Editor’s Note: Following our first article on the Admin Team at RGT and the fireside chat at OfficeNinjas IRL: Dallas, so many insightful questions were asked that we just knew we had to follow-up one last time with Colleen and her team.
As we’ve mentioned more than once, OfficeNinjas IRL was one for the books. And one crew of Office Ninjas played a big part in making the event such a success: the admin team from RGT! Led by Colleen Affeldt, Director of Organizational Development and “Chief of Admins,” this panel of pros gave us all a behind-the-scenes look at their innovative “bullpen” approach to running a department of Executive Assistants. It got the wheels turning, and more than one attendee walked away with a few ideas… and questions.
It turns out that we only scratched the surface at OfficeNinjas IRL; you wanted to know more. Luckily, our friends at RGT are beyond dedicated to the admin community and super generous with their time. Here are their thoughtful answers to all of your follow-up questions.
Your Questions About Building & Organizing the Admin Team Model
Q: Do you think this model is replicable in very large organizations? What is the “win” for the execs to buy in? What’s the best way to roll it out? –Connie B.
A: I do think this model is scalable. It likely needs to be cascaded like other functions, but I think it is completely doable. The win for execs is leveraged time for them to be doing their highest value functions more…which typically means more dollars, and that’s okay to talk about. We are in business to make money, so let’s spend the time doing right things that make that happen. –Colleen
Q: How do you give peer-to-peer feedback? When hiring, what qualities do you look for, and what is the interview process like? –Crystal L.
A: Our team is very open with each other. We have set things up to be very direct. I grease the skids for this for sure, letting everyone know that’s how I want this to work as well as functioning that way myself and continuously encouraging them to be that way with me.
I hire the qualities I cannot teach: attitude, willingness, team focus, work ethic, etc. I can teach PowerPoint and Word (well not me, actually-lol) but you can’t teach someone the intangibles that really make the difference, so that is what I go for! –Colleen
Q: It’s obvious your team is close. Are there mentors within the group? –Melissa S.
A: Oh yeah! We’ve got a team of very seasoned professionals. Like I said, they put the “Executive” in “Executive Admin.” We also have some just starting out or learning new things. Everyone is encouraged to share best practices.” –Colleen
Your Questions About Leadership
Q: What does daily “servant leadership” look like? –Melissa S.
A: The daily part is making sure your team has everything they need to be successful at their job and also determine where I need to step in or move an obstacle they cannot overcome on their own. It’s also coaching them, being there to provide direction, or helping them feel comfortable taking the lead on decisions where appropriate. –Colleen
Q: What are you doing, if anything, to bring more diversity to your team? –Melissa S.
A: I hire the best qualified candidate regardless, and gratefully it has resulted in diversity. I do not intentionally seek out any class of person-I go for the best, and the color of their skin, their age, religion, etc. has nothing to do with it.” –Colleen
Q: You’ve talked about how underperformers will “manage themselves out” of your team when the team is built correctly. How long do you allow for this process before taking matters into your own hands? How often do you have to step in? –OfficeNinjas
A: If, after a couple of conversations, this person is not course-correcting, I put them on a Performance Improvement Plan. It is very clear and targeted. The employee knows what exactly is expected of them, and there is a clear timetable. There is a 30/60/90 day checkpoint, with either encouragement or adjustments along the way.
A PIP can either be seen as the beginning of the end or, as I like to think of it, the beginning of the beginning. That’s up to the employee. The way they view it is pretty much the writing on the wall for what the resolution will look like. I hold them accountable, and they know where they stand. For high performers this can really help, for low performers they hate it and are so uncomfortable they opt out.
Here’s my opinion on this: if you do not manage your low performers this way you are just continuing to reward them for underperforming-you pay them every week! It’s like you are saying “thank you for not doing a good job, let’s get together next week and I’ll pay you again for it”. This is really a leadership issue. Underperformers are allowed to underperform. If they’re a true underperformer they can’t survive inside the accountability system we have in place. If they’re not an underperformer, you usually find out that this person was under-trained or not clear on expectations. Again, that’s a leadership issue. Anyone who tells you underperforming employees aren’t a leadership red flag isn’t actually a leader. –Colleen
Your Questions About Team Efficiency & Professional Development
Q: What technology (or not) do you use to keep team members and operations organized and running smoothly? –Barb G.
A: We have our internal CRM (customer relationship management) and document management system, and I also share a separate Wunderlist with each Admin team member. We also meet face-to-face. You cannot replace that. –Colleen
Q: What steps were taken to increase the admins’ efficiency? –Suzanne A.
A: Defining their roles and who specifically they are supporting. We also hired for bandwidth. –Colleen
Q: What’s the onboarding process like for new hires? –Barb G.
A: We have an orientation to the firm. There is a calendar of events that sets them up to meet with someone representing each of the different aspects of the firm. We also have people specifically set to take them to lunch regularly. Everyone is assigned a New Hire Culture Mentor. This is not a career mentor, this is someone who is a relationship touch point to bring them into the fold of the RGT family and our culture. I also meet with everyone on their first 30 days and ask: “How is RGT as you expected based on your interviews, and how are we different?” I also calibrate with them to see where we need to provide them additional training or support. –Colleen
Q: For Lana: please share your tips and tricks for managing nightmarish exec calendars! –Barb G.
A: I prefer to schedule exec’s meetings from my calendar. This way I am able to own it. The exec sees my calendar notice come through, which provides a confirmation of what I have scheduled on her behalf; however, her email doesn’t get clogged up with all the responses.
Be thorough in checking all schedules to make sure it works for everyone and we don’t have to reschedule. Put a HOLD on targeted dates/times while working to confirm. Work as a team… If I keep running into a wall, I am able to work with our other admins to figure out what we can shuffle to make it work. –Lana
One more HUGE thanks to Colleen and her powerhouse team at RGT! We can’t thank you enough for paving the way to the future of administrative support… and bringing the whole Office Ninja community with you!
Which ideas from Colleen and her team are you most excited to implement at your office?