If you are going to hang around in the support industry for a while and decide to make a career of it, inevitably something is going to change. Specifically, you will become a leader of a team. Whether it be a promotion to Team Lead Supervisor, etc., it will happen. The one time you show your manager a better way to answer calls faster, that’s it. You just showed your potential, and that kind of thinking is gold. You are locked in for a fast track to manager-ville.
The question is, of course, are you prepared? We all want to do well in our jobs and our performance. But that comes with a price, a career development path. My last SupportWorld article dealt with how to deploy and manage a career development program. This time, I’ll focus more on what to do if it happens to you. And I hope it does.
You are on a fast track to manager-ville. Are you prepared?
The Dread Is on the Inside
We humans are a bunch of worrywarts. It has been well documented that we love to worry about everything, even those things that have yet to happen. Most of the worries we have concern things that we don’t have any control over.
There are a lot of things that will happen to you for the first time. When you have never dealt with a particular situation, there is anxiety of the unknown. That feeling further turns the heat up on you, as you don’t dare make the wrong decision because everyone’s eyes are on you, right?
However, I have learned a few secrets over the past few years that I believe will significantly turn that heat down, and I would like to share those thoughts with new leaders in our industry.
A New Hope
The first piece of wisdom is that, as a new leader of people, you must accept that, yes, indeed there will be many “firsts” in your career. Not only is that a good thing, it’s a great thing! The opportunities for your inner growth, getting experience under your belt, and being exposed to many situations is something you should always look for. The act of acknowledging you will run into these first hurdles is the beginning of reducing that stress.
The next word of wisdom is compartmentalization. Grab a marker and using a whiteboard, take an inventory of all tasks, areas, and job functions and create categories. This is a huge step in the process so you can organize how you are going to tackle your day, project, or your own onboarding.
As an example, a new leader has two main workflows in their day. First is the operational workflow to keep the business going, answer the phones, and take care of customer needs. The second workflow is the administrative side of being a leader. This consists of hiring people, managing performance, explaining benefits, and other such tasks. Along the way, you will start to see that there are a few tasks that are similar in each workflow and have a relationship to one another.
In the figure below, one example of an operational task that you have to manage is staffing. You must make sure you have the right people with the right skills working at the right time (workforce management). However, as an administrative task, you will most certainly partake in interviews in order to fill those operational needs.
Another benefit of outlining your tasks is that it will help you prioritize your first year as a leader. Let’s deconstruct what I just said as that was a sentence loaded with wisdom.
You cannot tackle everything all at once. And good senior leaders would never and should never expect that from you. However, time and time again, I hear the stories from new leaders that, from their perspective, they had to solve the world’s problems in 60 days. Work with your senior leader and come up with a game plan. Find out what really is a priority versus a “nice to have” to ease into the role. This will certainly set you up for success in your role.
Also, there are going to be things that take a year to do. Sometimes seasonality will control the timing of events. Other times it can take many, many months to collect and analyze data for trends. The important thing to realize is that not all things must be completed in a short period of time. Rather, some situations may take a full year to finally see results. As an example, it may take five to six cycles to fill an open position in order for you to feel like you can say you know how to interview, know what skills you are looking for, and know how to find a good hire.
This Sounds Familiar
This whole concept reminds me of something I heard from the Global Leadership Summit this past year that I would like to share. It’s a concept called GETMO. So many times, we just get in the weeds with our tasks that we never seem to move the needle and move on. If you are ever in one of those situations, try GETMO—Good Enough to Move On.
Whatever you are doing, whatever you are working on, my advice is instead of trying to reach for perfection, get “it” to a place where its good enough to move on, then revisit, revise, and update.
As an example, my organization took on an enormous task of consolidating all of support into one entity and start a tiered support structure. We decided to rip the band aide, get management in place up front, and create the organizational structure first. Only afterwards did we start slowly folding in other organizations, such as our international unit, into the org. Piece by piece we changed, regrouped, tweaked, and then moved on. If we did not take this approach, we would have never learned the things we did along the way and would still be in committee trying to decide “when to execute.” [In the end, we actually wound up winning a Stevie Award for our work back in 2018.]
Get tips to avoid the pitfalls of being a new leader at Richard’s SupportWorld Live session, New Supervisors and The Dreaded Firsts.
There Is a Whole World Outside Your Window
My last piece of wisdom is to seek out others. Do not be shy or embarrassed to reach out for help. It is not a sign of weakness. Besides, I cannot stress enough that us wiser people LOVE to help when a question is asked. You have many ways to ask for help.
First, I suggest joining HDIConnect. This community group has many seasoned experts in every facet of service and support. Secondly, I have found many white papers, blogs, and articles on the internet during my research on many things. Next, join user groups and community groups on platforms such as LinkedIn. There are many people that want to help and give advice.
Most importantly, know that your HR department is a valuable partner that is there to support you. From policy, documentation, and procedures to local, state, and federal law, HR will work with you to ensure you are managing your team in an effective and safe manner.
Finally, there is a secret nugget that I like to remind new leaders. You are now a manager of people, not an individual contributor. You have transitioned from the go-to person, that subject matter expert to leading a team. When it comes to complex troubleshooting, researching issues defects, etc., that is someone else’s job to do now. You might fall into the trap that you want to continue to be that expert. The downfall is that you will find yourself with the eye off the ball, and your team will suffer for that without your full attention.
Richard Sykora has more than 25 years’ experience in customer service and call center operations. He has managed both national and global operations and has been a speaker at industry conferences and user groups, leading participants in industry best practices. Richard is Senior Manager, Support Operations at Blackbaud, and is Lean Practitioner Certified. He is a volunteer and currently Chair of ReStart Career Development program, assisting those in a career transition and helps connect participants’ natural skills to jobs and careers they were built for with purpose. Connect with Richard on