I had the wonderful opportunity to talk on the phone with Bonnie about her training series when she last visited Washington, D.C. I had the honor of attending the session that she and Vickie presented at Executive Secretary Live in London last March. You know that feeling you get when you recognize someone with the same dedication and passion about their career? Well, it struck like lightening when I finally met Bonnie (and Vickie) face-to-face. I present the first part of my two-part interview with Bonnie Low-Kramen. ~ Kemetia
Q1. Your experiences of traveling and training administrative leaders gives you a unique perspective. Has there been an ‘a-ha!’ moment when you’ve recognized a repeating pattern of meeting with so many in the field?
It hasn’t mattered whether we’ve been in Chicago, Dallas, New York City, or London. ALL assistants are dealing with the same issues and have so much more in common than not. I am always struck by their intelligence, openness, and great appetite for knowing more. Our students are assistants at the highest levels and they come because they are hungry to learn more, to test themselves, and to get to know others.
The #1 challenge of assistants globally has to do with speaking up, as in the reluctance, inability, and refusal to speak up when they know they should but they don’t. In our workshops, I teach that assistants often know better about certain things than anyone in their office including their managers, and therefore, have an obligation and responsibility to speak up. By the end of our two days together, our students are leaning in and speaking up. The transformation – every time – is remarkable and visible.
Another very disturbing pattern I see globally is that bullying is epidemic, not only in the US but in the UK and all over the world. There is too much suffering in silence, leading by fear and intimidation, and too much tolerance of inappropriate behavior. We need to break the silence. This poison is damaging to the global workplace and costing millions of dollars. Our leaders (CEOs, HR) need to know what is going on and supported to take action because not only is it smart business, it is the right thing to do.
Q2. Would you say there is one particular skill or tool that experienced admins tend to let slide?
Tech skills – and for good reason. Most companies spend thousands of dollars on hardware and software but very little money investing in the people behind the keyboard who are operating the applications. Vickie Sokol Evans (www.redcapeco.com) reports that most users are only using 13% of an application’s capabilities! Imagine the increased productivity if the assistants were offered focused training that could bring them up to even 25%.
Vickie is a former assistant and a Microsoft Certified Trainer so our students benefit from the specific tips and tricks that every assistant needs. We have students who literally cry from happiness over the time they are going to save on Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook. Plus, they will look like the superstars they are!
The assistants who want to ensure their continued employment, marketability, and relevance are committing to staying up to date on their tech skills, including social media. They are putting pressure on company management to offer training and allow time off to attend workshops. Assistants are making the justifiable case that the financial investment in training is like spending pennies to make dollars. The pay-off for companies is huge if they invest in the professional development of the assistants. From where I sit, it is not an option anymore for companies that truly want to stay competitive in 2014 and beyond.
Vickie and I have known each other for about 10 years through a mutual colleague at New York Celebrity Assistants (NYCA.) As a co-founder and Board member of the organization, I brought Vickie in to present to several NYCA meetings and I saw what a powerful teacher she is. I believe she is the best technology trainer in the world and this is not hyperbole.
My idea was to design the workshop that I wish had existed when I first started my career working for Oscar winner Olympia Dukakis 25 years ago. I knew that it had to have a substantive tech component and my first phone call was to Vickie to discuss it. I know that Ultimate Assistants in today’s workplace need training in both the soft skills and the hard skills. Simply put, assistants will fail if they only have one skill set and not the other.
Vickie and I share a deep passion and commitment to effecting positive change in the work of the assistant. We are philosophically aligned and we have a deep respect for one another. She told me she would love to teach the tech component of the workshop and we agreed to begin with one to see how it would go.
I resigned from my work with Olympia in 2011 and Vickie and I just completed workshop #13 in Toronto!
Q4. What insight would you share with administrative professionals that feel that their current job is intolerable and plan to leave it without a job offer in place?
I have heard from many assistants who contact me for help to find a new job because they are quitting their job usually due to a bullying situation between themselves and their manager or with a co-worker. The thing that gets me is that most are quitting before they ever even said anything to the person they are having the problem with! The discomfort and pain of confronting the situation is simply impossible for them and it is easier to quit.
Many of my students and assistants I mentor end up regretting doing that.
Before you quit, speak to 2 or 3 trusted colleagues/mentors about possible actionable solutions to save the situation. Do not act impulsively or out of emotion. I know that this is very hard to do and that is why assistants need support and training.
That said, all jobs come to an end and some sooner than later. Use the support of colleagues to help you decide if the end has come for you. In most cases, I advise not leaving before you have a new job but sometimes, it is better to get out of a toxic situation that will save your sanity and your soul.
Most assistants report that after they finally break free of a toxic work situation, that they go onto a much better situation and that they are on a path of improved growth. I love the emails from our students telling me that they spoke up and there was a GREAT result. There are lots of wonderful success stories! And here’s the thing – those success stories build confidence for the NEXT time an assistant needs to speak up.
Q5. If you could have a meeting with the Fortune 100 Human Resource Executive Officers to discuss administrative hiring and professional development- What would your message be?
I would discuss the idea that what staff, especially a predominantly female one, want the most are Respect, Appreciation, Fair Compensation, and a Sense of Value in the Company – in that order. If they want the company to be productive and profitable, they must invest in their people and actually ask them what they need and want in order to do their work.
I would discuss the implementation of a zero-tolerance policy on bullying and why this is important.
And…I would advise them to give a copy of my book “Be the Ultimate Assistant” to every hire!
Bonnie Low-Kramen – Best-selling author of Be the Ultimate Assistant, A celebrity assistant’s secrets to working with any high-powered employer, Bonnie Low-Kramen worked for 25 years as the Personal Assistant to Oscar winner Olympia Dukakis.
Her passion is about improving the American workplace through the training of assistants in workshops and presentations in major U.S. cities, Toronto, and London. Bonnie is a co-founder of New York Celebrity Assistants and is a contributing writer to Executive Secretary Magazine and Glassdoor.com, a workplace blog. Bonnie and Vickie Sokol Evans are traveling the world with their “Be the Ultimate Assistant” 2-day workshops, training inside companies, and speaking at global Conferences. Their passion and commitment is to inspire a healthy, productive and mutually respectful workplace through the empowerment and training of the world’s assistants.
Other ways to follow Bonnie: http://www.bonnielowkramen.com Twitter @BonnieLowKramen
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