Building engagement and motivation in any team is difficult. With a Support team however, there exists a seemingly industry-wide perception that Support should be seen as a feeder function to the other departments in the company, or stepping stone to a “better” job. This connotation has hung over my head for nearly 20 years working in support and related roles, and now into leading support teams. So how do you keep a team engaged and build professional development, longevity and career satisfaction into a support team? This is a question that has come up a couple times in the Support Driven Slack #leadership channel, and something I’ve grappled with as a leader in at least 3 different organizations.
At the core everyone wants to enjoy their work. In context of a career, that could mean many things: An altruistic purpose, benefiting a specific cause, reaching a goal, strengthening skills and many more. All of these boil down to the tasks the role requires aligning with the professional development goals and motivations of the employee.
One of the ways to achieve this is to build in flexibility to the tasks within your support roles that helps you engage with each person individually. I visualize this as a matrix. Along the left side are the various titles that show a career path for your team. These represent the various positions in the company and come with an aligned compensation structure and expectation. Depending how large of an organization, or your locale, this could change. Smaller teams could start with 3 or so titles (eg. Representative/Specialist/Senior, Tier 1/2/3, Junior/Senior/Principal), this can easily extend to 5 (eg. add in Fellow/Technical VP) to accommodate very senior roles, and it can also extend to accommodate cultures where promotions are expected more frequently by adding in tiers or prefixes to each level (Senior Tier 1/Senior Tier 2 etc.)
Once you determine the levels, I like to give them themes. This sets the tone and expectations for the role. For example maybe Representatives ‘Do’, Specialist ‘Teach’ and Seniors ‘Lead’. Themes at a glance gives a really good idea of the skill level you need to be at to take on a given title. These titles and themes will vary greatly depending on your business, whether you are deeply technical support or more customer care and the culture you wish to drive within the team. The example below could help you to explain a job description or set expectations for team members looking for promotions.
Across the horizontal axis of the Matrix is a list of all tasks that people with these titles would do as part of their role. Examples in support could be: 1st Line Case Handling, After Hours On-call, Knowledgebase contribution, Escalation Handling/Backline support, Tool/Process ownership, Onsite work, Technical Account Management and the list goes on. Once these are listed, start to think about the types of tasks a person at each level could do based on things like the individual’s seniority, level of knowledge, skill-set, professional development needs etc. You now have something that looks like the following:
The power of this is that it can tailored to each individual. If you have someone on the team with an affinity for technical writing, perhaps he or she focuses more on Knowledge Contribution. Maybe another employee really likes training and can focus on the creation of new on-boarding materials. At each level, the person can perform one or more of the individual tasks to structure their role together with you as their leader. This is where you can really tailor an engaging role for each individual on the team.
In the below example, each coloured box represents the tasks of one employee. The tasks are selected based on the affinity of the employee as mentioned above, as well as the time commitment to take on each task. The time spent on each task is proportioned based on the individual and the focus on a task (meaning that each task may not be equally weighted in a role). In this example, the blue employee can take on more tasks than the green employee as Technical Account Management may take up more time and therefore that employee cannot take on more tasks.
The power of this becomes clearer as you engage with each employee in their areas of interest and the areas they wish to strengthen. I use a professional development framework like this one to help guide role decisions and build the matrix.
All of your employees contribute to support in different ways. This helps you distinguish them based on titles that recognize their seniority and skills, and help them be engaged in work that they enjoy. This model will create a diversity that keeps senior team members happy, gives a clear career path, and delivers to them the satisfaction with their role that everyone desires.