Build a training program for managers

The reason Taco Bell’s admin team came up with its “Team of Two” training program is clear when you listen to admin Karen Walters describe a manager in her building.

“She’s always been very difficult,” says Walters, senior executive administrator for general counsel at Taco Bell. “Turnover in her department in the admin ranks has been frequent. Yet, she didn’t think she needed” to learn to do things differently.

In fact, the problem wasn’t with just one manager.

“There were a few managers in the group who maybe weren’t using admins to their greatest capabilities,” explained Walters. “In their defense, they didn’t have a good model.”

So the admin team decided to give them one. They launched the Team of Two training program for admin/manager teams as a way for managers to gain a better appreciation of what admins—when empowered—can do.

One highlight of the training: when former company President Emil Brolick explained why he “can’t work without , Patty,” says Walters, “How she keeps him on the 1000-foot-level, so he can see the big picture.”

For example, Brolick and his admin, Patty Bauman, shared this best practice with the group: Every morning, Patty started her day with a single-page document with three sections: actions that need to be taken, information and messages. She made notes on it as she handled things on her manager’s behalf. Under “information,” for example, she noted completed tasks. At the end of the day, she put the page on top of his mail. When they came in the next morning, the two would meet, using this document as a springboard for their conversation.

“It gives him closure on things he’s asked her to do, and it gives her a good record,” explains Walters. “The biggest benefit of their system is this: Patty isn’t saying 20 times a day: ‘Excuse me, Emil, this just came in.’ It frees him up to not get caught in the minutiae.”

Next, Teams of Two looked at case studies in their workbooks and talked one on one about how the teams depicted in the case studies could work better. Then, they rated themselves: “How are we doing on this?” “What could we do better?”

They recorded Team of Two commitments in their workbooks: “How are we going to make this partnership stronger?”

“For many teams, they’ve never discussed these things,” says Walters. “People are so excited about the potential and can’t wait to bring it back to their office.”

And what about the difficult manager who didn’t think she needed to change?

After training, she went back to her group, called a meeting and said: “Going forward, my admin has new responsibilities, and these are the things we’re going to do differently.”

That’s a powerful testimony for the program and the admin role.

“The day of the secretary is gone,” says Walters. “With programs like this, we’re encouraging men and women to feel great about this role.”