Training

Why Are Constant Disturbances At Work So Mainstream?

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Constant disturbances are very commonplace where there is more than one manager and there’s no communication between one and the other. The same goes with employees that talk a lot without getting a whole lot done.

This however is a big problem, since how does someone with tight deadlines requiring 100% concentration, as well as employees to train, answer questions “on the spot?” If anything, that’s non-productive as less work ends up getting done. This becomes frustrating for everybody.

I firmly believe that the source of these disturbances is in employees not being busy enough. This especially applies to insensitive interns and junior level employees who don’t care but think that you’re so smart that you can afford to waste time and that their time is more important. Sorry, that’s not living in reality, sweetie.

In a way, I can relate as I was once struggling in a work-atmosphere similar to that. When I started a job at a certain Internet Marketing company in Richmond Hill, I initially impressed everyone with my ability to learn quickly on instruction. However, when it came to learning a certain website framework, I became stuck and started asking questions, an apparent taboo there. My trainer, who was rather overworked himself, got wind of this and eventually chastised me, calmly, about not being able to continue figuring things out on my own. This frustration mounted further when I was literally thrown into a particularly overwhelming project that heavily involved this framework. I was so poorly trained that I literally felt worthless. This led me to job-hunt once again and leave that company after a very short period of time. The owner couldn’t believe it, said I was something else, and that he saw this coming a mile away. Believe me, I “get it” as I was once one of those disturbances.

How to Reduce Disturbances At Work

So, I guess I’m getting what I deserve in many ways. However, this also wizened me up. Here’s what should be done:

  1. Set aside special times to train an employee each day, for a half-hour-to-an-hour time at the very least. The time invested will be worthwhile in the long run.
  2. Notify the employer(s) about this time and that all emergencies need to get pushed off until after the training session has ended.
  3. Be clear and firm with the employee(s) that all questions that they have, long after the session has ended, need to be written down and brought up during the next session. Calling out “help I cannot do this” is unproductive for both the trainer during his production hours, and the trainee.
  4. For mainstream (not proprietary) products and frameworks, Google is your best friend. If Google doesn’t have what you’re looking for and your product is under support, then technical/customer support is your next option. Those are places where I usually go when in doubt, so there’s no reason you cannot do it yourself. However, again, with proprietary, do #3.

7 Things Administrative Assistants Hate About Their Bosses

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It’s Administrative Professionals Week & They’re Getting Some Things Off Their Chests. Courtesy of Salary.com

Here’s Everything Your Assistant Wants to Tell You But Can’t

Administrative assistants (aka executive assistants, or secretaries if you’re stuck in the Mad Men days) are essential for any successful business to run properly. They epitomize the phrase “in the trenches” because they’re the ones getting their hands dirty by doing all the things that need to be done that no one else can do quickly and efficiently. All the creative planning and brainstorming is great, but it’s the administrative professionals who turn pie-in-the-sky pipe dreams into reality.

But because they’re so reliable and always there, it’s easy to take them for granted. Case in point, if you’re a manager and completely unaware this week is Administrative Professionals Week, you likely fall into the aforementioned category. But even though you should be giving your assistant a gift this week, we thought we’d turn the tables and do something different.

Most administrative professionals need their jobs and therefore can’t tell their bosses what drives them nuts about work on a daily basis. That’s why we surveyed some assistants, let them vent and came up with seven things about you that your assistant wants to change.

7. “Stop Being So Inconsistent”

Administrative assistants aim to please and are always trying to do things the way you want them. But if the way you want things done keeps changing, it becomes pretty impossible to hit a moving target.

“Don’t keep changing the rules for answering your phone. Do you want me to interrupt you no matter what you are doing when you get a phone call no matter who it is? Or do you want me to use my judgment and know there are certain people you don’t want to talk to or would prefer to call back later?” said one administrative assistant.

The point is, be consistent. And if you do want to change the way you do things, let your assistant know. Because while they’re good, telepathy and clairvoyance are not skills most people possess.

6. “I’m Not a Babysitter”

Administrative professionals are many things and wear several hats. But while they often have to babysit their bosses, most of the assistants we talked to said they draw the line at babysitting kids.

“Really? You want to bring your kids into the office for a day and you expect me to keep them entertained, while getting all my regular work done too?” said one exasperated assistant.

Sure the occasional emergency is understandable and most of the assistants we talked to said they’re OK with stepping in as a babysitter due to severe and unforeseen circumstances. But making it a regular occurrence not only destroys productivity, it’s demeaning and insulting to assistants everywhere who never saw “Romper Room Coordinator” in their job description.

5. “Don’t Take It Out on Me”

This one was a biggie from just about every administrative professional with whom we spoke. It’s true that most people usually end up hurting those closest to them. But assistants are not spouses, and they’re not paid enough to take emotional abuse for eight hours a day.

“I know other people can get you irritated and that sometimes that irritation is going to spill over,” said one administrative professional. “But try really hard not to take it out on me when someone else screws up. I’m in the direct line of fire every time it happens and it gets old.”

Another assistant agreed, and said it’s not acceptable for assistants to morph into emotional punching bags just because the boss has some family drama going on at home.

“My boss’s dysfunctional marriage constantly affects how the office runs,” said one fed up assistant. “He gets mad at her, comes into work in a bad mood and doesn’t want to do any work. But when he doesn’t do anything, he gets mad that he isn’t making enough money. They’ll eventually make up but then start to fight again and the cycle starts all over.”

4. “You Never Make Time for Me”

Exceptional assistants do their best to anticipate what their bosses need before they even know they need it. But that level of understanding and professionalism only materializes with time and a lot of communication. That’s why all managers need to understand the importance of carving out some time every day/week to go over things with their assistants and make sure everyone is on the same page.

“Make time for me, even if it’s just a few minutes each day,” said one personal assistant. “I can’t effectively do my job if I don’t know what you expect me to do or if I don’t know what’s going on. I need to know how you like every type of situation with every type of variable handled, and then I’ll need to ask less and less in the future. The more you invest in me the more you’ll get out of me.”

3. “You Don’t Trust Me”

As with most things in life, the issue of trust (or a lack thereof) came up repeatedly when we talked to administrative professionals.

Companies go through the arduous hiring process because they want to make sure they get the best candidate for the job. It probably took several job interviews, assessments, and personality tests before the perfect assistant was hired, yet despite clearing all those obstacles, some bosses still question and nitpick every single thing. And it drives most assistants nuts.

“Don’t check to make sure that every single thing that you ask me to do has been done,” said one perturbed assistant. “Either you trust me to get it done or you don’t. If it requires follow-up or an update to you, you will get one…I promise!”

Another assistant mirrored that sentiment and said “Sometimes he trusts me to get things done and sometimes he doesn’t. But I always get it done.”

2. “Stop Taking Advantage of Me”

The general consensus among the administrative professionals we spoke to was that they care deeply about doing a good job and making their boss’s life easier. But that enthusiasm is often dampened when a boss does something callous and thoughtless.

Most administrative professionals have enough work to complete given their own job duties. But all too often, bosses will fall into the trap of passing too many of their responsibilities down to their assistants. “It’s rotten when you get me to do your duties for you while you take an unexpected vacation, while telling me not to fall behind on my responsibilities,” said one miffed assistant.

But of all the stories we heard, this one takes the cake:

“Sending me out for a daily drive in a hot car to get your Starbucks mocha-frappa-whatever, in 100-degree August weather when I’m eight months pregnant? Really?? I will never, EVER, forget that.”

1. “You Never Say ‘Thank You'”

A lack of thanks was — by far — the biggest complaint amongst the administrative professionals we surveyed.

The interesting thing is, the assistants we talked to weren’t necessarily interested in raises and bonuses (although they wouldn’t have turned them down). The thanks they seek is much smaller and more basic than that. While they realize it is not a boss’s job to hand out gold stars all day long, a good boss will make a concerted effort to simply let his/her employees know they are appreciated on a basic level.

“Please know how much I take care of, divert, and/or process without you knowing to make your life easier,” said one executive assistant.

Another agreed and said “Show us your appreciation now and then by letting us leave early, buying us a lunch or simply by letting us know how happy you were with a job we did, or how we handled a situation. Good assistants thrive off that.”

Show Administrative Assistants Some Love

For people in positions of power, there is often great responsibility. Executives have a lot going on and more things to do in any given day than they can handle. But if they’re smart, they’ll take some of the advice in this article to heart and gain a renewed appreciation of the hard work performed by the people working underneath them.

A good first step is overnighting one of these thoughtful gifts to celebrate Administrative Professionals Week!

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos – Staying Calm Under Pressure and Scrutiny

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I recently watched a video interview with Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon.com, and Charlie Rose, celebrated interviewer and broadcast journalist. The topic was on the Kindle 3, also known as the Kindle Keyboard. The questions that Charlie Rose asked Mr. Bezos had more to to with what made Amazon different than, say Apple and Walmart. Apple’s iPhone 2, for example, was supposed to be a “Kindle Killer.” The interview lasted 40 minutes and many of the questions essentially repeated themselves, suggesting that Mr. Rose wasn’t interested in hearing the answers the first time around.

What I found more interesting than Jeff Bezos’ actual answers (e.g. The Kindle serves a completely different purpose than the iPad2 where most people play Angry Birds) was his poise and ability to stay calm under intense pressure. Charlie Rose didn’t seem to give him a break at all and at times seemed to attack Mr. Bezos. This calmness in my mind is what makes him a multi-billionaire.

If I can only attain a fraction of that calmness, I’d be alright.

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Young People Are Not Loyal – Jerry Luftman – A Rebuttal

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Professor Jerry Luftman of Stevens Institute of Technology wrote in his lecture presentation (slides 81- 83), that new grads lack loyalty. 45% of all workers want to change jobs at least every three to five years, and a whopping 34% of all employees stay with their current employer for less than 1 year. And the blame is therefore shifted on the young grads. When I first saw this, I became very angry.

All relationships, including business relationships, are two-way streets. The employee needs to “put in his time,” but an employer needs to learn how to appreciate ones efforts. Young employees are generally perceived to be inexperienced and therefore immediately expendable. As a result, they can be taken advantage of. They can be asked to work longer hours for less pay, and they will most likely say “yes” since they need the experience. And, if the employee speaks up, he’s in danger of being fired since the mantra with dealing with young employees apparently is “hire fast, fire faster.”

However, this is not a healthy attitude. True, young employees come with inexperience and in most cases, immaturity. Nonetheless, one can only work for little pay and longer hours for so long. If such an employee sees a better job offer that doesn’t look like slave labor, who wouldn’t take that?

An employer needs to look at an employee as not only an asset, but as a human being to nurture into a position. With new employees, NOT EVERYTHING IS ABOUT MONEY, even in business. Viewing that employees are robots that don’t need to be treated humanely is standoff-ish and immature, in my humble opinion. Employers barking orders, threatening to fire if a differing opinion is stated, is not healthy and would naturally tempt one to look elsewhere for greener pastures. Also, paying an employee extra money in order to motivate him more may produce better revenue results than paying young people close to minimum wage.

However, I’ve found that the “hire fast, fire faster” mantra is overly used, especially in small businesses. My personal experience as a new graduate from University was that more employers saw me as a young kid (I’ve until recently always looked a lot younger than my age dictated, and in a society where requiring that one posts ones age on a resume is illegal, this poses a problem) with little experience that was not only expendable, but could be taken advantage of. I would be asked to perform tasks that in certain instances were logistically impossible, be talked down upon, and in some cases, was outright fired. I HATED each moment of loss and felt myself dying a little more inside with each experience.  I’ve even quit a couple of employers, not having faith in them, partially in retaliation for past employers not having faith in me. Whether that was fair or not is irrelevant at this point.

From my experience, young people are looking to learn and grow with a new company they seek as a second family. I’d say that the employers are even less loyal as they see young people to be expendable.

It works both ways. Dr. Luftman, do not tempt me. If you can publish this info then I can certainly publish this blog post!

What We Can Learn From Chimps

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A while back I was reading a great post by SearchEngineMan on what we can learn from Chimpanzees.

This not only applies to internet tools, but in real life.

Below is the post in it’s unabridged form:

There are two kinds of chimpanzee’s: the ones that live in trees, and the ones that live on the ground.

When the chimpanzee’s in the trees look down, they see a bunch of smiling faces.

When the Chimpanzee’s on the ground look up, they see a bunch of ***holes.

There’s nothing worse when you are knee deep in your day to day tasks, when the HiPPO (Highest Individual Paid Per Organization(http://www.kaushik.net/avinash/2006/10/seven-steps-to-creating-a-data-driven-decision-making-culture.html) dumps the latest emergency task on your plate, the one you hate. Never mind that they knew about the deadline weeks ago.

Since you’re such a smart worker you’ve already made allowances for these kinds of interruptions and race to get the task done. Again.

Your reward? Overtime catching up on your regular work.

What is truly annoying is that you will find this same situation repeats itself, but you’re too busy on the next task. “We just need to implement X-Technology to fix the problem!” – Everyone nods, nothing happens. Sound familiar?

Why Technology and the Internet fails in the Workplace?

How many gadgets on your cell phone do you actually use?

Is texting really an efficient use of your time?

Has email made your life less complicated?

This might explain the subconscious hostility arround Wiki’s, Apps, Blackberry’s, Schedulers, Calendar Software or Productivity technology. We roll our eyes when yet another technology enters the workplace.

This hostility by culture and refusal by management to embrace new tools is so ancient that we bump into our friends the chimpanzees.

Chimpanzee’s, Termite Popsicles and Power Tools

Chimpanzee’s developed a really effective method for extracting termites from a nest.

They take a stick, and lick it.

They plunge the stick into the termite nest

The termites get stuck on the stick

Voila! Instant termite Popsicle. Snack Time! (http://www.lpzoo.org/info/media-center)

A study was done to try to change the chimpanzee behavior, using better tools. Imagine what could be done to productivity?

They gave the chimpanzees power drills.

They took the power drill, and licked it.

They plunged the drill into the termite nest

The termites get stuck on the drill bit.

Voila! Instant termite Popsicle. Snack Time! Again!

(OK- we DIDN’T do this… PETA would not be amused. It’s an analogy…go with it…)

The problem is never the tools. Its the energy and investment and cost required to adopt technology and methods. Most HiPPO’s are not even aware of these problems, because they get someone else to clean up the mess (Chimpanzee’s in the trees). Your problem (as a ground dweller) is that you are rewarding bad behavior. It’s easier for the HiPPO to reach for his tool to get the job done…You!

Stop being a Tool!

To stop being a tool you must find a suitable replacement for your HiPPO’s habits. Not all of us have the luxury of saying no. Changing bad behavior means identifying the root of the problem, by gently showing the consequences to the HiPPO’s bottom line in a currency the HiPPO respects (Money, Ego, and Power).

The solution must be actionable by you and Dodo(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dodo) simple, technology is your last line of resort.

Managing Client & Customer Expectations and get to the finish line before the HiPPO does.

Get somebody else (with power) to present your solutions to the HiPPO

Pulling a Scotty (Star Trek) -It’ll take 3 weeks (then do it in 1 week)

Swamp your HiPPO with details (They tune out and run away)

Show how the hated competition uses X method, so we should too. (EGO)

Be nice to your HiPPO, fix one of their problems in advance.

Make the HiPPO think it was their idea in the first place.

Say No (nicely)

The bottom line is you are not going to change the behavior with technology. It won’t work with Chimpanzee’s and it won’t work with your HiPPO. He still uses his uber-powerful computer like a type writer / TV crossover…

I’m curious if any of you have managed to get your chimpanzee to use any power tools.

Do you have any HiPPO stories? Feel free to share.