Pat Vickers, Expert in Help Desk Management

Start a Team Mentoring Program

Most support teams are pretty diverse when it comes to skill sets. Some techs excel at customer interaction while others are experts at telephony and others are the hardware specialists. It’s good to have a specialty.  We can be good at many things but generally, to be great we must concentrate on one area.

A lot of Good can be better than Great

In managing teams I found it’s better to have a lot of employees who are good at many things than a few employees who are great at one thing each. Vacations and sick days alone really kill you. That’s why I like to have a mentoring program within my team. A lot of organizations refer to this as skill sharing but I’ve had more success calling it mentoring.

Make everyone a Trainer

There are few ways to do it. One is to schedule two hours a month, or even a week devoted to training. Ask each team member to prepare a course to give the rest of the team in those hours. Some members will be too shy to present. While it is great to encourage people to face their fears, never force it. If an employee just does not want to present ask a less shy employee to work with him or her or ask that they write up something.

Don’t stop the program when everyone has had their 2 hours. Start over again. Each area of expertise has should have a lot to offer. Encourage your employees to create training around incidents where they learned something new about their area.

Another mentoring method is just that, mentoring. Team up people with different strengths for a few months at a time. Be clear about why you team them. Ask each tech to mentor the other one on their specific strength. Spell it out. Make sure the techs know you mean their ability to analyze network issues, not their wicked Xbox skills.

Everyone Wins

Mentoring others helps the team become more diverse in their skill sets and, therefore, stronger. It also develops leadership skills in people who likely want to eventually move into management roles. It’s a good trade off for everyone involved.

Do you have a mentoring program within your team? Tell us how it works for you. What problems, if any have you run into?

For more ideas on how to get the most from your team check out our Practical IT Manager Gold series.

The Worst Boss I ever Had

The Reason Skip (not his real name) was the worst boss I ever had was that he had no idea what my job was. At the time I managed a team of web designers. It was not a secret that Skip got his job as my boss because he had more time to spend on meetings and oversight. He had no clue what we really did. He had no skills in the area, knew nothing about programming and had no experience managing a team of designers. The result was most of the time I was on my own.

You Can’t Fight for What You Don’t Understand.

Being on your own sounds great but every time I put in the request for new software or upgraded hardware Skip couldn’t explain to his boss why it was needed and I wasn’t allowed to speak to his boss about it. This meant I had to write reports on the use and need of the for every order. Even with the report it would take several months to get a request approved.

The truth is I liked Skip. He was a great guy, constantly wanted to take us out to eat, to ball games etc. He was just a terrible boss.

We all Need Help From Time to Time

I know many people complain about bosses who yell, cuss, back stab etc, but nothing is worse than having a boss who really is clueless in your area of expertise. We all need support, on occasion and a boss like Skip cannot help you or support you in any way other than saying “great job” even if you are failing miserably.  I like hearing great job but I like not failing even more.

For tips on true leadership check out the IT Project Manager’s Toolkit. It makes the job of leadership a lot easier.

The Best Boss I Ever Had

I’ve heard that some of the most popular blogs on Toolkit Café have been about best bosses and worst bosses so I thought I would take this week to talk about The best boss I ever had.

Better Bosses Make Better Employees

The best Boss I ever had forced me to be better than I thought I was, to think for myself, and think through problems. If I made mistakes, I had to helped troubleshoot them until the issue was resolved. Fortunately most of the people we supported were patient and didn’t mind if I had to redo a network setup or if I crashed their laptop by installing the wrong drivers.

My boss literally felt that everyone had the capacity to succeed in life and everyone had opportunity if they wanted it. I think the fact that he was gay at a time and place where that wasn’t always accepted influenced those beliefs. He never let what others think get in his way. He had several degrees, stature and respect in his position.

All Good Things Must End

Later in life this boss left IT to get a law degree  but not before teaching me that the best bosses anyone can ever have are the ones who will work with you when needed, get  hands dirty with you, if that’s what it takes to get the job done, and help you achieve your goals…not just theirs. That was my boss.

Being a great boss is tough but worth it. To make it easier check out Mike Sisco’s IT Manager Toolkit. It provides everything you need to for the day in day out grind of managing leaving you more time to work with  your employees.

Pat Vickers, Expert in Help Desk Management

Pat introduces the Worst Help Desk Manager…EVER

When I was hired as a contractor by a fortune 500 company to help start up a small Help Desk, I was excited about being in on the beginning of a project and couldn’t wait to get started. My excitement was quickly turned to dread as I soon realized I was working for The Worst Help Desk Manager, Ever!

King Percy

To protect the innocent, and the guilty and me, OK it’s really to protect me, I’ll call this manager Percy. Percy was young and ambitious. From the beginning it was obvious that he liked being in charge. Most of his days were spent leaning way back in his chair with his feet propped on his desk tossing a football up in the air and catching it. If he got a call he took it on speaker, so as not to interrupt the tossing.

He kept the speaker volume loud so the entire team could hear his calls. This saved time. If anyone asked Percy to do anything he would happily agree and point at one his techs. He usually pointed at me when the request was to write new technical documents. If someone wanted something heavy moved he pointed to John, the big guy. Undesirable tasks fell to whoever was out of favor.  It was good to be king.

Well-deserved Credit

I discovered the hard way that Percy didn’t like to read. After completing a first draft of the first technical document I was asked to write I emailed it to Percy with a note explaining I had thoroughly checked it yet for errors and that I had to guess in a few areas but wanted his input on the direction I had taken. In the meantime, I assured him, I would research the areas I guessed on.  A few days later I told Percy I had a second draft and it had changed a lot. He said not to worry, the first was fine. Turned out he had not read my email, or the draft. He just printed it and sent it on.  The good news was Percy had taken full credit for the document.  The bad news was I had to inventory the stock room.

Beware of Bad Managers Bearing Gifts

The worst came a few weeks later.  After successful completion of a project Percy gave everyone half a day off, with pay, on a Friday. What a treat. As a contractor I knew I couldn’t get paid for the time but I was happy to be off at noon on a Friday.

The next week, when I turned in my time sheet Percy noticed that I had only recorded 4 hours for the Friday before. He reminded me that he was giving us the rest of the day with pay. I told Percy I really appreciated the gesture but reminded him that I was a contractor, not a salary employee and it would be illegal for me to report hours that I didn’t really work.  Percy insisted that I change the 4 to an 8. I refused. He finally admitted that he told his manager that we all worked until the last minute to complete the project and if my time record was different than the rest of theirs, it would look bad. I refused to change my time sheet which made Percy so angry I was placed permanently on the newly deployed night shift.

Fortunately as a contractor my jobs were never permanent and I soon moved on to other if not greener pastures.  I don’t know what happened to Percy. I suppose he went on to torture many a poor help desk analyst. I would like to think that eventually one of the analysts snatched his football out of the air and … well you get the picture.

Policies to Pre-empt Percy

Those of us who are not Percy’s need to do everything we can to free the world of them.  The best way to do that is put in place IT policies to which all managers must adhere. That can be daunting but the Ultimate IT Policy Toolkit makes it a lot easier. With templates and charters that will guide you through creating an extremely effective set of policies and procedures.

Have you ever work for a Percy?

Tell us about it. Post a comment below or email the editor.

Pat Vickers, Expert in Help Desk Management

Pat’s Tips for Appropriate Office Attire

Most of us in the IT world would like to think the old stereotype of the computer person who dresses badly and doesn’t “fit in” no longer applies. After all, IT professionals are just that: professional. Unfortunately the reputation lingers.

Express yourself

The fact is, clothing is a form of expression. Sometimes our attire speaks louder than we do, but is it saying what we want it to? The outfit shown in Figure A is a good example of something some pros wear to work. Those techs are expressing “I am not concerned with impressing anyone. I am my own person.” However, the message received is most likely “Hi, I’m the office lackey. Need anything heavy moved?”

Figure A

These cloths say “grunt worker.”

Figure B illustrates another common mis-communication through attire. The IT pro who dresses like this to the office may intend to express “I’m young, I’m hip, and I am in great shape.” The message heard is probably “I like to use the office like a singles bar, and I’m prowling for dates.”

Figure B

 Figure B

IT pro or someone looking for a date?

Some people who dress in similar fashion to the examples above will disagree with me.  Those who do should look at their careers and ask, “Do I miss out on a lot of promotions or projects I want? Do people often ask me to perform menial tasks that are not my responsibility? Do I get a lot of unseemly attention?” These things happen to everyone from time to time, but anyone who has one or more of these experiences regularly or more often than their co-workers might want to consider a change in attire.

Most companies have written policies on dress code and, obviously, those codes should be followed. Don’t stop there though. It’s a good idea to go beyond the least acceptable. “I won’t do anything more than I have to” is not a good message from any employee.

So where should the IT professional look for clues on what to wear? The best examples at any given company are those in positions of power.  If the executives tend to wear golf shirts and slacks, like the outfit shown in Figure C, the safe thing is to do is wear the same kinds of clothing. It’s an easy and clean look. Dressing similar to the boss is a great message. It says “I’m one of you, part of your tribe. It’s safe to give me the important projects and promotions.”

Figure C

Figure C

Boring but safe in a “business casual” office.

Contrary to popular belief, there are still a few companies left where business suits are the norm . Law firms and financial institutions are good examples. While it’s always best to wear suits in a formal office, if that’s just not possible, an acceptable substitute can be dark dress slacks with long-sleeve dress shirts and dress shoes. For the finishing touch, men should add a nice tie and women should add a jacket, as shown in Figure D and Figure E.  Most men who wear suits to the office remove the jacket as soon as they arrive, so a man with no jacket fits in. The opposite is true for a woman. A jacket adds the same formality to a woman’s ensemble that a tie brings to the man. An added benefit is a jacket provides a female tech with more pockets for phones and tools, something her slacks often fail to do.

 Figure D

Figure D

Geeks can wear ties too!

  Figure E

Figure E

A blazer makes casual attire more professional.

Regardless of your company culture there are a few “Don’ts” that apply in most any office.

  • Sexy or Revealing clothing: An office is not a pick up place. Wait until after hours to show off that killer body.
  • Stains or tears: Dress like a homeless person and you may just be treated like one.
  • Ill fitting clothing: If you lose or gain weight, adjust your wardrobe to compensate. Looking as if you’re going to pop a button or drop you pants is no way to be taken seriously.
  • Grubby sneakers and overly scuffed or dirty shoes: Money spent on appropriate office attire is wasted without appropriate shoes.
  • Flip Flops: Fashionable as they are, they have no place in the office. Save them for your days off.

Fashions for the IT Mind

If your IT career isn’t going where you hoped take a look in the mirror. Do you see a manager staring back or do you see a grunt? If your reflection is more like the latter, consider a change. To learn more about what it takes to be a successful IT manager download this free tool,  IT Management 101 by Mike Sisco. It’s an incredibly valuable resource for any IT manager.

Are you dressing for success?

Let us know what you thought of this article by posting a comment below or email the editor.

Pat Vickers, Expert in Help Desk Management

Managing People: Introducing A Great IT Boss

One of my first jobs was a low level employee on a phone support team. It was a good job for a twenty one year old college drop out. The pay wasn’t bad. The surroundings were pleasant. I worked nights so I was able to go back to school during the day and eventually earn my degree. The company even paid for it. In some ways it was a tough job though. We were rated on the number of calls we took. More was always better. On busy days calls could exceed 100. We were often monitored then critiqued. It could get pretty stressful.

The art of Critiquing

Some of the managers seemed to think their job was to find out what the employees were doing wrong and make them stop. The guy I worked for, I’ll call him Rob, seemed to think his job was to encourage employees. Sure he monitored our calls from time to time, as was required but when he talked to us about them it was more about what the did right than what we did wrong. In the end he would mention what we could have done better but his critiques usually made us feel better about ourselves and our work instead of worse.

The Problem Employee

I remember a specific support analyst on my team that first year than none of us thought would make it. Chris was passed from team to team and always seemed to be on probation for being late, leaving early and just generally not doing a very good job. Finally she was put on our team under Rob.

Chris told me about their first meeting. Rob started out by asking her if she wanted to be on his team. She said she was OK with it. He said he asked because she didn’t seem like someone who particularly liked her job. Chris agreed. She did not like her job. Rob said that was OK. Liking the job was not required. He told Chris that not everyone was cut out for phone support and there was no shame in quitting. Chris asked if Rob was firing her. He assured her he was not. If she wanted the job it was already hers and all she had to do to keep it was be decent at it, show up on time and do her share of the work, but if she did not want the job she was not doing herself any favors by staying and doing the job badly. Rob asked Chris to think about it and let him know what she wanted to do.

Learn From the Best

I heard the story a year later. Chris had been off probation for more than 9 months and was one of the better employees. She told me that she still didn’t care for the job but it was the best that she could get at the time and Rob was right. Doing the job well did make her feel better about herself and her work.

What I learned from that conversation is that no manager can make an employee do a good job. We can’t micromanage them into or even threaten them into it, but we can treat them as intelligent adults and accept no less from them. Rob didn’t bother to list Chris’s short comings. She knew them. He just asked her to be honest with herself and him and to make a choice. That method doesn’t always work. Some employees never learn and have to be fired. But in that case Rob prevailed and both he and Chris were better off for it.

For more tips on being a great manager you can have a great role model like Rob but you can also get what you need from the Practical IT Manager Gold Series, a fantastic tool kit by Mike Sisco, containing tools and templates designed to make you the best manager you can be.

Add your two cents

Do you know a great IT manager? Please tell us about that person or share your thoughts by posting a comment below. Follow this link to read about a couple of really bad IT managers:

Introducing the Worst IT Managers Ever