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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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?


The Revolutionary Assistant and the Next Position

Have you ever thought about leaving the administrative support world in favor of another position?

Being an assistant was the best thing I could have ever done. I got my first job in an administrative support position and, after being in the work force for ten or so years, I got married and decided to quit my job to finish my degree. My friends were excited and supportive of my decision, but when they asked, “What are you going to do when you finish college?” they weren’t fond of the response I gave them. I said, “I still want to be an assistant, but at a higher executive level.”

I wasn’t sorThe Next Positionry with my choice. After finishing my degree, I got a job assisting a Senior Vice President, but at a small company. I worked for a year, moved to a larger company, worked for another couple of years, and then moved to a Fortune 500 company supporting a senior executive. My salary went up, my job satisfaction soared…I learned so much about business.

Then, I landed an administrative position at Google, and the job satisfaction started to wain. I moved into my current position, supporting a chief executive officer, and…hmmm, still not too satisfied. I started to realize that for me, satisfaction as an assistant went along with a fantastic assistant/manager relationship, and finding someone I clicked was going to be a crap shoot. Was it a good idea to jump from job to job until I found that magic manager? Probably not.

The only solution for me was to move into another position, but once you’ve worked your way up the administrative ladder it’s hard to find a position for which you’re qualified that will make you the same amount of money. For what it’s worth, here are a few areas that I’ve seen a Revolutionary Assistant move to from her executive support position:

Facilities Management – In some Revolutionary Assistant positions, facility management is a part of the job. One fellow assistant I know has made a very lucrative career managing leases, maintenance and more for a variety of properties her company held. The position taps into an assistant’s natural organization skills.

Event Planning – One of my favorite things to do in my administrative position was planning events, and it turns out, there’s a good living to be made lending your skills to that full time. If you enjoy working with venues, negotiating contracts and planning menus for large groups of people, this might be an area you want to explore.

Travel Management – Larger companies often hire a full-time person to manage their travel program. This would include reviewing and negotiating vendors, examining travel patterns for opportunities, managing travel memberships, and even planning large group travel. Another option would be to interview with travel agencies, especially those that are vendors to large companies. You do, after all, have experience in this area.

Communications – This is the direction I took. Like many Revolutionary Assistants, my talents lie in helping my manager communicate, so when the opportunity arose, I took a job in internal communications and manage our Intranet tools, write articles on strategy, and plan company-wide meetings. I’m in my glory!

Other Non-Entry Level Positions in Your Department – When all else looks bleak, talk to your manager about the opportunities that might be available for your next move. After all, you’ve gained a lot of experience dealing with issues in your area, so there might be a logical next step for you that hasn’t occurred to you yet.

I would have liked to be a Revolutionary Assistant forever. I had a manager that made me love what I do but, unless an opportunity arises to cut his lawn or something, I probably won’t get an opportunity to work with him again. I’m thankful for the skills I picked up along the way, so I can still add great value to my company.

Next Post:  Wednesday, September 23

Groupthink and Your Manager

Being a part of a group that conquers the impossible…it’s a great thing.  Historically speaking, these stories make for some great entertainment: the Manhattan Project scientists that came together to end a war; the NASA employees that worked with a pile of unrelated, random items and formulated a plan to bring Apollo 13 astronauts home.  By learning about these people and their fabulous achievements, we learn that great things can be accomplished when brilliant minds come together.

And yet, I have a Groupthinksign hanging on my desk that says, “None of us is as dumb as all of us.”

The term “groupthink” is often used to describe where a group of people come together to solve a business problem and make decisions that lead to failure.  And while there’s a lot of study devoted to individual decision making failures, there’s precious little out there that talks about why groups fail.  But I was reading my beloved Harvard Business Review last week and came upon an article that talked about exactly that, determining that groups often fail because

  • They respond to informational signals from other individuals that may or may not be correct.  For instance, if a group is undecided if the correct answer is #1 or #2 and one person says, “Oh, it’s definitely #1,” the others may be easily swayed to decide the same
  • They go along with crowds, or with the boss, so as to preserve their reputations

When your manager has been charged with running a task group to solve a particular business problem, you can provide some Revolutionary assistance by keeping these elements in check:

Encourage your manager (or the senior presiding member) to keep his mouth shut for a while – And by that, I mean a while longer than he thinks it might be necessary.  People are often hesitant to provide any kind of opposing viewpoint if the boss speaks his mind first.  And, if the boss is wrong, then the whole group is in danger of going down the wrong solution path.

Do “critical thinking” exercises with the group – I found this an interesting study done by authors Cass Sunstein and Reid Hastie.  Tasks (or ice breakers) that encourage the group to get along also discourages group members from bringing up opposing viewpoints.  A critical thinking exercise, however, does the opposite.

Assign roles – When at a former company, I served on several task teams that pulled from all different disciplines.  One group was charged with bringing in stellar fourth quarter results.  We had experts from operations, human resources, and so on.  Each person who sat at the table brought a different viewpoint, and therefore his ideas were respected by the others.  And we all went in understanding that the others looked at the world differently and would logically argue a different viewpoint as a result.

Appoint a devil’s advocate, or a “red team” – Encourage your manager to appoint someone to argue the opposite point of view, or, in the case of a “red team,” go out and try to prove that the opposite is true.  You’re bound to see both sides of the coin when using that approach.

Other suggestions brought up in the article, like rewarding group success versus individual success, or using the Delphi method, are also viable ideas and can be reviewed with your manager as well.

Groups accomplish terrific things, and as a Revolutionary Assistant I know that you want your manager to lead a group that does exactly that.  Popular opinion isn’t always the right opinion, but if you navigate the potholes you can win wars, save lives and more!

Next post:  Wednesday, September 9


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!

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!

Death at the Office

Sounds like a book out of a mystery series, doesn’t it?

I wish that’s all it was, but frankly, death is a part of life and everyone – family, friends, co-workers—experience loss at one time or another. And if you’re like me, you really don’t know what to do when it happens, especially when it comes to a co-worker who’s just experienced a devastating loss.

We recently experienced this situation at work, where a co-worker lost her adult child unexpectedly. Even though I have no children of my own, I have to think that this is one of the worst things that could possibly happen to a person. My heart bled for her, and thoughts of her situation, her hell-on-earth, followed me around for days.

But when I next saw her, I was tongue tied. I wanted to be helpful. I wanted to say all the right things to make an awful, horrible situation a little better. Still, a dozen different thoughts raced through my mind. If I said, “I’m so sorry for your loss,” would she start to cry? Would she say, “Thank you, I had just stopped thinking about it for a second and now I’m thinking about it again and it’s all your fault”? Would she say, “Sorry?! You have no idea

My feelings are not unusual. It can be hard to deal with emotional situations when someone you love is suffering. But when you have a working relationship with someone who’s experienced a loss, you can’t always offer a hug or a kiss, or any kind of loving human contact. You don’t necessarily hug and kiss people you work with. And this situation is a part of your co-worker’s personal life, not his/her professional life, which makes it all the more awkward. So how do you deal with the emotional response your comments might illicit?

Easy! You avoid saying anything!

(Yeah, that’s what I told myself, but I couldn’t pretend that it didn’t happen, that’s just not right!)

So, here are a few tips to get you through this difficult situation:

Express verbal condolences to those co-workers you don’t know well when you need to speak with that person for other reasons – Start out the conversation by saying, “I’m here to talk with you about X, but I wanted to let you know that I heard what happened and I’ve been thinking about you. I’m so sorry for your loss.” This gives the mourner the chance to say thank you, and then jump onto another subject. If he wants to talk about his loss, it gives him the opportunity to do so.

Drop a card at the co-worker’s desk if you don’t know that person well – This is a great way to express condolences to a co-worker you don’t know really well. At your next interaction, you can ask him how he is, he can thank you for the card, and you can move on to a conversation that’s the subject of his choice.

If you know the person well enough or work closely enough with him, express condolences and ask him about his work load – Your mourning co-worker might not have the level of concentration necessary to tackle everything he has on his plate at the moment, or might need help catching up.

As a Revolutionary Assistant, make a plea for your manager to be flexible with your mourning co-worker – Some find work a great release that helps them navigate their loss, but others will find even the easiest work tasks an unbearable burden that’s layered on top it. Everyone reacts differently, and you’ll help your manager maintain a strong working relationship with the mourner if she can be flexible with his needs.

Avoid saying things like “This happened to me” or “I understand exactly how you feel” or “At least you have_____” – Again, everyone processes loss differently. Saying that it happened to you or that you know how the mourner feels marginalizes what he might feel, and furthermore makes the conversation about you and not him. Telling him, “At least you have another son,” or “It was God’s will” just minimizes the huge effect that death has had on this person.

After you express your condolences, just listen – Sometimes, that’s the best gift of all.

If you’re really having a hard time approaching this person, think about the last time you experienced loss and what was most helpful to you. It’s a rotten thing, having to live through something like that, but sometimes a new bond is formed, a new friend found, and a new point of view understood. And that’s not a bad thing at all.

Next Post:  Wednesday, July 29

Manage Your Variables

The other day, I was making reservations for one of our new hires to spend four weeks with a trainer.  I had no less than twelve trainers to send him to, but I chose the one that was geographically closest to the new hire, which saved our company money and time.

OptionsI had no sooner finished those arrangements when one of our field leaders emailed me and suggested a particular trainer for this new hire.  Of course, not only was she not the trainer I’d chosen, she wasn’t available the week I needed her for a variety of reasons.  So I wrote the field leader (not the new hire’s boss, by the way), told him, “Unfortunately, she’s not available to start with a new hire that week, so I chose another trainer for her.”

I copied the training leader on the email.  It wasn’t more than a few moments later, she came over and started giving me options for how I could reassign this new hire to the trainer that our field  leader had requested.  I could hold the new hire’s start date for a week, I could start the new hire at a different location for the first week and transfer her, and so on.  After presenting me with the options, she suggested I could reach out to the field leader again and let him know these options so he could choose which was best among them.

I did not do that.

This is what I like to call “managing my variables.”  Now, I’m the type of person who’s never been inclined to try to please everybody all the time, but those of you Revolutionary Assistants out there that have that fine quality should consider this little time-saving suggestion.

I manage this training travel process, and the path I chose for this new hire was a perfectly acceptable one.  I had put in about an hour of work getting it arranged after sending emails back and forth with the trainer to confirm availability, etc., which took at least one business day.  On the other hand, the field leader came back to me with this suggestion for personal reasons, as it turns out he’s acquainted with the new hire.

By telling him (truthfully) that trainer he’d suggested was not available and not opening the conversation to other options, I saved a day’s correspondence and more work.  I could have been unnecessarily accommodating, but by limiting my response I was able to dedicate time and energy to giving other “customers” quality results in a timely manner.  I kept control of the situations by not offering hard-to-complete options (or “variables”) that would steal my time from others who needed my services.

How did this work out for me?  Well, the field leader wrote me back and said, “Okay, great, I just thought I’d ask!”  When the training manager saw it, she said, “Oh! It all worked out.”  Of course it did.  If there had been a valid reason for the request, the field leader would have pushed back, explained his request, and I would have accommodated.  But there was no reason to throw options on the table when a simple “no” might have been all that was necessary.

Revolutionary Assistants, take every opportunity to professionally, courteously and intelligently manage your variables.  It’ll save you a lot of time and effort on the back end and make you more available to others whose work really needs your attention.

Next post:  Wednesday, July 15

Theater of the Absurd (or, How To Deliver A Presentation To Make It Count)

More real-time musings from the person who just came back from running the biggest event her company will host this year. Like I mentioned in my last post, our senior leaders were really on the hook to deliver good content and engage their audience. I went into great detail about how to arrive at good content for a presentation by cutting irrelevant points, making it about the audience, creating a structure and theme so that important points make sense and are easy to remember.

But I didn’t talk at all about how to deliver it.

barry_manilowWriting good content is hard, but unless you have a real gift for theatrics, delivering it is even harder. I joke with people that I learned everything I know about staging events from watching Barry Manilow in concert. They don’t know that I’m kind of telling the truth. So today, on Barry Manilow’s birthday, I want to prop up his work as an example of how hook an audience.  Consider the following:

Barry Manilow doesn’t sing just one note – Barry actually sings many notes, and while you may not be singing your company’s year-end results, you shouldn’t be talking at one, consistent, droning level, either. If you’re excited about something, raise the volume and the level of your voice. When you’re sad, bring it down a bit. Make your tone fit, make it interesting.

Barry Manilow doesn’t sing “Mandy” like it’s a carnival song – Emotion, emotion, emotion. In my last entry, I talked about how appealing to your audiences intellect will get you nowhere, but touching them emotionally will incent them to change their behavior. How many people ran out to buy that sappy song when Barry sounded like he was all but crying at the end? I mean, he really wanted her to come back!!

Barry Manilow doesn’t sing with his hands tied behind his back – Sure, he’s done a gazillion concerts, and he looks comfortable in front of a crowd. But he’s probably not as comfortable as you think! I don’t know him personally, but I’m guessing he’s a little nervous when he steps out in front of 20,000 people. You will be, too, but, like Barry, try not to show it. Loosen up those arms. Bend those knees. Don’t stand there like a statue because you have 300 eyes on you. Use body language to help.

Barry Manilow doesn’t forget the words to “Looks Like We Made It” – His band doesn’t forget how to play it, either. So, when you go out on stage, you should know your material. It’s not enough to run through it and take up some note cards. Get it into your brain so that it’s second nature. If you know your speech inside and out, you’ll have extra confidence up there, and it’ll help everything else.

Barry Manilow’s show doesn’t run long – When Barry is singing in Vegas, his concert is 90 minutes long. If he runs over, Wayne Newton won’t have enough time to do his material, right? Don’t take away from the other guy by using up all of your time and part of someone else’s. No one wants to hear you yammer on longer than you should, anyway.

Barry Manilow doesn’t just walk up on stage and start singing – Barry is well lit, and there’s usually some music that introduces him. If you have the means and the equipment, lower the lights and put on the intro to “Copacabana” when you walk on stage. It looks professional and it gets the audience into a cheerful, energetic mood.

Barry Manilow doesn’t sing his last song, talk for a little bit and then wander offstage – No, he’s singing, “I Write the Songs” or a reprise of “It’s a Miracle,” and the audience is on its feet, clapping along, cheering him as he’s played off by the band. Similarly, is your finish strong? Do you have a call to action, do you give them a reason to applaud? If not, reconsider your content.

If you’re trying to get the feeling for your next presentation, use these guidelines set by me and Barry Manilow to help you reach your audience a little bit better. With a little practice and some thought toward showmanship, you’ll change your presentation from boring to a true, blue spectacle that will keep your listeners engaged and encourage them to tackle action items.

Next Post: Wednesday, July 1