Ten years ago, on a recommendation from my manager, I attended my first HDI conference. At the time, I’d been a support manager for about three years, and I’d been attending HDI local chapter meetings sporadically. I knew about HDI, but the conference was a revelation. HDI’s conferences bring together an enormous group of support professionals to spend three days learning and networking. I left that first HDI conference with pages full of notes, in high spirits, and full of excitement to get back to work and implement all the lessons I’d learned.
As I was preparing to present at this year’s HDI annual conference (for the first time!), it hit me: it was the first HDI conference I attended all those years ago that really ignited my love for support. I just can’t get enough of it. I love reading about support, attending local chapter meetings, annual conferences, and training events to learn more about support, and networking with others to share what I’ve learned.
I’ve been an HDI local chapter officer in the Minnesota chapter for more than eight years, and as an officer, I’ve had the opportunity to network with individuals around the world. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that when you love what you do, who you do it with, and the company you work for, great things happen. In researching great companies and great teams, I’ve found that there are three key components that positively affect and promote the health of an organization: leadership, culture, and people. These three areas can make or break a team or an organization. Here are just a few of my favorite lessons learned.
Leaders don’t have to be managers, but managers must be leaders. Successful leaders tend to have certain qualities:
Humility: Leaders carry themselves with a quiet confidence and let their character speak for itself.
Influence: Leaders bring value by motivating, identifying, forecasting, and recommending solutions to problems.
Self-awareness: Leaders have the ability to recognize and understand their moods, emotions, drives, as well as their effect on other people.
Listening skills: Leaders make a deep commitment to listening intently. They listen to what is being said (and not said), and the make sure the other person feels heard, which is more than just listening.
Passion: Passion is a great motivator, and a leader’s excitement and enthusiasm can inspire the same in others. Leaders don’t have be constantly cheerful, but when they believe in what they’re doing and what the company is doing, that energy comes through in their actions.
Leading by example: The best leaders are those who lead by example, pitching in where needed and lending a helping hand, and who are both team leaders and team followers.
Delegate: An effective leader delegates responsibility to team members, facilitating and motivating them to be successful.
Commitment: Leaders take ownership of issues and collaborate with other team members. They seize the initiative and welcome responsibility.
Teamwork: Leaders focus on what’s best for the team. They create and maintain a positive, efficient, and safe work environment. Leaders have the ability to find common ground and build rapport.
Mentor and motivate: Leaders inspire and influence others to achieve results in a high-interrupt environment. They are passionate about their work, for reasons that go beyond money or status.
Drive change: Leaders embrace change enthusiastically. More importantly, they encourage and drive it, focusing on continual improvement.
Read: Leaders read at least one leadership book every quarter, and they share what they’ve learned either by creating an informal book club or by creating a support library. This allows them to open up dialogues with others who’ve read the same books.
Initiative: Leaders don’t wait to be asked. Volunteer for a committee at work or in your community. There are more than sixty HDI local chapters in the United States and Canada, and they’re always looking for leaders to stand up and lend a hand. Volunteer to be a local chapter officer!
Your core values define your support strategy and are the foundation of your culture. They tell people who you are, what you do, and why you do it. And where attention goes, culture grows. The key to building a strong culture with engaged employees is to create opportunities for people to be autonomous, to master their skills, and to understand their purpose. To cultivate your culture:
- Tell your customers about your culture on your website.
- Showcase your logo/motto/values on everything: the back of business cards, name badges, team t-shirts, gift cards, etc.
- Create an annual photo book (yearbook) for the team. Have everyone sign it.
- Take a team picture for your customer holiday cards.
- Have the team paint a picture together, and then hang their masterpiece in the office.
Having the right people on your team is crucial. You can teach people the technical parts of the job, but you can’t teach people how to be customer-friendly. We all know what excellent customer service is, and for the most part it’s common sense. Most people have common sense, but not everyone has service sense. Sound service sense is more important than knowledge, though knowledge enhances it. Sound service sense is a quality that cannot be defined, yet it’s invaluable when present and noticeable when absent.
People with a service sense love to help, they know just what to say to make a situation better, and they will go out of their way to do the right thing. These are the people you want on your team. Hire for personality and drive—for service sense.
Recruitment: Do you know which skills and abilities are essential to making your team the best it can be? Having a team with diverse skills is important. Some people have excellent communication skills, while others are able to solve complex issues quickly. If everyone on your team has excellent problem-solving skills but they all lack soft skills, your customer experience will suffer. Know your gaps! Identify your team’s strengths so you know which skills are must-haves, whether you’re recruiting new team members or supporting current team members in their professional development.
Ask situational and behavioral questions: When interviewing, be sure to ask both situational (future; “What would you do…?”) and behavioral (past; “Tell us about what you did when…”) questions.
Make it a good fit—for everyone: Onboarding is costly, which is why it’s crucial that the person you hire is the right fit for a given position. For example, if the prospective hire will be talking to customers over the phone, do a phone interview. Also, include your team on the interview process, and take him or her on a tour of the office. Remember, while you’re evaluating the interview as a potential employee, the interviewee should also be evaluating the company to make sure they understand the company’s mission and culture.
Onboarding new employees: Create a warm welcome! You won’t get a second chance to make a good first impression. Have a welcome note from the team waiting for them on their first day, along with a piece of their favorite candy (this can be a fun interview question). Ask them what you can do to improve the onboarding process and make it better for the next new hire.
Everyone can have a great culture, a great team, and a great organization. All it takes is leadership and teamwork.
What are some of your favorite lessons learned? Tell us at
Gina Montague is the support services manager for Infinite Campus, a student information system (SIS) for K–12 education. Gina has been in the support industry for more than fifteen years and she is passionate about delivering positive customer experiences. She has been a support manager since 2001, which is also when she became an HDI member. Gina is currently the president of the Minnesota local chapter, where she has served in various officer positions since 2005.