The Technical Support Project How to Create a Winning Team by williamsjohnseo


									 The Technical Support Project: How to Create a Winning Team
Staffing is the most critical part of creating a winning technical support team. If you make
mistakes with the steps discussed in my first article but excel at hiring and managing your
people, you will succeed in the end. If, however, you do well with the mechanics and make
mistakes with staffing, you will certainly fail.

Your Staff Today

Even if your current staff is doing a good job, you will still have to bring new people in to
help you rise from the ashes. I know you don’t want to fire the people you have today—that
can be unpleasant—so give it some time and the problem will probably resolve itself for
you. Your current staff will naturally turn over when they get tired of listening to
complaining and blaming. Your task will then be to hire better than you have in the past.

The Hiring Process

Each employee comes with their own set of technical skills, personality quirks and
attitudes, so give plenty of thought to what your hiring criteria will be before you even
begin. The easiest way to approach this is to make a list of the minimum technical skills
that your new team must contain, and then narrow that list down to determine which skills
each individual must have for their specific job.

Next, think about which character traits you want in your team. The following are some
that I have found to be incredibly useful.

•    Quick Learner – It is easy to test potential candidates for how quickly they learn new
concepts. Find a few puzzles that build upon each other in complexity, then show the
candidate the first. Afterwards, ask him/her to solve the second. Under the pressure of a
job interview, can this person digest the information and apply it? If not, this candidate
should be avoided.

•     Responsible – You can ask specific questions to measure a person’s sense of
responsibility. Can they tell you about a time when they made a mistake that hurt someone
else? Someone who doesn’t have a strong emotional reaction to telling you such a story is
not the right person for you.

•   Empathetic – Empathy is very important because it guides communication with angry
customers. During the interview process, I ask references if they think the candidate is an
empathetic person. You can also ask candidates to take a Meyers-Briggs personality test. ‘F’
personality types tend to be more empathetic than others, so you can interpret their results
•     Curious – Technical support is nothing more than a long series of problems to be
solved, and a person who is naturally curious is best suited for this type of work. In
interviews, I ask about hobbies to find out if a person is curious. For example, one of my
staff members was taking a welding class when I interviewed him. I asked him why and he
answered, “I was curious about how it worked. Since I had some free time, I thought I
would give it a try.” I have never been disappointed with his internal drive to figure out
technical problems.

•    Logical – A logical person will approach complex problems and say to themselves, “I
can figure this out.” For this reason, I actually test for logic during interviews by getting a
few logic puzzles together, making them multiple-choice and giving them to the candidate.
One previous candidate was asked, “Which is more valuable, a trunk full of nickels or a
trunk full of dimes?” The candidate chose nickels, and when I asked why, replied, “Well, I
thought that since nickels are bigger, they must be worth more.” This person did not
approach problems logically, so I did not hire them.

•    Trustworthy – You must be able to trust the people on your team, so during the
course of your interview, imagine that the person sitting before you is a friend of yours
who has volunteered to take care of your personal business while you go on vacation. Ask
yourself if you would trust them to collect your mail, feed your pets and take care of your
house. If not, you shouldn’t hire them.

Managing the Team

While hiring is important, some portion of my success comes from my management style.
I’m not perfect, but I have an intentional plan for how I manage and I stick to it as best I

1.   Train your team well

Good training leads to capable support people. You are going to be hiring people to figure
out problems, so clearly you can’t train them on precisely what they are going to be
working on. The objective here is to do the best you can. Don’t, for example, put them into
entirely unfamiliar systems and ask them to demonstrate proficiency right away.

Your current staff are probably under-trained, so as you work on creating a winning team,
get real product training scheduled for them. You should also make ongoing training a
priority, especially when it comes to new product releases.

2. Set goals and boundaries

Setting goals for your staff is easy—simply make them SMART (Specific, Measurable,
Achievable, Relevant and Time-Based). Boundaries, however, are slightly more
complicated. I usually explain them to my people like this: “That decision requires a context
of information that you don’t have—for example, you are not tuned in to other
department’s schedules. It’s not a matter of trust, but a matter of knowledge and
responsibility. You don’t have time to know everything and shouldn’t have to be
responsible for everything. Right up to the boundary, do what is right for the customer and
the company. Talk to me when you are asked to cross a boundary or when you feel like it is
the right thing to do. I’ll take the responsibility for making those decisions.”

3.   Listen to and help them

Unfortunately, many managers treat their staff like servants while the goal of management
is actually the opposite—to help people do their jobs better. I consider myself the one-man
technical support team enablement department. Consequently, my team knows that my
door is always open. They have my cell phone number and are not afraid to use it. Allow
your team to do the same.

4.   Review their performance

Everybody needs to know how they are doing, so give your staff their appropriate praise
and correction. As a rule, praise should be public and correction should be private. You
should also do regular performance reviews and have a job growth plan in place in order to
keep the best people around.

Holding periodic meetings will promote communication and let your people know how
they are doing as a team. If there is a problem, you can discuss it without assigning blame
to anyone. Tell your team that you want to discuss the process they are having difficulty
with in order to ensure that it is the best process for them. Take comments and suggestions
on how to improve. This kind of input is priceless.

5.   Trust your staff

If you have done everything else, the final step is to let your people do their jobs. Unless
you are a micromanager, this should be the easy part. Give them the self-confidence they
deserve through showing that you trust them.

Keeping Your Team Happy

It is always important to focus on boosting morale. Don’t wait for it to drop before you do
something about it, or it will be too late. Small things such as buying lunch for your team
more often than other department heads do will go a long way towards keeping them

Long-Term Retention
Retention is much more important in a technical support team than anywhere else.
Development, marketing, sales and accounting will all have an easier time training a new
employee than you will in technical support. This means that you need to have a plan in
place for retaining your best people. It will likely include the management style I just
described, as well as giving raises, bonuses and promotions.

This is why hiring is so important in the first place. You will want to live with the
consequences of your selections for a long time.

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