What Makes a (Super) Service Desk Manager?

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‘I feel like a juggler multitasking in several different languages and time zones.’ A favourite quote from a Service Desk Manager I spoke to at an event recently.

If there’s one role in IT and IT service management (ITSM) that is fundamental, intrinsic, influential and pivotal – it’s the Service Desk Manager. This particular role has several varied requirements and needs a number of essential personal characteristics, skills and competencies. It should be an essential step in the career path of any aspiring Service Manager, Relationship Manager, IT /OPS manager, CIO or consultant – simply due to the multi-faceted nature of the role and the wealth of knowledge and insight gained when carrying it out.

So what are the key elements of this role and why is it so central to IT and its success? How do you develop the right skills and are there some people more suited than others?

Let’s take a look:

    • The Service Desk Manager (SDM) has to juggle several completely different stakeholder groups and communities at once – their own team, customers, suppliers and the rest of the IT organisation – so a good SDM will need to be an excellent, flexible communicator and diplomat.
    • The Service Desk team requires careful and considerate management, as they deal with negativity on a daily basis, and are also restricted in their activity as the Service Desk is a time-based operation. An SDM therefore must be able to relate to his/her staff members needs and also be ready to support them through difficult situations. The SDM must also be able to show his/her staff the ‘bigger picture of where they fit into the business, not just IT (because remember IT IS the business).
    • Customers require empathy and understanding from the SDM, who must be able to see their perspective on support and IT service issues – this requires relationship building and regular contact with everyone in the business and an active informed interest in their daily affairs. The SDM needs to be able to switch focus, language, and context on a continual basis as they deal with different stakeholders daily.
    • A key element in understanding the role is to focus on what it’s like when the role is not done by the right person – e.g. maybe someone with technical skills but no people management or relationship management skills, or no understanding or interest in the wider business context and outcomes. This can be a disaster and cause problems both in terms of lack of synergy and poor or inappropriate performance. For example if the SDM is tough on following processes to the letter when actually they need to engage at a different level – i.e. viewing support from the customer experience point of view.

So, as you can see being an SDM is a multi-functional and multi-focused role that can deliver success or failure, based heavily on the experience, skills and capabilities of the Service Desk Manager themselves.

There’s more…

The SDM also needs to be something of an expert or at least competent in the following areas:

    • Driving and understanding metrics – it’s essential for the SDM to understand and use metrics constructively as a tool for service improvement. A good SDM should know the key expected metrics and be able to use these positively to drive improved behaviours and performance.
    • Motivating and developing staff – it’s a difficult role if this is your first experience of people management, although local knowledge of how the service desk and the organisation works is useful when promoting from within. However, it’s essential to support new managers in this role to ensure that they are getting some form of fast track management training or mentoring. It’s of course also vital to take care in considering potential new managers and their suitability for the role in terms of communications style, influencing and negotiating potential etc.
    • Coaching – a big part of the role involves coaching and development of staff, so the manager needs to be fully conversant in the work of the team and its direction, as well as having some background and understanding of how to get the best out of people.
    • Negotiating with peers – a key element is the need to establish peer respect – often when the Service Desk may not be well regarded. SDMs need to be able to deliver positive and collaborative messages that reflect business and customer needs to technical people who may not share the same viewpoint or understanding. This can lead to friction and disagreement and again the outcome for the business depends on the calibre of the SDM.
    • Relationship building – customer relationships require nurturing and ongoing maintenance and the SDM needs to be good at building these quickly and effectively – a little like a good bar manager who can quickly assess people as they walk in and talk to them like they’ve been friends for years – the SDM needs to be able to switch on charm and empathy, as well as relevant (non-IT) language, in order to cultivate good relationships.
    • Escalating issues to management – another multi-faceted aspect of being a successful SDM is the need to be able to translate IT and service issues into management-speak – in order to raise issues and get support from management for Service Desk and service management issues. This is where an SDM would benefit from some business-case and financial management experience and training.
    • Written communications – the SDM needs to be able to write some very detailed and precise documents such as work instructions, as well as business-focussed updates that go out to customers – both of these of course require vastly different writing styles.

    • IT service management – bigger picture – the more the SDM understands and can contribute to  wider ITSM processes the better the result should be for the customer – by getting the Service Desk involved earlier in the Service Development lifecycle, handing over new projects more consistently and also by educating and building more collaboration and a ‘supply chain’ mentality across Service Desk and other resolver group teams.

So it’s a tough job but also a highly satisfying one for the right person – either one who is experienced or who is developing into the role. Not all organisations have the luxury of bringing in experienced SDMs and in many cases the challenge of the job is to develop people across a number of skillsets. The role is far more highly regarded than it was even 10 years ago however and there are many experienced professional SDMs around that can help organisations to move forward.

Many will have gained their skills and expertise from a number of different routes, however collectively the role is a hybrid one that also offers a variety of further choices for development – once you’ve done customer support, staff management, sales, marketing, business case development, relationship management as well as IT technical work, you can probably turn your hand to just about anything! One day, I intend to be a rockstar…

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