Pat Vickers, Expert in Help Desk Management

7 Things a Help Desk Analyst Needs From the Help Desk Manager

Good support techs are hard to find and even harder to keep. It’s a tough and often thankless job. Callers often abuse them, other IT employees take them for granted and the hours can be terrible. More importantly, the combination of being able to understand the technology and work with people is exceptional.  There isn’t much a help desk manager can do about those things. What a manger can do is ensure the analysts have everything they need to do their job to the best of their ability.

1. The right tools

No job is easy without the right tools. Whether the job is to repair plumbing, cook a great meal or diagnose a computer problem, having the right tools is essential. For a help desk the right tools are:

a)      Schematics on all supported hardware

b)      Good remote control tool

c)       Documentation on all supported software

d)      Admin rights to every supported system

2. Appreciation for a job well done

Award ceremonies can be fun but giving out the same plaques every year or month isn’t true appreciation. The way appreciation is properly shows is to personally thank the employee. Managers should occasionally stop by the desk of someone who has done well, maybe even invite that employee out to lunch. While there the manager should thank the employee and be specific about why that employee is appreciated. A follow up email that can be kept for their records is a nice touch but the personal visit will stay with the employee for weeks.

3. Training

Nothing changes faster than technology and the Help Desk analyst must be at least one step ahead of callers every day. Whether in a classroom, book or computer based. Training for the Help Desk analyst is essential. Of course time and money are always an issue. Anticipate and plan for slow periods by keeping up to date training programs available. Even if only for an hour, taking advantage of low call volume to increase skills is the best possible use of a Help Desk analysts time.

4. Help in the trenches

Most Help Desk managers spent quite enough time on the phone, before they were promoted, and have no intention of going back. This is a mistake. While a manager’s time is best spent managing, the occasional foray back to the trenches not only keeps him or her sharp and in the game. More importantly, the extra help on a really busy day will be greatly appreciated by the analysts. It’s always good to know the boss can do the job and not just boss.

5. Trust

Trust can be the toughest thing for any manager to give. For one thing, some employees just don’t deserve it. Most do and they should be left alone to do their job. Whenever possible a manager should deliver the requirements and then let the analysts figure out the best way to deliver. Micromanaging by scripting or insisting information be gathered in specific order are indications of mistrust and make an analysts job, more difficult, not less. New employees or those who aren’t performing need those things. Give the rest the room they need to do their jobs.

6. Reasonable Requirements

Reasonable requirements vary from office to office, depending on what is supported and the sophistication level of the users. It’s impossible for anyone outside to say what is reasonable and what isn’t.  Looking at history and working with trusted employees is the only way set the parameters. Once those parameters are set the expectations shouldn’t be raised, without serious reevaluation. In other words, once an employee has reached a productivity level considered excellent, stop raising the bar. Doing so just forces the employee to have a bad month, in order to start all over again.

7. Occasional work off the phone

A help desk analyst should spend the vast majority of work time, on the phone.  The most important tasks on any help desk are answering the calls and helping the callers. Everything else is secondary. There are some tasks that are not phone related and giving analysts time on those tasks, when call volume permits, is a great way to recharge batteries. Examples are giving training as well as receiving it, documenting procedures and testing new software and hardware.

These seven things are important, doable and make a difference. There is more though. Please post a comment below and tell us what you need from your manager and why

For more great information on how to manage your IT employees check out The Practical IT Manager Gold Series by Mike Sisco. It’s a great resource.

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


Pat Vickers, Expert in Help Desk Management

Managing the dangers of IT support

Many years ago, when I was head of a regional IT support team for a very large corporation, I was asked to swap out a router card in one of our larger warehouses. Normally this would not have been a problem. We kept spare cards for all the routers and it was easy to schedule a 30-minute downtime while the work was done. However, this warehouse was different. For some reason, long before I took over support, the network center was installed in a box that hung from the ceiling, 30 feet up. To make physical changes, a tech had to stand in a cage while a forklift raised the cage to the top of the highest shelf. Once there the tech would step out of the cage and straddle an open area about three feet wide.

Fear versus Phobia

Some people refer to a fear of heights as a phobia. I think that is just wrong. Phobias are baseless fears. I may be wrong, but I’m pretty sure falling from a 30-foot high rack to a concrete floor would have an adverse affect on my ability to keep the few brain cells I have left trapped in my head, not to mention what it would do to my limbs, neck, and spine.  I really did not want to change that card so I asked if any other team members were willing and got a volunteer right away. That might sound like problem solved, but the volunteer had a head, limbs, neck and spine as well, and even if he wasn’t worried about them, I was. I had no sleep the night before the scheduled change.

Research your Risks

The card change went off without a hitch and everyone laughed at me for being such a wimp, but I was not happy. As a team leader I felt like my first responsibility was to make sure that no one on the team was killed in the line of duty.  I know that sounds like an easy task, since we were in a suburban office building and fighting computer viruses instead of the Taliban, but when a regional manager demands people travel by fork lift, it becomes a problem. I needed to do some research.

Put Safety First

I found that, like all large companies, we had a corporate safety policy and we were not following it. I was able to arrange for special training in working in high places and safety gear. We still had to go up in the cage, but the cage was chained securely to the fork lift first. Also we got safety straps and hooks to secure us to the racks before we stepped out of the cage.   It made things a great deal safer.

What I learned from that experience is being prepared for potential danger and protecting your team is just as important for an IT manager as it is for beat cop. It may not come up as often but when it does you want to be ready. That’s true about everything in management. Few managers are prepared the first time an employee must be fired or when large numbers of assets are discovered missing.  We never forget a lesson we learn the hard way, but sometimes it’s better to learn from the experience of others. Mike Sisco has that experience and offers it to us in The Practical IT Manager Gold Series, 10 books can get an IT manager though any crisis. I highly recommend it to any and all IT managers. I also think it’s a great investment for the IT tech who would like to manage. IT’s never too early to learn to think like a pro and learn to lead a team practically.

What’s your danger zone?

Have you or members of your team had to deal with dangerous situations while trying to provide IT support? Post a comment below and tell us what you think about workplace dangers for IT professionals. Are your people at risk?