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The Admin Team of the Future: Behind the Scenes at RGT

As Office Ninjas, we pride ourselves on the crucial work that happens behind the scenes—often undetected and in the shadows of cubicles and front desks. In true Ninja spirit, we’re all for stealth and agree that a little bit of mystery is a good thing, but when we find a stellar Admin operation, it becomes next to impossible for us not to pull back the curtain and share. Colleen Affeldt, Director of Organizational Development and “Chief of Admins” at RGT Wealth Advisors, one of the country’s leading wealth management firms, allowed us to do just that during our visit to Dallas.

Colleen has nearly 15 years of experience in the employee development industry, has served as a visiting faculty member at the SMU Cox School of Business and Texas A&M Mays School of Business, and has worked for companies including Texas Instruments, Southwest Airlines, and AT&T. But, it’s the work she’s doing now with her crew of 14 unstoppable Office Ninjas at RGT that’s most fascinating.

OfficeNinjas HQ had the pleasure of visiting their Dallas office to get an exclusive look at RGT’s revolutionary approach to building an Admin Team.

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The Advent of the RGT Admin Team

Colleen started with RGT, a financial advisory firm, as a consultant assessing the firm and making recommendations for organizational improvements. During this four-year period, she observed significant issues with the structure of the Admin Team and believed that these systemic problems were hindering the firm’s efficiency.

Colleen observed that the Admin Team, as it was, lacked the direction needed to be as efficient as possible. “The team was also understaffed given the size of the firm. The Admin Team didn’t have any leadership and, as a result, there were issues that kept individuals from being as productive as they could be.”

As a consultant, Colleen developed a method of determining the true value of an hour of an executive’s time—not just what they were paid hourly, but what their time meant to the company. It took a few go-arounds, but Colleen was able to convince the leaders of RGT just how much the firm could save by investing in more Admins and proper leadership.

And, she was just the person for the job.

All admins report to me. This allows our team an advocate. In many companies there is a disparity in who is working with the easy/difficult partner. This reporting structure mitigates this. I step in before anyone becomes the difficult partner.” -Colleen Affeldt

Building a Team of Trust and Integrity

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A company’s core values define the culture of the office. Colleen took RGT’s core values as a basis for creating an effective and collaborative Admin Team. With values like integrity, service, performance, teamwork, strategy and professionalism, it’s no wonder their group dynamic has fostered a sense of mutual respect.

“I have absolute trust in this group,” Colleen said. “They don’t keep things from me. But I think, as a leader, you have to make it safe for people to come to you and tell you that things did not go well or that they dropped the ball. Then, coach them through how to make sure we don’t repeat mistakes.”

Colleen’s admins are all on the same page. Lana Copeland, an Executive Assistant with over 35 years of experience, shared, “Our core values are our culture. They are the behaviors guiding every action we take as individuals and as a firm.” Niki Clark, a Receptionist at RGT, agreed. “We aim to have the same core values as the company as a whole. We are heavy on teamwork!”

We also have a team approach. I am always calibrating workload and making sure we have the proper bandwidth on projects.” -Colleen Affeldt

Ninja Team—Assemble!

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Colleen’s proud of how her ninja team members are “always thinking ahead and are acutely aware of their representation of RGT.” When it comes to client services, Receptionist Niki understands the importance of being detail-oriented. “What I really love is how she says goodbye. Any time a client comes out of our conference room to leave she stands up with a big smile on her face thanking them. The standing up kills me—it’s awesome! No one taught her that, she’s just gracious.”

Another member of her team, Carmen Germain, an Executive Assistant for five years, has a can-do attitude that everyone in the office appreciates—not just the Admin Team. “Carmen is a complete Ninja. She is so agile and willing to do literally everything. In the midst of some pretty chaotic growth she picked up duties that she at times had no idea how to do but she dug in and figured it out.”

Colleen credits her personal Executive Assistant, Lana, for keeping everyone sane. “Lana supports two of the busiest people in the firm, who have nightmarish calendars and are also spinning so many different plates, it is mind boggling. She not only keeps up with us, she thinks ahead of us.”

Our motto is—we are the energy gain team, not the energy drain team. Meaning this team infuses the firm with more energy so our execs are spending max time allowable in their sweet spot. This team, as much as any, needs an advocate. I can step in at the executive level and work with the leadership in a way that is generally tough for an Admin.” -Colleen Affeldt

Inspiring Loyalty Through Servant Leadership

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Despite having the “best team” Colleen and the RGT executives have ever seen, she’s not one to sit on her laurels. She knows that every admin needs ongoing encouragement and opportunities to develop and grow, not just for their benefit, but for the sake of RGT’s clients.

“Our approach to leadership is based on the servant leadership model,” explained Colleen. “And it’s not about us. It’s about our clients. But to truly be about our clients we have to be about our people first. If you have the best people and they are happy, your client services is going to be amazing, and ours is.”

RGT’s Admin Team is encouraged to expand their skill base and remain up-to-date on the latest workplace technology. “RGT wants every employee to grow and continue to develop their skills. Everyone is offered the opportunity to attend training/seminars/classes. It is important to the firm,” Lana shared.

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I want each person on our team attending professional development off-sites, just for them. I don’t believe in walls or ceilings. If there is a position or a career path they want to grow into then we are going to step alongside them and help them get there.” -Colleen Affeldt

Team Building and Appreciation Done Right

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Also important: FUN! In addition to regular check-ins and monthly team meetings, Colleen schedules a quarterly team appreciation event that allows everyone to relax and bond off-site. “We all go together for a mani/pedi that the company pays for. It’s super fun!”

But showing appreciation is more than something to mark off Colleen’s quarterly checklist, it’s a part of her everyday interactions with the team. She enjoys injecting a little fun into mundane affairs such as their monthly team meetings.

One month, Colleen sent out her reminder email for the team meeting earlier in the morning than usual. It included a final, mysterious thought, “Please bring your purse to the meeting.” The rest of the day, the office was abuzz with speculation over this odd request. What could it mean? Why would they need their purses?

All was revealed in a fun, five minute game of Let’s Make a Deal, which started the meeting with a laugh, and resulted in the winner pocketing a gift certificate.

RGT does a lot to show they care about their employees. This can be a one on one lunch to checking in to make sure a team member is doing okay to family picnics, you name it. I have never been part of a company that cares so much for their employees as RGT does.” -Niki Clark

Want to Know More?

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Colleen and her incredible team will be leading a fireside chat at the upcoming OfficeNinjas IRL event in Dallas on October 21, 2015. Don’t miss what promises to be an engaging and inspiring conversation! If you haven’t already, register today.

OfficeNinjas HQ had a blast hanging out with the RGT Admin Team. A big thanks to DFW photographer extraordinaire, Danny Motta for capturing all the fun! Check out the complete photo album here.

Have any questions for Colleen or her team? Post them in the comments below and we’ll try to get them answered live at #OfficeNinjasIRL!

Comments

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  1. Nice article! I have two questions: What technology (or not) do you use to keep team members and operations organized and running smoothly? What’s the onboarding process like for new hires? And one for Lana: please share your tips & tricks for managing nightmarish exec calendars!

  2. Do you have any openings? This is such an amazing atmosphere, not just because everyone has a cohesive relationship, but because the admins know they are valued for what they do. What steps were taken to increase their efficiency? What tasks are performed by the admins to free up their executive’s time?

  3. Great peek into a fascinating admin team! I’ve worked in an organization which had “dual reporting” as RGT does–with a Chief Admin Officer overseeing all admins, but not getting in the way of the admin/exec relationship development.

    Question: Do you think this model is replicable in very large organizations? What is the ‘win’ for the execs to buy in? How best to roll out?

    1. 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 ok to talk about. We are in business to make money, so let’s spend the time doing right things that make that happen.
      Have a great weekend!
      Colleen

  4. Fantastic article! Need more people like Colleen to prove to Upper Management that Admins truly provide value. Fewer admin jobs are available as many companies feel that with current technology, Admins are a luxury. It’s like the self-checkout at the grocery store; one person overseeing 4 check-out lines and only stepping in to help if it’s absolutely necessary.

    1. Linda,
      I hate the self checkout line for the same reason I don’t like the structure you mention-it takes 4 times as long and I make a ton of mistakes-it’s not my skill set and I should be doing things that are in my sweet spot-that’s the real value an organization gets from it’s execs…
      Hope to see you at the event in Dallas!
      Colleen

  5. It shows that they work hard to created and nurture their team. My new EA team, while very helpful, feels very disconnected in the new company that I work for, and I’m trying to (with the excuse of us newbies – there are 2 of us that have been there less than 90 days) that we should get together more often and share best practices, get to know each other better in order to created a “energy gain team”.

  6. Great narrative on an impressive team ! I would like to know how Colleen sets up her admin team for success to operate smoothly even when she is not in the office. How do they give peer to peer feedback? When hiring, what qualities do they look for and what is the interview process like?

    1. Crystal,
      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!
      Hope to see you at the event! Colleen

  7. Wow! This is so awesome! I can hardly wait for the Fireside Chat next week! BTW…I love this statement ❤️ “We are the energy gain team, not the energy drain team.”

  8. What does daily servant leadership look like? It’s obvious they’re close. Are their mentors within the group? When PD takes place is there a formal way they report back to the rest of the team? What are they doing, if anything, to bring more diversity to their team?

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