The theme for our 23rd Annual Conference for Administrative Excellence was The Revolutionary Assistant. Our conference was held in October 2016 in Las Vegas. We had 450 assistants from 11 countries attend.
Our team-building activity for 2016 was called Compression Planning®: From Idea to Action and Results Faster. Annette Brown who is a certified McNellis Compression Planning Instructor hosted the session with my assistance.
We were really excited about this activity because the main goal was to get assistants to come up with revolutionary solutions on time-old problems such as managers not making time for their assistants; managers not providing sufficient information to their assistants; handling constantly changing priorities; getting support for training and development.
The concept I loved most about Compression Planning is to move “it” from the conversation to the action. For more than 4 decades assistants have been complaining about the same issues (I mentioned above). When I was an assistant 40 years ago we complained about not getting time with our executives; we complained about not getting enough information from our managers; we complained about not getting support for training.
And yet here we are 40 years later and I still here the same complaints from assistants. We have to stop having these same conversations over and over. The idea is to come up with revolutionary answers that will create change and therefore create better conversations.
Our team-building session was 2 hours long and we just touched the surface. I can’t possibly share everything with you about Compression Planning.
But what we did promise our attendees is that we would share the 4 main issues we covered during the session and provide all the answers our 450 attendees developed. The 4 main topics to be addressed were:
- Revolutionary ways to get the communication and information you need from your manager.
- Revolutionary ways to approach your leader to get their undivided attention and more one-on-one time with them.
- Revolutionary ways to handle constantly changing priorities and increasing work volume.
- Revolutionary ways to gain true manager support for your ongoing professional development.
I will write one blog for each issue and we will provide the 25 ideas for each topic that our attendees developed. By the way, all 450 attendees did not work on all 4 issues. We broke the room into quadrants and a section of the room worked on 1 of the 4 issues.
Let’s take the first topic/issue regarding managers and executives not providing enough information to their assistants. First I’d like to give you some background information. In 2015, Jasmine Freeman sent out a survey to our webinar attendees and asked them to identify one thing that was standing in the way or was a barrier in their relationship with their manager. We received 700 responses!!! Wow. That was huge. And I read every single response. I realized that 80% of the assistants could resolve their problems if they would communicate with their executives or if they would have courageous conversations with their executives.
From the survey responses, I created a chart to show our conference attendees the types of issues assistants were having around their executives and communications.
#1 Idea: Establish and protect regular 1:1 time with manager.
This is the #1 solution according to my 46 years’ experience in the profession on both sides of the desk!! I have coached over 200 executive/assistant teams. When I instruct them to have daily huddles as the solution to 80% of their issues, they always get back to me and tell me that is the best lesson I taught them….ever!
You might be wondering what you would discuss in meetings with your manager.
Here are some ideas:
Daily Calendars Technology is not perfect and neither are humans. It is easy to place a wrong time or wrong date on a calendar. Or because so many leaders are independent, they place events on their own calendars and forget to inform their administrative partner.
Accuracy in scheduling is extremely important. Leaders are TOO BUSY to have hiccups in their schedules. Plus it is embarrassing to the leader or the administrative person who set the schedule.
Many administrators are now handling their leader’s pre-read meeting materials by printing, reviewing and flagging them as appropriate. Many administrative professionals are doing research, preparing outgoing pre-reads and filtering e-mail note strings for their leader in preparation for a meeting. (Gone are the days when administrators simply reserved a conference room and readied it for the meeting!)
Discuss E-mail Communications When it comes to e-mail management, there are various approaches. Some leaders want their administrative partner to read all their e-mails and take action on those e-mails. Another approach is the leader who wants to manage all his or her own e-mails and forward specific e-mail to their administrative partner as appropriate.
Your daily huddles are the time for leaders and the administrative partner to update each other on e-mail communications, whether it is a status update or clarifying new actions to be taken.
Department Issues This is a good time to discuss any departmental problems that need your leader’s attention. Administrative professionals are often privy to information within the department or are aware of potential personnel issues. These should be brought to the attention of their leader before a situation escalates.
Status Updates Provide your leader with updates on projects, meetings, items you are working on, and any other pertinent information. Leaders do not like to have to ask the status of projects and tasks. (Nor do they have the time.) A Star-achieving assistant initiates status updates.
Upcoming Travel Find out about upcoming trips so you can anticipate schedules and prepare necessary travel materials. At least bi-weekly, you and your leader should review the calendar for upcoming events as far as three months out.
Follow-up Items Bring to your leader’s attention information requested from staff that you have not yet received. You can also let your leader know whose work you have received.
Special Projects Find out what special projects your leader is working on or has coming up in the next few weeks. Ask if there are any portions of the project you can work on. Is there any research that needs to be done? Will information necessary for the project be coming from others inside or outside the company? If so, can you start assembling that information? Are presentations, graphs or charts required? If so, how many?
Time: Investment or Expense?
It might initially appear as though these meetings might involve a tremendous amount of time, but they don’t when you meet on a regular basis because things don’t have a chance to build up. In fact, it keeps everything flowing smoothly, reduces chances of missed details or tasks falling through the cracks, eliminates chaos and reduces last-minute crunches. Whether you view time spent as an investment or an expense can often be based on the filter with which you view time in general.
#2 Idea: Develop confidence to not accept “one word” answers.
This is when you ask your executive something like, “Can I help you with something?” and they say, “No.” Or you might ask, “Do you have everything you need for that meeting?” And they say yes. Imagine asking instead, “What else do you need to be fully prepared for your meeting?” Or “What are we missing that would be vital to you having a successful meeting?” By changing a question, you change the answer you receive.
So if you want more information and you want to be in the know, then you need to ask different and better questions. Then you’ll get more of what you want.
#3 Idea: Participate in leadership meetings.
Often when I tell assistants they should sit in on their executive’s staff meeting or other leadership meetings, they ask how they will ever get their work done. Or they will tell me they are too busy to get away from their desk.
Well, that is not thinking like a strategic business partner. If you are your executive’s business partner you need to learn and hear as much as you can about the business and what is going on with their work, team and project.
I attended such meetings when I was an assistant. Yes, it was to be away from my desk but I always found it time well spent. I learned so much. I especially learned about upcoming assignments, projects, events and meetings. I heard the actions my executive delegated to others in the meeting. This allowed me to be more proactive; be better at following up on assignments and deadlines; anticipate workloads; anticipate barriers; and take the initiative. Your executive cannot possibly keep you up on everything they are exposed to. So it is your job to insert yourself so you can get the information you need.
#4 Idea: Train manager on how to utilize admins (you).
Great idea. If you don’t tell your manager that you aren’t getting the information you need, they will continue doing what they have always done. This is because they will assume they are doing a good job at communicating with you.
Do yourself and your manager a favor by letting him or her know what you need in order to be more successful which ultimately makes your manager more successful in their work.
Teach your manager to have daily one-on-ones with you. I did that when I was an assistant and my managers loved our morning touch bases. It was a great way to start our day.
As you read the rest of the ideas generated by attendees at our Annual Conference for Administrative Excellence, ask yourself the following:
- Have I tried this? If yes, did it work? If it did not work, why didn’t it work? Do I need to use a different approach? Maybe it wasn’t good timing.
- Is this a truly revolutionary idea? I have not thought of this or tried. Be willing to try it and give the idea sufficient time.
- Since you can’t do everything at once, pick the topic 5 ideas that you like and might be different from the approach you have used in the past.
- Then determine your strategy for implementing that idea.
Revolutionary ways to get the communication and information you need from your manager.
- Develop trust
- Communicate your style preference for receiving information
- Align schedules to have time to talk
- Consolidate emails/list
- Train to manage
- Attend management executive and assistant retreat together
- Shared calendar
- Assistant copied on email
- Utilize internal SM and messaging apps for knowledge sharing
- “Stand up” meetings
- Establish and protect regular 1:1 time with manager (courageous conversations with manager first)
- Develop compression planning sessions with administrative professionals and management
- Develop technology to assist with mind reading and increase efficiency
- Ask for feedback session on both ends
- Establish guidelines for communication by learning their communication style
- Set-up meeting detail template
- Creating a timeline to gather information you need to continue the work
- Schedule daily meetings to discuss action list accommodating executive schedule
- Schedule daily briefings in a flexible type of communication with a trial run period
- Identify high priority issues and bring them to attention and insert agenda into calendar
- Utilize color-coding to prioritize emails and calendar
- Utilize communication applications like Slack, Asana and Trello
- Prepare executive for success for real time updates
- Utilize apps, texting, have your cell on your person
- Protect downtime for executive
- Adding buffer times to meetings
- Schedule recurring 1:1 meetings with your executive
- Establish equality
- Getting a seat at the table
Special Note for 2016 Conference Attendees:
I’d like to present a few challenges to you:
- After you see this information, would you share the revolutionary thinking with other assistants? Maybe use your network to share.
- Share the top 3 things you learned with your manager.
Best of luck!
P.S. If you want to learn Compression Planning and see everything we did at our conference session, you can purchase our 2016 Conference on Demand. Plus you will receive 10 other fabulous sessions with our amazing speakers.