the market.  Joberate evaluates social media activity to pinpoint those people that are making all those tell-tale moves, and it’s allowing companies to nip attrition problems in the bud.  This doesn’t necessarily mean that they want to stop someone who’s looking to advance his or her career, but it does mean that they can possibly look for a more challenging position for that person within the company.  An employee might not be forthcoming that his manager is a poor leader and not easy to work with, but Jobrate is telling them that several people who work with that manager are putting themselves on the job market, and that’s helping them determine what the problem is.

So if you’re sneaking around, taking extra-long lunches and maybe one too many dentist and doctor appointments, it might not be the first thing that gave you away.  If you’re truly looking for a bigger challenge in your career and you like the company and the people you work for, it’s worth a discussion with your manager to see if you can take your next steps without parting ways.  If you have other reasons for leaving, that might be worth an honest conversation as well.  After all, they could already know all about it!


Next Post:  Wednesday, November 23

Women and Collaboration in the Workplace: An Unfair Game

I just finished managing a large event – more than 500 people for three days – and I’m just a puddle I’m so exhausted.  As is always the case with these events, I had with me a few really good collaborators and workers, and the rest of them said, “Please let me know what I can do to help!” and then never answered when I called.

women-collaboratingWhen I got home, I was looking over my Facebook account for the first time in a month and I saw a meme.  It said, “I’d like all the people who ‘helped’ me on my group projects to be pall bearers at my funeral, so they can let me down one more time.”  Many a truth has been spoken in jest.

Surprisingly, many women find themselves feeling the same way after a project is complete.   In fact, according to Harvard Business Review’s January 2016 article, “Collaboration Overload,” women are 66% more likely to roll up their sleeves and dive in to assist co-workers in times of need, while men are 36% more likely to share knowledge and expertise in a more hands-off way.  Tell me, which one do you think costs more time and energy?

I thought about this a lot when I reached out to ask for help at my event.  I sent out calendar invites to people at all levels of the org chart, and while many of the team members responded and came through, more of them were women than men.  And when I needed to staff my registration table?  All women, only one man.

When I wanted to get something done, I asked a female co-worker, and that’s my bad.  I should be considering all the men I have to choose from when a task needs to be completed, but for me women are more reliable and easier to work with.  They’ll get the job done and not change the process (and the outcome), nor will they delegate it to someone else who doesn’t “get” what we need to accomplish.

So, we’ve established that women get unfairly picked on when it comes to collaboration, and women should consider offering and giving their assistance carefully, so they don’t end up emotionally and physically exhausted.  Managers, too, should be careful when it comes to taking his direct reports with assisting on a project, knowing full well that the scales of labor tend to be tipped in the direction of their female employees.


Yes, there’s always a “but.”  This is the unfair part.  As HBR wrote:

In an experiment led by the NYU psychologist Madeline Heilman, a man who stayed late to help colleagues earned 14% higher ratings than a woman who did the same.  When neither helped, the woman was rated 12% lower than the man.

The woman is supposed to help.  When the man lends a hand, he’s a good guy.

Such is the ongoing saga of a woman in the workplace…or just life in general.  As Revolutionary Assistants, we often wrangle the troops to get a task done, and help our managers do the same.  It’s imperative that we take into consideration the overburden of collaboration on female team members,  and help our managers do the same.  And when collaboration on a project is complete, we need to make sure that our female team members get equal credit where equal contributions have been made.

Seems like a simple thing, but as we know about women in the workplace, it’s anything but simple most of the time.

Next post:  Wednesday, November 9

Why Aren’t There More Male Administrative Professionals?

CNN and Money Magazine reported in 2013 that “secretary” was still the top job for females.  The feminist movement is, perhaps, responsible for the name change to “administrative assistant” or “office professional,” but no matter what you call it, it’s what females in the workplace do if they’re not being librarians or kindergarten teachers.

So, what about men in the administrative field?  Do they exist?  Why, yes!  The profession is 97% female (it’s why I use the pronoun “she” when I write), but three percent of us are men.  More than a century ago, 85% of all clerical-type work was done by men, but when women entered the workforce and showed preference for this kind of position, it became “feminized” and men were no longer as interested in doing it.

Man as assistantAlso, there’s the case where men are still expected to have a job that provides for a family, and administrative work (now that it’s feminized) is not the kind of position that pays well.

Not so if you hop the pond, though.  I read an article in The Guardian (from 2013) entitled, “Jobless Male Graduates Turn to Secretarial Work.”  Our British counterparts are valued a bit more than we are here in the states, it seems, because some administrative professionals earn upward of £75,000 (that’s a little less than $100,000, by the way).  British men find the salary adequate (no doubt!) and see it as a “stepping stone to other positions within the company.”

This doesn’t seem to happen in the United States, particularly because most of the time “administrative assistant” is a stepping stone to nothing…although that wasn’t always the case.  As Amy Eagle wrote in her Chicago Tribune article, “A Job Once Filled By Men Became a Pink Profession:”

The position of clerk (as secretaries were more commonly known then) had been an entry-level professional job. “Clerks often went on to become managers,” said Leon Fink, a history professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. As corporations grew and management required more specialized training, office support became “more of a permanent subordinate position,” he said.

Still, there are some men in the field.  I headed over to a write-up posted called “The Few, The Proud: Men in the Admin Position” and what I read there was somewhat interesting.  They reported that women should expect to see more competition as the position grows and expands beyond typical secretarial duties.  “Men find the technological side of the profession more likeable than typewriters or mimeographs,” explained Ronald Hyman, CPS and president of the Florida division of the International Association of Professionals.

I can’t remember when I last touched a typewriter or even laid eyes on a mimeograph, but whatever.

As long as perceptions of the administrative position are tied to typing, calendar management and…um…mimeograph machines…we females will continue to dominate the field.  Men will hesitate to enter a “pink profession” because it’s not masculine, it doesn’t pay enough, and it’s not interesting because there are “typewriters.”   A Revolutionary Assistant, though, is a business partner to her executive, and does much more than that.  We could make this into a position that’s much more interesting.

But let’s keep it under wraps, because boys are gross.

Next Post:  Wednesday, October 26


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

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

I say, yes.  All that and more.

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

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

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

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

Next Post:  Wednesday, October 12

Sorry! Women and Apologies in the Workplace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Post:  Wednesday, September 28


I Just Spent 10 Minutes Trying to Trick Siri

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Post:  Wednesday, September 14

Make Data Resonate in a Presentation

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s try some more:

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


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

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

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

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

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


Next Post:  Wednesday, August 31