Global Marketing Director
Finding great staff and making sure they stay is one of the biggest challenges for any manager. However IT and service desk managers have two obstacles in particular around hiring and motivating, which make their jobs uniquely challenging.
The first is all about striking the balance between technical skills and people skills. The second is making a traditionally repetitive support role varied and continually rewarding.
So let’s take a look into why this has come to be and what you can do to help overcome this all but too common people problem in IT.
What is the perfect balance of technical and people skills?
Traditionally when we look for technical skills, we mostly focus on knowledge of systems. We get excited because an interview candidate has experience in something like supporting the same finance software package you are using. However, what we should really be looking for is a general technical curiosity and strong approach to problem solving.
So instead of digging deeper about which systems they have used, focus more on what they did the last time they were faced with a new system; did they let things like not having the right access permissions or not being fully trained on that system stop them from moving forward with a problem? Ask them to demonstrate the skills that show they are always learning about technology, and that overcoming complexity is a motivation in itself.
Looking over to the people or soft skills required for great IT, we face a similar need to transition to a different kind of thinking. Too often when we search for people skills we will look for surface value evidence of transactional capabilities, such as handling complaints or being polite on the phone.
These are of course important skills to have, but they should not be the core skills you hire on or reward. For that you must dig deeper and understand the areas of emotional intelligence that make someone good at these things in the first place. You need to work out how to uncover the characteristics and talents that unlock great service skills, such as empathy, capacity for trust and patience.
Why does recognising these skills matter so much?
You may have heard people within the IT industry talk about there being a skills gap in the market right now. The gap this refers to is the lack of available tech staff with the ready-to-go people skills required to be a good support person or business facing member of IT.
The gap however, is a myth. For the most part, IT has simply not learned how to find and/or hire these people yet. There are great people out there who have a strong technical appetite and high levels of applicable emotional intelligence. The thing is, great people don’t need to work very hard to get the jobs they want. In fact, it is fast becoming the role of the employers to compete over the best talent out there. Unfortunately many IT departments are losing those great talents to the uprising of customer centric tech companies.
But often when it comes to competing over these hires it doesn’t always come down to money, job security or training. When people have valuable skills, more than anything they want to be recognised and appreciated for them. So when a company or IT department focuses its recognition on factors like systems knowledge or complaint handling, this can actually be a big turn off for staff who see themselves as bringing high levels of emotional intelligence or problem solving to a role.
This concept of changing the skills you recognise and reward, can actually change your success in hiring, employee satisfaction and retention all in one strike. Recognition is also a building block of trust, which is an essential characteristic for motivating both individuals and teams.
How do you start making a break-through?
Start with trust building in your team, it sounds like a cliché but people come back to it time and time again for good reason. Demonstrating trust and understanding is the first step towards achieving the levels of openness you need for discussing peoples skills in an honest way.
There are a wide range of options available to you for building trust and you don’t have to take an overly scientific approach to it. More often than not, great trust comes through a genuine and patient approach to discussion and listening. When doing this, it is really important to be aware of your team’s communication styles. For staff with more assertive and direct communication styles, this can sometimes seem unnecessary or frustrating.
So short and to the point, but regular conversations may be the most effective method. For those with more amiable and sociable communication styles, you may need to spend more time ensuring their discussions have objectivity to them. Use these techniques to find the best ways to get each person to open up and share what motivates them and what makes them feel proud of their work. Over time you will not just build trust, but also a reliable approach to two-way communication, and a bigger picture of what your team’s skills and drivers really are. You can use this to come up with a more sophisticated approach to recognition that transcends your standard service desk metrics.
This knowledge gives you a strong advantage when it comes to hiring new staff too. This doesn’t just start in the interview either, think about how you can take what you have learned about your team, what they value and what their current gaps are, to craft a job advert that really attracts the right person, especially if you are after one of those elusive tech savvy and emotionally intelligent types. If the team has come to value trust, communication, and an open approach to tackling problems - why not talk about it? If you realise that you don’t mind that a new hire doesn’t know how to manage backups, but you would admire someone who would be willing to give it a go… maybe say that too?
If you feel brave enough to tear up your old hiring checklist, that might not be a bad thing!
So what then?
Once you have your short list of great IT people to interview, consider how the questions you are going to ask reflect what you are actually looking for. Are you going to ask them about their strengths and weaknesses because you think it will help you decide where they fit in the team, or are you just asking because you need to hear what they have to say?
Once you have found your new IT rock star, don’t forget that your trust and communication exercise was much more than just a onetime thing. Make sure new staff receive the same investment of your time and attention, and that you are always encouraging people to share and learn from each other in exactly the same way.
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