Hiring the right people for your Service Desk

276639499_f2b002ceaa_zHiring people for a service desk is a major challenge, but an important one. Without good people, even the best processes and tools will fail to deliver high quality services and support.

So where do you start?

Planning out a recruitment process is critical to helping you find the right person quickly. IT Recruitment is complex and requires good project management (although it is a process that rarely gets the attention it needs). You will need to set out clear stages and tasks, create supporting documentation, and involve people from across the organization, including IT, HR and perhaps even the marketing department.

Work out who you need

Recruiting for any part of an organization tends to fail when the business doesn’t have a clear understanding of what they need. Most often this is due to assumptions made. It might look like an easy option to recycle an existing Service Desk Analyst job specification but your requirements might have changed since it was used. In the end, you’ll get what you ask for, so if you’re asking for the wrong person, you’ll get the wrong person. It will pay dividends later in the process to start with a clear picture of what you need.

The service desk is the friendly face of IT, so an effective service desk analyst requires a mix of interpersonal, technical and problem-solving skills to succeed. In general, an analyst should be polite, considerate, patient, calm and respectful. The technical skills they require will depend on your own organization. What applications do your business people use? How do they communicate with the service desk? What tools do the service desk use? The technical problem-solving skills they will require will depend on where you draw the line between the service desk and 2nd line support e.g. which issues will they be expected to handle on the front line and which will they escalate to the technical support teams.

Work out what you need to pay

People cost money, so you’ll need to work out how much money is available to hire someone new for the service desk. You might already have a “default” salary range for analysts, but salaries change over time and you get what you pay for, so you might need to revise your budget.

If you are going to have to pay more to get somebody who is up to the job, you will probably need to justify this, so you might need to articulate the business case. What value do you need a new analyst to bring? The trigger for recruiting a new service desk analyst is usually one of two things: to replace somebody who is moving on, or to scale up support capacity to handle increased demand from the business. By presenting the case in terms the business can understand – such as an increase in the number of incidents/service requests logged per month, or an increase in the number of SLA breaches – it should become clear as to exactly why a new analyst is required, and the difference they will make.

Work out what they need and expect

Try as you might, if you’re paying under market value you won’t net the right people for your service desk – and support quality will suffer. But salary is just one component of the package. A prospective employee will also want to know about incentives, benefits package, training and career path. They might also check the reputation of the company using social sites like Glassdoor, so it pays to keep an eye on who is saying what about you so that you can respond to any negative comments. Talk to your HR department for guidance on expectations you need to meet as an employer, as well as any reputation issues you might need to counter.

Where do you find good service desk candidates?

The chances are, the best service desk analysts are currently working in a service desk elsewhere. Most service desk’s have a high turnover of staff (much higher than average across the organization)  but this is more reflective of the absence of a staff retention strategy, rather than down to the general calibre of people on the service desk. With analysts changing jobs frequently, they will eventually settle in to an organization that both recognizes and rewards their talents, so this is where you will find the star employees. Companies need to compete for the best staff, but the pay-off is outstanding IT support and happy end users. You’re going to have to pay to get them, and work hard to keep them. Remember, it’s not just about you finding the right employee. It’s also about the employee finding the right company.

In order to reach these star candidates, you’ll need to use a mix of channels. Consider how you can use your website, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, specialist forums, industry events and word of mouth – as well as outsourcing to recruitment agencies – to let people know you’re hiring. Wherever service desk people are hanging out, that’s where you need to get your message. Your marketing department may be able to help you spread the word across an array of digital and social channels.

It was highly possible that not paying the market rate was having a detrimental affect on service
It was highly possible that not paying the market rate was having a detrimental affect on service

Candidate Shortlisting

If you are offering a competitive package and you’re putting word out in the right places you can expect a flood of responses. With such a high turnover of staff happening across the service desk industry there are always plenty of people looking to move to an organization that provides better career prospects. Some people are just not good at writing a CV that really sells their potential value (particularly in IT where the focus is still very much on technical skill sets), so a short phone interview will help you get a clearer picture. Depending on your corporate vetting policy this might be done by HR, so make sure they have a clear list of criteria to work with and a set of poignant questions to ask.

After all of this, if you’re still not getting CVs of the calibre you require, it might be time to ask the HR department to headhunt candidates who are not actively/openly looking for a new role.

The interview process

Make sure you have a plan for a structured interview. Too often, organizations waste time talking through the candidate’s CV, instead of focusing on meeting their specific requirements. If you have spent the time documenting your requirements to begin with, interviews should be a simple process of “checking off” the skills of the candidate against what you need them to do. Going beyond the set of technical, interpersonal and problem-solving skills you have specified, you should also look at:

  • Qualifications: What qualifications do they have that support their application e.g. ITIL Foundation, the SDI Service Desk Qualification or one of the many more general customer service qualifications? Qualifications aren’t everything, although they will give you a quick indication of capability. Make sure you balance qualifications against real-world experience to ensure you will gain value within a reasonable timescale – without putting too heavy a burden on the rest of the service desk.
  • Culture: You will need to assess whether they will be able to operate effectively within your organisation’s own unique culture. Are they from a similar size of organisation in the same industry? You may favour hiring from similar organisations. A proven track record in the same area of business will be of value, but analysts who have spent time in a number of different types of organisation will have experienced a higher variety of support and are likely to be more adaptable. They may also bring more ideas for improvements with them, so if this is something you’re looking for, gaining some insight into their background will be important. By nature, large organisations tend to emphasis rigid processes and escalation paths to handle the challenges of scalability, whereas Small-to-Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and start-ups foster greater flexibility and problem-solving. How much will a new analyst need to work within the constraints of your existing framework? And how much room is there for more creative approaches to problem-solving? Many large businesses are seeing the value in recruiting people with problem-solving skills and entrepreneurial attitudes that are bred by necessity within start-ups and SMEs.

Conclusions

  • Upfront planning and analysis is critical to successful recruitment. Bring members of your service desk team in at an early stage to help you work out exactly what you’re looking for.
  • Finding the right person takes time, money and effort, but the legwork is essential to net somebody who will fulfil the requirements in the long term. You don’t want to have to go through the process all over again in six months.
  • IT recruitment doesn’t work well if it only involves IT people, nor if it only involves HR people. You need both to find and recruit the right person.
  • Once you have your team of service desk superstars, you’ll need to work hard to keep them. Work with the HR department to put together a staff retention strategy that sets out an ongoing process of evaluation, engagement and reward.

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Power to the People

How Social IT Rebalances the People Process Technology Equation

A remarkable transformation is taking place in the world of information technology today. It reflects a new generation of knowledge workers utilizing social media to improve problem-solving, foster collaboration and spark innovation.

However, despite the continued reference to the traditional triad of success encompassing people, process and technology, the IT world has typically focused more on the process and technology sides rather than emphasizing the ‘people’ component.

This has been particularly true of IT products, consultants, and executives who have emphasized a command and control approach to IT that tends to downplay and minimize the people factor.

While a highly industrialized, mechanistic view of IT over the last five plus years has led to enormous gains in automation and productivity, the IT industry has now reached a point where differentiation around process and technology has become smaller and smaller. At the same time, innovations such as tablets and smartphones have introduced a new era of enterprise IT consumerization that is dramatically changing workplace habits and forms of communication and collaboration within and between organizations worldwide.

Get on board the collaboration economy!

The Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, among others, has proclaimed a paradigm shift to a new “collaboration economy” that allows people, teams and companies to effectively organize and focus their activities on creating value and driving profitability. Thus, the traditional IT emphasis on process and technology is giving way to new ways of thinking that recognize the increasing importance of the social or people component in IT in order to unlock new sources of productivity and value through greater knowledge sharing and collaboration.

The following five key behavioral attributes are necessary to increase people engagement and rebalance the IT operations equation for success:

  1. Divide and Conquer – Overcome limitations of traditional mechanistic approaches to IT information discovery and share the knowledge and expertise of IT staff across the enterprise
  2. Feed and Engage – Facilitate new ways of engagement to break down traditional barriers to communication and collaboration among IT teams and stakeholders
  3. Assign and Trust – Foster accountability for knowledge, so that individuals take on responsibilities that go beyond traditional IT processes and systems and their peers trust in the knowledge captured
  4. Make it Second Nature – Use approaches that feel natural and interact intuitively to increase adoption and value
  5. Reinforce and Reward – Compel executives and IT managers to recognize and reward collaborative behavior among IT staff and stakeholders

Behavior #1: Divide and Conquer

Most IT organizations today conduct operations with a heavy emphasis on machine-driven automated discovery and monolithic configuration management databases (CMDBs) that attempt to capture all information about the IT environment. In many cases, these tools and databases are managed by a specialized team charged with keeping information current. However, these teams often have far less institutional knowledge and expertise than others within the IT organization. Those who do have the most knowledge are either blocked from directly accessing and updating these tools and databases, or they refuse to do so because they are already comfortable with their own personal spreadsheets, wikis, and other tools.

This results in a situation where IT departments all too frequently spend limited budget dollars to staff full- time resources to establish a “single source of truth” that is, in fact, either out of date, not trusted by many in their own organization, or both.

As a consequence, IT departments either do not use these tools and databases for their intended purposes, or IT professionals are forced to rely on inaccurate information to assess issues or problems and make decisions.

In contrast, social knowledge management gives everyone in IT a stake in contributing to and verifying the accuracy of the knowledge about the IT environment. The “burden” of maintenance doesn’t fall on any single person or team, but is the collective responsibility of everyone participating.

This is not to say there isn’t value in machine discovered knowledge. Instead, machine knowledge must be augmented by human knowledge and validated so that the organization can confidently make decisions. Stated another way, rather than trying to eliminate the human factor, as traditional approaches have done, social IT actually encourages all knowledgeable individuals to share their expertise and contribute to the knowledge pool by creating and following a new breed of “social objects” that leverage well-known principles from Wikipedia and Facebook-style news feeds.

Behavior #2: Feed and Engage

IT organizations that emphasize process and technology at the expense of people often tend to erect boundaries between individuals and teams in an effort to strictly manage operations through a hierarchical command and control structure. This approach reinforces the traditional technology silos in IT and exacerbates them by creating new process silos. For example, if the network is up and running, why should the network group worry if an application is slow? “It’s not our problem” is a typical reaction when IT behavior is siloed and not collaborative.

Social IT-based crowdsourcing and peer review of knowledge, on the other hand, taps into the human instinct to fill in the gaps of known and unknown information. Then, when confronting incidents, problems, and changes, the organization can make better decisions by better coordinating team effort where individuals contribute to issues they feel connected to and care about based on their responsibilities, their expertise, or simply their individual interests. This can be accomplished by leveraging familiar social media principles and “following” the objects IT manages (such as servers, network devices, applications, etc.) and by automatically assigning experts to collaboration activities around incidents, problems, and changes. With this approach, individuals can also be alerted and fed new information as social objects are updated leading to an organization that is continually current on the latest IT environment reality.

With such an approach, rather than hoarding knowledge for job security, individuals are encouraged to take ownership of objects in their sphere of influence and responsibility, keep those objects updated with new knowledge, create new objects when performing daily tasks, and then automatically share their activities with others who are affected by or depend on them.

Behavior #3: Assign and Trust

If the people potential of IT is to be fully realized by pooling collective knowledge and continuous engagement via social media types of communication and collaboration, then individuals must be accountable to others for their contribution and actions. In other words, you can crowd source knowledge but all knowledge is not created equal. Even though multiple individuals can contribute knowledge, a single individual or role should have sole ownership of a “social object.” In this manner, the organization can increase its trust of the knowledge about that object, or, if it is not being accurately maintained, replace the individual who is responsible.

Behavior #4: Make it Second Nature

IT organizations and bookshelves are littered with the bones of projects that have tried to enforce processes that individuals pay lip service to and then promptly ignore in their daily operational activities. What’s more, IT professionals are usually some of the busiest employees in the organization, so adding on a new set of activities can easily be met with skepticism.

The real potential and promise of social IT stems from its ability to foster ways of communicating and working that feel natural and intuitive to human beings without adding more to the plates of those who already feel overworked. The fact is, IT organizations are inherently social already. IT teams just haven’t had tools that are designed to support collaboration and the capture of knowledge.

IT teams that use email or instant messaging, conduct daily SCRUM meetings, or hold regular Change Advisory Board reviews, are ripe for the benefits of Social IT. But to leverage social IT requires products that fit naturally into the work IT professionals are already doing, and that augment existing processes and practices without being seen as another thing that must be done in the course of a day.

By taking this approach, IT organizations will find that “offline” communication methods like email and instant messaging will be used less and less in favor of the social knowledge management system. They will also find that SCRUM meetings are more productive and CAB meetings focused more on the changes that have the biggest risk.

Behavior #5: Reinforce and Reward

As human beings, we pay close attention to the kinds of behavior that are actually valued and rewarded in the workplace by management. Therefore, it’s imperative that executive and IT management understand and reward social IT activities that contribute to the knowledge and collaboration necessary to improve problem-solving and decision-making among IT staff members.

IT leadership must create a culture of collaboration that encourages and rewards individuals who participate in social IT by assuming responsibility and ownership of objects in their sphere of influence and actively contributing on a daily basis. One IT organization that I know of set a goal for getting a specific number of social objects into their knowledge management system by a certain day, and then paid a bonus to those who contributed to meeting that objective. You might consider providing incentives through bonuses like this and/or as part of annual performance reviews for those who make decisions by consulting the social IT knowledge management system.

Finally: An unprecedented opportunity to improve IT productivity

The introduction of social technologies into the IT workplace presents an unprecedented opportunity to improve productivity and even job satisfaction of IT professionals. Taking advantage of that opportunity, however, requires that IT leaders rebalance the people, process, technology equation by driving behavioral change and equipping teams with the proper tools and incentives to achieve success.

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Everything is improvement

Traditionally Continual Service Improvement (CSI) is too often thought of as the last bit we put in place when formalising ITSM.  In fact, we need to start with CSI, and we need to plan a whole portfolio of improvements encompassing formal projects, planned changes, and improvements done as part of business-as-usual (BAU) operations.  And the ITIL ‘process’ is the wrong unit of work for those improvements, despite what The Books tell you. Work with me here as I take you through a series of premises to reach these conclusions and see where it takes us.

In my last article, I said service portfolio management is a superset of organisational change management.  Service portfolio decisions are decisions about what new services go ahead and what changes are allowed to update existing services, often balancing them off against each other and against the demands of keeping the production services running.  Everything we change is service improvement. Why else would we do it?  If we define improvement as increasing value or reducing risk, then everything we change should be to improve the services to our customers, either directly or indirectly.
Therefore our improvement programme should manage and prioritise all change.  Change management and service improvement planning are one and the same.

Everything is improvement

First premise: Everything we change is service improvement

Look at a recent Union Pacific Railroad quarterly earnings report.  (The other US mega-railroad, BNSF, is now the personal train-set of Warren Buffett – that’s a real man’s toy – but luckily UP is still publicly listed and tell us what they are up to).

I don’t think UP management let one group decide to get into the fracking materials business and allowed another to decide to double track the Sunset Route.  Governors and executive management have an overall figure in mind for capital spend.   They allocate that money across both new services and infrastructure upgrades.

They manage the new and existing services as a portfolio.  If the new fracking sand traffic requires purchase of a thousand new covered hoppers then the El Paso Intermodal Yard expansion may have to wait.  Or maybe they borrow the money for the hoppers against the expected revenues because the rail-yard expansion can’t wait.  Or they squeeze operational budgets.  Either way the decisions are taken holistically: offsetting new services against BAU and balancing each change against the others.

Our improvement programme should manage and prioritise all change, including changes to introduce or upgrade (or retire) services, and changes to improve BAU operations.  Change management and service portfolio management are both aspects of the same improvement planning activity.  Service portfolio management makes the decisions; change management works out the details and puts them into effect.

It is all one portfolio

Second premise: Improvement planning comes first

Our CSI plan is the FIRST thing we put together, not some afterthought we put in place after an ‘improvement’ project or – shudder – ‘ITIL Implementation’ project.
UP don’t rush off and do $3.6 billion in capital improvements then start planning the minor improvements later.  Nor do they allow their regular track maintenance teams to spend any more than essential on the parts of the Sunset Route that are going to be torn up and double tracked in the next few years.  They run down infrastructure that they know is going to be replaced.  So the BAU improvements have to be planned in conjunction with major improvement projects.  It is all one portfolio, even if separate teams manage the sub-portfolios.  Sure miscommunications happen in the real world, but the intent is to prevent waste, duplication, shortages and conflicts.

Welcome to the real world

Third premise: we don’t have enough resource to execute all desired improvements

In the perfect world all trains would be controlled by automated systems that flawlessly controlled them, eliminating human error, running trains so close they were within sight of each other for maximum track utilisation, and never ever crashing or derailing a train.  Every few years governments legislate towards this, because political correctness says it is not enough to be one of the safest modes of transport around: not even one person may be allowed to die, ever.  The airlines can tell a similar story.   This irrational decision-making forces railroads to spend billions that otherwise would be allocated to better trackwork, new lines, or upgraded rolling stock and locos.  The analogy with – say – CMDB is a strong one: never mind all the other clearly more important projects, IT people can’t bear the idea of imperfect data or uncertain answers.
Even if our portfolio decision-making were rational, we can’t do everything we’d like to, in any organisation.  Look at a picture of all the practices involved in running IT

You can’t do everything

The meaning of most of these labels should be self-evident.  You can find out more here.  Ask yourself which of those activities (practices, functions, processes…  whatever you want to call them) which of them could use some improvement in your organisation.  I’m betting most of them.
So even without available funds being gobbled up by projects inspired by political correctness, a barmy new boss, or a genuine need in the business, what would be the probability of you getting approval and money for projects to improve all of them?  Even if you work at Google and money is no problem, assuming a mad boss signed off on all of them what chance would you have of actually getting them all done?  Hellooooo!!!

What are we doing wrong?

Fourth premise: there is something very wrong with the way we approach ITSM improvement projects, which causes them to become overly big and complex and disruptive.  This is because we choose the wrong unit of work for improvements.

How to cover everything that needs to be looked at?  The key word there is ‘needs’.  We should understand what are our business goals for service, and derive from those goals what are the required outcomes from service delivery, then focus on improvements that deliver those required outcomes … and nothing else.

One way to improve focus is to work on smaller units than a whole practice.  A major shortcoming of many IT service management projects is that they take the ITIL ‘processes’ as the building blocks of the programme.  ‘We will do Incident first’.  ‘We can’t do Change until we have done Configuration’.  Even some of the official ITIL books promote this thinking.

Put another way, you don’t eat an elephant one leg at a time: you eat it one steak at a time… and one mouthful at a time within the meal.  Especially when the elephant has about 80 legs.

Don’t eat the whole elephant

We must decompose the service management practices into smaller, more achievable units of work, which we assemble Lego-style into a solution to the current need.  The objective is not to eat the elephant, it is to get some good meals out of it.
Or to get back to railroads: the Sunset Route is identified as a critical bottleneck that needs to be improved, so they look at trackwork, yards, dispatching practices, traffic flows, alternate routes, partner and customer agreements…. Every practice of that one part of the business is considered.  Then a programme of improvements is put in place that includes a big capital project like double-tracking as much of it as is essential; but also includes lots of local minor improvements across all practices – not improvements for their own sake, not improvements to every aspect of every practice, just a collection of improvements assembled to relieve the congestion on Sunset.

Make improvement real

So take these four premises and consider the conclusions we can draw from them:

  1. Everything we change is service improvement.
  2. Improvement planning comes first.
  3. We don’t have enough resource to execute all desired improvements.
  4. We choose the wrong unit of work for improvements.

We should begin our strategic planning of operations by putting in place a service improvement programme.  That programme should encompass all change and BAU: i.e. it manages the service portfolio.

The task of “eating 80-plus elephant’s legs” is overwhelming. We can’t improve everything about every aspect of doing IT.   Some sort of expediency and pragmatism is required to make it manageable.  A first step down that road is to stop trying to fix things practice-by-practice, one ITIL “process” at a time.

Focus on needs

We must focus on what is needed.  To understand the word ‘needed’ we go back to the desired business outcomes.  Then we can make a list of the improvement outputs that will deliver those outcomes, and hence the pieces of work we need to do.

Even then we will find that the list can be daunting, and some sort of ruthless expediency will have to be applied to choose what does and doesn’t get done.

The other challenge will be resourcing the improvements, no matter how ruthlessly we cut down the list.  Almost all of us work in an environment of shrinking budgets and desperate shortages of every resource:  time , people and money.  One way to address this– as I’ve already hinted – is to do some of the work as part of BAU.

These are all aspects of my public-domain improvement planning method, Tipu:

  • Alignment to business outcomes
  • Ruthless decision making
  • Doing much of the work as part of our day jobs

More of this in my next article when we look closer at the Tipu approach.