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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Making Team Building Into Something More

I am in the midst of planning a meeting that is roughly four hours each day of meetings, and another four hours of team building.  Now, the “team building” part of the meeting includes going to a sports center, where our insanely competitive field leaders will be turned loose to engage with each other in a variety of competitive sports.

This is a group of people that get along pretty well on their own, so I never mind giving them an opportunity to bond a little bit more.  But if we send them out to bike race against each other, or to see who can climb the rock the fastest, is that really team building?  Or can it be tied back to the business a little more successfully, and mean something a little more than just a game between co-workers?

Team BuildingThe answer is yes, it can mean something more than just a competition.  A Revolutionary Assistant who’s on her game can make their game have a lasting business impression as well.

Tie the aspects of the game to the company’s brand – My own company is, in fact, going through a rebranding effort right now, and this session of team building is running adjacent to that initiative.  The branding initiative includes the idea of removing hassles from our customers’ shopping experiences with us.  So, part of our team building at the sports complex includes an obstacle course where you have to “remove the hassles” in order to succeed.  We can’t think of anything more appropriate considering the circumstances – this will be “hassle” in a very literal fashion!

Use team building to learn how others approach work – Have you ever tried one of those “locked in a room” things, where you have to work together to gain freedom? Try taking a personality assessment like Myers-Briggs or Strengthfinders first.  Review the results of the assessments as a group, and then go get yourselves locked in that room.  Assign duties and responsibilities based on those assessments, and watch each other work.  Once you’re free, review everyone’s contributions and see how they match their personality assessments.

Use team building to understand your company’s products – Separate teams into groups of three or four people, and give them a pile of your company’s products.  Have the teams assemble something with those products that will protect an egg from being broken when dropped from a high height.  If your company’s products aren’t conducive to protecting an egg, think about something else you can do with them.

Use team building to give back to the community – Most companies are somehow involved with a charity or a cause.  Help teach your company’s mission and values by donating time as a team to working at a charity.  Or, if your company isn’t currently affiliated with a particular cause, get your teams together with a local bike shop and build bikes for children in need.  Building bikes can be complicated and require team work on its own!

Team building is never a waste of time, but you can definitely make it mean more than just a couple of hours of fun.  Drive home important information about fellow team members, company mission, company products or giving back to the community at the same time, and the lessons will be twice as rewarding!

Next Post:  Wednesday, July 20

Safety: One of a Leader’s Best Qualities

I’ve been reading my Harvard Business Reviews again, and I came across a blog article called “The Most Important Leadership Competencies, According the Leaders Around the World,” written by Sunnie Giles, an executive coach and leadership development consultant.  She polled 195 leaders in 15 countries, working at 30 different global organizations.  And here’s the list of leadership qualities they came up with:

  • Strong ethics and safety
    • Has high ethical and moral standards
  • Self organizing
    • Provides goals and objectives with loose guidelines and direction
    • Clearly communicates expectations
  • Efficient learning
    • Has the flexibility to change opinions
  • Nurtures growth
    • Is committed to my ongoing training
  • Connection and belonging
    • Communicates often and openly
    • Is open to new ideas and approaches
    • Creates a feeling of succeeding and failing together
    • Helps me grow into a next-generation leader
    • Provides safety for trial and error

Interesting.  So I researched the internet and saw what Forbes Magazine had to say about the “Top 10 Qualities that Make a Great Leader.”  They mentioned:

  • Honesty
  • Delegation
  • Communication
  • Confidence
  • Commitment
  • Positive Attitude
  • Creativity
  • Intuition
  • Inspiration
  • Interaction with Others

That second Forbes article, perhaps not as well informed as the article written by the executive coach that asked 195 different leaders, was not too far off the mark, either.  When I looked at the lists together, one thing came to mind.

Confidence and safetySafety.  A good leader creates a culture of safety.

Does your manager allow her team to try and fail, all the while encouraging them to succeed? Does her team feel like they’re treated honestly and fairly in her command?  Teams that are watching their backs aren’t producing or innovating at their highest level, so helping your manager create a culture of safety is an imperative.

If your manager has high level of integrity, then you’re starting with the right building blocks.  Managers who are truthful and care about their teams have a shorter road to travel to create that culture of safety.  As a Revolutionary Assistant, you can help her reinforce that sense of safety with constant communication.

Help her encourage change – Safety is the devil you know!  Teams are more likely to venture into the unknown and embrace new ideas when their manager is at the helm, leading the charge.

Help her celebrate small successes – Teams that feel like they’re winners are more likely to want to charge ahead.

Help her acknowledge the defeats with grace – No blame!  Team members often make mistakes and that’s the price we all pay for being human.  If the team realizes their manager understands that failure is a possibility and they’re not going to pay the ultimate price, then they’re likely to keep testing new waters.

Encourage social networks – Team building and social time are important to a team, especially if they’re going to work well together.  Social time helps people learn to support each other, creating levels of trust within the team.

A fearless team is a successful team.  Help your manager develop that #1 leadership trait by assisting in the creation of a safety culture!

Next Post: Wednesday, July 6

Avoid Hiring the Wrong Kind of Employee

If you’re supporting a C-level executive, or even a vice president or senior vice president, chances are likely that you may have to interview some candidates here and there.  Heck, in one of my positions I was never on the interviewer list, but always one of the first people whose opinion hiring managers asked to hear, because I’d escorted the candidate all over the building all day for his or her interviews.  Very often, they’d let down their guard when they were “just with the assistant.”  Ha!

So, how do you tell if you’ve got the wrong person?  Here are some hints to make sure you’re avoiding the people that shouldn’t be a part of your company:

Is the candidate a big-time rule follower? – Every article I’ve ever read, and every manager I’ve ever talked to has warned me about the rule follower.  Sure, there are rules for a reason, but if you’re going to have a rule-following person in your office you want him to be a little more like Marvel’s Captain America and a little less like Major Frank Burns in the 4077th MASH unit.  If there’s a potential to hate this person for always chiming in with the “correct way” to do things, then get out fast!

ToxicIs the candidate looking to learn or does he think he knows everything? – Toxic employees tend to exhibit an overconfidence about their work and their mission, and that’s something to watch for.  Does your candidate seem anxious to learn new skills and gather new information, or does he boast about his all-encompassing knowledge?  Lean toward the former and run away from the latter.

Does the candidate’s values match the company message? – I currently work for a pet specialty retailer, and one of the things I always ask is if the candidate has any pets.  I’ll see an immediate change one way or the other.  The response will be, “Oh, yes, let me tell you about Fluffy!” and the phone comes out so I can see a million pictures.  Or, it’ll be, “No, I’m really too busy for pets,” or “I’m allergic.”  I look for a fondness in the face, a childhood story…something that lets me know that this person feels strongly about our mission.  If there’s a coldness in the response, the candidate will be thanked and sent on his way.

How are the candidate’s communication skills? – Is the candidate going to be the type that motivates the team toward a win, or one that shouts orders and demeans people who don’t get the job done?  Use behavioral interviewing to get to the crux of how this person manages.  “Explain a time when you an your team had a hard task ahead of you.  How did you motivate the team?  Did anyone let you down?  How did you handle the person who let you down?”

Is the candidate trustworthy? – It’s difficult to tell this for sure, but sometimes your gut tells you that this guy you’re talking to just isn’t as above-board as he claims.  He’s not likely to tell you any stories about how he beat up kids on the playground for their lunch money, but if he strikes you as the type, consider it a red flag.

There are no guarantees that the candidate you’re chatting with isn’t your next toxic employee, but these hints might help you expose one before the employment offer is made.  Toxic employees cost so much more than just turnover…keep them out if at all possible.

Next Post:  Wednesday, June 22


Meeting Chit-Chat: Distraction or Productivity Enabler?

I’ve read a couple of articles lately that are telling people what I have long known: connecting with your co-workers on a social level enhances productivity.

I’ve had a few jobs in my time, and the ones that I loved the most are the ones where I had warm relationships with my co-workers.  Why?  Because while I loved doing what I did, I loved it more when I was doing something for someone I really appreciated and respected.

If your manager thinks that chit-chat and socialization doesn’t belong in the meeting room, tell him to think again.

Chit ChatChit-chat boost happiness – And happiness is a boost to productivity.  I was most productive when I was at a company I loved with people I admired, and one of the reasons why I came to be in that place was because I’d been permitted chit-chat with them.  In this day and age, people don’t go out after work with their co-workers for drinks, and there aren’t too many company softball teams to join.  Pre-meeting conversation is one of the few ways you can help your co-workers establish these closer relationships.

Chit-chat promotes trust – Again, those admiration and mutual respect cards come into play again.  I work better with people that I trust, and one of the ways I came to trust these people is because I’ve learned about their backgrounds and the things that are important to them.

Chit-chat allows your manager to celebrate others – If he’s not already using meetings to give nods to employees who are doing fantastic work, he should be.  But some chit-chat gives him the opportunity to learn that his employees are doing triathalons, have kids that have graduated on Harvard’s dean’s list, and so on.  Celebrate everything, it makes people feel special, and that makes them want to do better work.

Chit-chat breaks restore focus – There are lots of studies out there that indicate breaks from work restore focus.  If you have a longer meeting, set up a break and allow the conversation to flourish.  Chances are likely they’ll be able to get back to work afterwards refreshed and ready to go.

If your manager feels like chit-chat is going to creep in on valuable meeting time, schedule it into the agenda.  If you plan it, let it happen, and then get on to other subjects, you’ll still get the same value.

Long live chit-chat!

Next Post: Wednesday, June 8

Is The New Boss Going to Make a Good Partner?

This Revolutionary Assistant blog is all about being a good partner to your manager.  But, let’s face it, not every manager is going to be a great partner.  It’s not new news: there are managers out there who are really lousy bosses.Bad Boss

The primary reason that people leave their jobs is because they don’t like their managers, and if an assistant doesn’t like her manager, that can make for a very bad situation.  So, when you interview for a new position, how can you tell if you’re going to get along?

First things first: think about the type of manager you’d be most successful supporting.   Do you enjoy a manager that is very hands-on and guides you every step of the way, or do you want one that gives you a task and lets you figure out how to accomplish it?  Do you want a manager that advocates a flexible work schedule and understands the importance of work/life balance, or would you rather someone who is as Type A as you are?  Put some thought into the personality characteristics a manager might exhibit that would make you most happy, and the ones that would really get your dander up.

Then, off to the interview you go.  Here are some more things to look for:

Does this manager’s team get good results? – A team that’s disengaged from its manager doesn’t usually produce good results.  When it’s your turn to ask questions in the interview, make sure you cover things like, “What are the goals of the team?” and “Are you tracking to achieve those goals?”  If you find out that the team is way behind, that should be a red flag.  Managers who don’t have good teams won’t likely be good partners to their assistants, either.

Does this manager have integrity? – Chances are you won’t just be interviewed by the manager herself, you’ll have the opportunity to talk to some other people on the team.  When you do, try to get a feel for this manager’s integrity.  Does she care about the team?  Is she able to get them charged up about their mission, and do they want to do a good job for her?   Use indirect questions to figure out how the team feels about the manager, and do the same to find out how the manager feels about the team.

How’s this manager’s employee retention? – If employees are leaving this manager in droves, that’s a bad sign.  How can you tell if a manager has high turnover rates?  Well, for one, you can ask about the last person who held your position.  Did she leave the company, transfer to another department?  You can also ask questions about his team, what kind of positions make up that team, and what they do…and then use that information to look up his LinkedIn profile and the profile of those who seem to have worked for him.  Reach out to a couple of these folks and ask what it was like to work with this manager.

Does this manager have a singular focus…and it’s him? – If the manager talks about all the things that he’s accomplished, and where he’s going with his career, then he may not be too concerned about the careers and the happiness of his team.

Don’t ignore your gut feelings – You can get a bad feeling about a manager when she’s not engaging in dialogue with you, when she’s dodging questions, and so on.  If you get that foreboding feeling when you’re talking to a prospective new boss, pay attention to it!  These are warning signs.

When you’re an average working Joe, a bad manager can make for a very long work week, but when you’re a Revolutionary Assistant, it can be agony.  There are no guarantees that you’re going to get a great manager, but these hints can help you avoid some of a bad boss’ more obvious characteristics!

Next Post:  Wednesday, May 25

Happy Fifth Anniversary, Revolutionary Assistant!

Video shotsI can’t believe that the Revolutionary Assistant is five years old today!  We’ve had a lot of fun making videos, writing and researching articles, and hopefully making better assistants out of our many loyal readers!

Of all of my favorite moments, I have to say that making our Professional Relationships puppet video was among the best.  New to the world of filming, I wrote a script for the video that required one long, continuous shot.  My sister and my husband, both theater professionals, were the puppeteers, and my multi-talented brother-in-law was the puppet creator and director/editor.

I finally got all my lines right after 37 takes.  Yup, you read that right!  It took 37 takes.  My sister’s and husband’s arms were SO TIRED holding the puppets up over the cube wall for hours.  Of course, they flubbed up on their lines sometimes, too.  And more than once, my brother-in-law yelled “Cut!” because one of them had brought their puppet up from a horizontal to a vertical position over the cube wall, making it look like Dracula was rising from the grave!

So, Revolutionary Assistants, I present to you my all-time favorite video, written in a Panera Bread and filmed in my sister’s living room.  It’s proof that when you have the right, most spectacular team for the job, you can do anything…

…in 37 or so tries…


Next Post:  Wednesday, May 11

Are Administrative Assistants Becoming Obsolete?

The Revolutionary Assistant celebrates its fifth anniversary this month, and I looked around to find that I’m still championing the manager/assistant business partnership, and still asking that question: Are you Alfred, or are you Robin?  The reason why I continue to ask it is because the Alfred assistant is becoming obsolete.

Allow me to explain. I use DC Coretro worriedmic superhero Batman and his support system – butler Alfred and sidekick Robin – to explain the difference between someone who assists and someone who partners with their manager.  To recap our very first post, Alfred assists Batman by polishing the Batmobile and getting the Batsuit dry cleaned.  Robin partners with Batman by standing at his side, fighting the bad guys and providing solutions to the problems they encounter.  The assistant who’s more like Robin increases her manager’s reach.  The assistant who’s like Alfred…well, she’s eventually victim of a reduction in force.

A 2013 Oxford University study examined just how susceptible today’s jobs are to computerization, and they discovered that an astounding 47% of them are vulnerable.  So it stands to reason that assistants who concentrate only on getting the coffee and keeping the calendar up to date are in danger of being replaced by technology.

How do you take steps to ensure you don’t become obsolete?  Here are some hints!

Read this blog – We’ve spent the last five years talking about how to be a better partner to your manager.  Check out our videos and our reference section to answer specific questions…and have a good laugh!

Take the scary step – If you’re going to work every day and you’re not just a little bit scared, you’re not doing it right.  Learn something new, take on a new responsibility even if you have no idea how you’re going to do it.  Being a little scared is a good thing.  You’ll figure it out, you’ll learn, and you’ll become a more important cog in the organizational machinery.

Make your work important to others – If you’re not working for someone’s benefit (like your manager’s), then you might as well not be doing anything at all.  If your manager doesn’t find your work important, and his direct reports don’t either…reassess your situation and make a career move. They should feel like you’re making them bigger and better than they are alone.  You should feel fulfilled in making their lives better.  If those aspects of your service are not connecting, you either need to fix it or move on.

Find someone to challenge you – You know those people in the office, the ones who make your stretch your thinking to new levels.  Spend time with them, and force yourself to make new connections and be more accepting of new ideas.

Update your technology skills – I’m not talking about Microsoft Outlook here!  Don’t be the person that always has to ask for help plugging in the projector or getting the new software to work.  Be the person that gets asked.  Read up on available technology in computer periodicals and hang out with the young folks to see how they’re using their phone apps.

Get some business knowledge – I read the Harvard Business Review every month, because it helps me understand the challenges that my manager and my company face.  Social marketing and big data are not a part of my day-to-day work, but understanding trends helps me keep up with the conversation and offer viable solutions to problems we’re facing.  If you’re not into the Harvard Business Review, get a subscription to Fast Company, Inc., or Entrepreneur.  Or follow them on Twitter, and you’ll be able to read a lot of their articles for free.

It’s time for assistants to step up their game and go from ordinary to revolutionary, and from Alfred to Robin!  Don’t run the risk of technology taking over your job…use these steps to stay relevant (and employed!)


Next Post:  Wednesday, April 27

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