Strategic Thinking for Support Center Managers


by Deborah Monroe
November 10, 2016

If you are a support center manager, I bet you are overwhelmed with the to-do list! So overwhelmed, in fact, that it’s hard to find time to think. I have to actually schedule “thinking time.” Why? Because there are things that need to be thought about and not acted upon.

Make Time for Strategy

What percentage of time on your job would you say you dedicate to the operational side? Ninety percent? Eighty percent? A good balance of strategic vs. operational work that I have seen over the years working with and coaching managers and executives is the following:

RoleStrategic Action %Operational Action %
Team Lead 5–10%  90–95%
Managers 20–25%  75–80%
Directors 30–35%  65–70%
Executives  40–45%   50–55%

Why is this important? Well, it is important because we need to know where to spend our time and energy. If you are a manager and doing too much operational work, that would be a symptom of things like a lack of trust in your organization, a need to build skills like delegation, or, of course, the need to hire more staff!

Since we are talking about strategy, let’s take the time to chat more about that. First the challenge is carving out the time—enough time to reflect and think about what needs to happen within our organizations. Second, we need to know how to begin with strategy and how to do it.

In the HDI Support Center Manager course I teach, we spend a good part of the first day of the course talking about what is involved in strategy. We present it in class with this very simple graphic:

strategy mission vision
 
Starting from the bottom of the triangle, the broadest part includes the following:

Values: I think we all understand what these are. They are the pillars on which our organization stands. I recommend that even if you have values for your corporate structure that you create them for your support environment. Make sure that they tie into the corporate values yet are understood and agreed upon by the team you work with.

Vision: With vision, we should identify what we see as happening within our organization in the future, what will happen three to five years down the road, and what makes us stand out in a crowd.

Mission: Here is where I think many of our organizations and departments can fall short. A mission statement is our best and number one marketing opportunity. It can be used to express our Five Ws—who we do business with, when we do business, what our business does, where we do it, and, most importantly, why we do business. It is important to remember that the words we choose should be measureable. They need to be specific and have the ability for us to define a number for each of the adjectives.

From our mission statement we move onto building the following:

Goals: Goals are our end-point desires. Our departmental goals, naturally, need to be tied into the goals of our main organization. They must help the whole company achieve their goals. If IT is not clear on the company’s goals, then it is almost impossible for us to identify what we need to be doing.

Strategy:  Strategy is that very detailed set of plans that will assist us in achieving the goals we set. It is a map to our success, and I recommend that a detail-oriented person assist with creating it! Use whatever methodology you have at your fingertips to ensure the strategy is solid and straightforward. One of my peers, Randy Celaya, once said to me, “A vision without a strategy is a hallucination.” There is SO much truth in that. How many of us have all these great ideas and never build a strategy around those ideas, and then nothing ever comes of it?

A vision without a strategy is a hallucination.
Tweet: A vision without a strategy is a hallucination. #techsupport @ThinkHDI

Objectives: These are going to be your milestones to indicate if you are achieving your goals. You know, something like, this quarter we want to improve our utilization of the knowledge base by 5%. That will be tied into your goal of increasing your First Contact Resolution goal by 20% over the year.

Then, we have the top of the triangle:

Tactics: These will be your day-to-day to-do operational items that will, in turn, help you measure your objectives. They are part of your strategy at a 500-foot view. They ultimately result in you meeting your goals and fulfilling your mission.

It is all tied together!

It’s true that many times we are not involved in creating the mission or the goals of the organization or even on some level, our own departments. Yet, it is still important for us to understand how our role in tech support affects and has an effect for the entire organization. If we can be part of the strategy to ensure success, we can give it a realistic and pragmatic touch.

Strategic Thinking in Action

I am going to take the triangle and give you an example of a something that I do in my courses on occasion. We will build a company from the ground up, right here! Now because my space is limited, I am only able to choose specific items. Yet I hope you will follow me as I walk you through it.

Our Company:  GO-TO Cookies: Fine Beer-Flavored Cookies.

Our Values: Fun, Integrity, Innovation, Healthy, and Profitable.

Our Vision: To be the country’s first and best makers of beer-flavored cookies.

Our Mission: Fine beer-flavored cookies will provide the healthiest organic, locally sourced ingredients around the country. When our daring customers need a unique snack, they can count on our quality and taste. When you need a break from normal, we will be your GO-TO Cookie!

Our Goals:

  1. To build a 35% market share in the unique dessert industry in five years
  2. To source only local, organic ingredients
  3. To increase our flavor offerings to eight options in three years
  4. To revitalize neighborhoods by manufacturing in areas that are in economic downturn

From here, I will only choose one of the goals to keep it simple and still illustrate the points.

Our Strategy: Let’s look at the strategy for goal 4, to revitalize neighborhoods experiencing economic downturn.

  1. Identify depressed areas close to our location to begin research.
  2. Look at closed factories and the surrounding unemployment rates.
  3. Choose one local factory location based on workforce experience, economic investment, and factory restoration costs.
  4. Close on property by June 2017.
  5. Plan to open factory by January 2018.

Our Objectives: Let’s examine goal 3, to increase our flavor offerings to eight options in three years.

  1. Our research and development lab will create five new flavors a year.
  2. Our market research group will test the flavors with our target market segments around the US and choose the top three flavors annually.
  3. We will continually reach out to our customers for new and innovative ideas every 6 months.

From here, I will use objective 2 to move forward into tactics. Are you following me?

Our Tactics: The day-to-day items on the to-do list. Objective 2 states that our market research group will test the flavors with our target market segments around the US and choose the top three flavors annually.

  1. Call ABC Market research for pricing:
    • Are they local, regional, or national?
    • How big is their database?
    • Can they contact beer and cookie lovers easily?
  2. Contact Joan at XYZ Market Research:
    • Is she still interested in working with us?
    • What is her pricing?
    • Can she take on a national job?

From Vision to Strategy

I think by now you have the picture. Taking a strategic approach to something complex or simple takes thinking time. The strategies, goals, objectives, and tactics are flexible and change based on multiple changing criteria within our environments. Yet, the base foundation and fundamentals remain the same. Think big and move down into the details of how to make that happen. Ensure that you are measuring the right things the right way at the right time to keep you on track.

Here’s to building a strategy from our visions. In doing so, we will avoid those hallucinations and accomplish the tasks in front of us with greater ease and success!


Deborah Monroe is one of few Master EQ Practitioners, through the Global EQ Community of 6 Seconds. She’s also an associate with the Institute for Organizational Performance and a member of the HDI Faculty. Working with all levels of executive leadership, management, and individual contributors, Deborah concentrates on integrating humans and process to create a balanced working environment. Her aim is to build understanding and empathy, creating a positive bottom line through employee and customer retention.


Tag(s): service strategy, support center, support operations, supportworld

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