by Joanne Harris
Date Published - Last Updated February 26, 2016

Ah, the tyranny of change! The dropping of a pebble into the proverbial pond! The only thing we know for sure is that change is inevitable, and that how we handle it is more important than how we avoid it.

In an article in the May/June issue of SupportWorld, Mike Hanson addressed the evolution of desktop support; in this article, we will discuss how desktop support roles are changing—particularly the names of each role.

Over the past thirty-five years, the name of my function has changed from personnel to employee services to human resources, all in an effort to properly reflect the times. But, to paraphrase Shakespeare and Gertrude Stein, a rose is a rose is a rose, and by any other name, it would smell as sweet. However, this shouldn’t downplay the importance of keeping current. Job applicants will decide to apply or not based on how savvy the company appears to be. In other words, if your organization’s job titles and descriptions are out of date, you may not be able to attract the best candidates to fill positions. Job titles are highly visible indicators of how “with it” a company is.

However, when the names and titles no longer match the actual work being done, those descriptions should change. This may very well be the case in desktop support right now. Even though desktop technicians’ work entails knowledge of operating systems, software, mobile devices and apps, network troubleshooting, and just about everything else end users can run into, the word “desktop” still conjures up visions of the old beige or dark gray boxes that lived on or under our desks. Traditional desktop computer systems—the whole package: desktop, keyboard, mouse, and monitor—are becoming a smaller and smaller percentage of the market. The desktop support technician of 2014 and beyond needs to understand the business’s language and goals, and have a working knowledge of firewalls and security, systems management, IT service management (ITSM), IT asset management (ITAM), software license management, and just about every facet of the total customer experience.

As you start to think about renaming positions, think beyond the title; write down two or three sentences that capture the essential functions of the job. Try to hone in on the three most important tasks or responsibilities that role will be accountable for, regardless of title. Then use that information as inputs for the title.

Job titles drive or are at least included in multiple HR functions: they’re recruiting tools; they help determine salary levels; they’re used in conducting performance reviews; they can clarify missions; and they can also be a factor in creating reasonable accommodation controls, career planning, training exercises, and legal compliance. But let’s not underestimate the big one: how employees feel about their titles. Some people couldn’t care less about their titles, as long as they’re paid on time; others care more about the title than the pay. But what employees do tend to care about universally is how their titles stack up against their coworkers’. Many unproductive hours are spent discussing that subject around the (virtual) water cooler.

Thus, my advice is to build as much transparency into the process as possible, as early as possible. Involve people from all levels. There’s some wonderful, creative thinking going on out there. And if you’ve been thinking about it, then you can bet the rank and file have as well.

As soon as you’ve decided to formally address the issue, involve your HR department. If a specific HR representative is allocated to the IT department, ask that person to join your effort. Give them the names of companies you believe have their fingers on the pulse of the industry and ask them to do a quick survey to learn what those employers are doing with their job titles. HR departments are pretty collegial, so your HR representative should be able to get this information for you, along with information about the essential functions of each title so you can compare apples to apples.

While HR is doing its thing, you should reach out to your counterparts via the web, networking groups (both online and offline—think HDI local chapter meetings, LinkedIn groups, and HDIConnect), conferences, etc. Don’t forget to cast your net globally. Since India is so technology-oriented, for example, find out how its companies title their technicians and analysts.

Once you have enough data to confirm that a title change is in order, it’s time to run it up the flagpole. If you’re successful, then you can announce it to your company. Make sure you let them know why this change is good for everyone in the company: you’ll be more successful in recruiting, you’ll be more cutting edge, and you’ll be able to more clearly define what your customers can and should expect.

In summary, the process should go something like this: 

  • Review current job descriptions to see if they reflect the kinds of work being performed.
  • Rewrite the job descriptions to reflect the current work.
  • Think of the top responsibilities for the position, regardless of title.
  • Collaborate with your HR department (whatever it’s called) and ask them to reach out to other organizations to see what comparable descriptions, titles, and salaries exist.
  • Network—online and off—with peers to see what other organizations are doing.
  • Solicit ideas and input from your fellow employees, including non-IT workers.
  • Build a solid business case, remembering that outdated titles and names may affect your organization’s ability to hire top-notch candidates.
  • Obtain all the management approval and buy-in you need to make the changes.
  • Have a marketing and communications plan in place to let your organization know that the changes are being made, and why.

It would indeed be a perfect world if all IT professionals could link arms, agree on job titles, and change on the count of three. But things don’t work that way. You’re looking at a couple of years of intense deliberation to make sure job A matches job B in essential functions. Eventually, the smoke will clear and titles will become standard, though there will always be stubborn outliers. (When that day arrives, you likely find it’s time to revisit titles again!)

Most changes of this nature will be haphazard and spotty, at least until the change catches on. But as long as you have a plan, you’ll weather the storm quite well.


Joanne Harris, director of human resources at Mount Desert Island Hospital in Bar Harbor, ME, has more than thirty-five years of experience in human resources. In that time, she has served as the employment manager at Eastern Maine Medical Center and the HR director at The Jackson Laboratory. In her current role, Joanne is responsible for all HR functions, including recruitment, wage and salary administration, compensation and benefits, employee relations, and staff development, along with overseeing the employee wellness program.

Tag(s): desktop support, workforce enablement, professional development


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