(THE MANAGER) SAYS:
"My assistant Frank
doesnt take initiative. Everything I need is delivered late or last
(THE ASSISTANT) SAYS:
"Sandy, you dont
give me any opportunity to take initiative. You give me impossible deadlines
and Im always running to put out fires."
The manager and assistant are engaged in a non-productive game
of finger pointing. The work is not getting down properly and both are
frustrated. TYPICAL SCENARIO: "Frank, where is the latest sales report? I need
the new figures to fax to Sam at Corporate before our videoconference meeting
at 3:00. Make ten copies so everyone on the call can have one. Oh, and book my
trip to L.A. for Thursday afternoon. I also need to take the 1998 year-end
report with me."
Frank proceeds to add more tasks to his long action-item list as
he frantically wonders where he last saw that sales report.
Sandy calls from her office, "Where are Don Adamson and I having
Frank doesnt answer because he forgot to make the
reservation. He calls the local restaurant and is able to get a table for 1:00
p.m. He rushes the sales report in to Sandys office at 2:55 and informs
him that the copier broke down and he is currently printing them out on his
computer. Hell bring them into the meeting as soon as they are ready.
Sandy scans the report and realizes that some of the information
he needs is not in the report and asks Frank to track it down.
Frank is frustrated and exhausted and feels like all he should
be wearing a fire helmet -- all he ever does is put out fires that Sandy
SOLUTION: WHAT THE ASSISTANT CAN DO.
Frank can take an in-depth look at the situation and look for
areas of improvement. He can then initiate a meeting with Sandy to discuss how
they work better together as a team of two and share his suggestions for
improvement. Here are some additional things that Frank can do:
- Think long term
Frank could take a long-range view of his work,
rather than focusing on what needs to be done immediately. This will help him
anticipate obstacles, be prepared with solutions, and eliminate some of the
- Develop a tracking system
Frank could develop a system for keeping Sandy
updated about his progress on projects and tasks. This could involve a daily
review of each others action items so that they can understand each
others work load. This will also bring to light any changing priorities.
- Cut to the chase
Most managers look at the "big picture." Most
assistants jobs are to deal with the details. Be concise with
communications with Sandy and avoid long-winded explanations.
- Track time
Keep a time journal for a few weeks to gather
data and then evaluate it, looking for areas where work patterns can be
SOLUTION: WHAT THE MANAGER CAN DO.
Sandy and Frank are embroiled in an out-of-control situation not
uncommon in the workplace. Indeed, our employee survey research, with over 40
participating organizations, has revealed that 41 percent of employees feel
their immediate supervisor does not clearly communicate goals and assignments.
Here are some things that Sandy can do:
- Move to the tension
One of the major problems facing managers and
assistants is that they dont discuss their problems. Sandy and Frank need
to sit down and engage in a non-evaluative, and non-confrontational discussion
about how they can best work together to meet the needs of their internal and
- Develop self-management systems
Sandy is undoubtedly not doing a good job of
managing her own time, planning, or setting priorities. It is not surprising
that the chaos she experiences makes it difficult for her to effectively manage
Frank. Sandy must recognize that he is part of the problem and take steps to
better organize herself. Training and individual counseling might
- Develop an operations manual
Sandy has failed to establish clear systems and
priorities for Frank. Without such systems, Frank is doomed to fail. He will be
forced to merely react to Sandys latest instructions. One by one, Sandy
needs to establish the best step-by-step method for performing each major
activity she wants Frank to perform. She must then write it down in the form of
an operations manual and teach Frank exactly how the work should be
- Develop a management system
Sandy needs to develop a system for how he
organizes the work for Frank and how she communicates assignments to Frank. For
example, perhaps, each day they should meet first thing in the morning to set
daily goals and establish priorities. They should then meet again mid way
through the day to check Franks progress and reevaluate priorities.
Managing the chaos of the workplace is a challenging everyday
job. The key is to move beyond finger-pointing. Structure is needed. Systems
must be continually developed and used to make certain that the work flows