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How to make your support team much more effective

If you are at all interested in IT service improvement there is one performance improvement discipline that, when done well, will reliably lead to improved service, increased productivity, reduced costs, and improve almost any KPI you can think of.

I know that’s a pretty big claim, so let’s cut to the chase – I’m talking about staff performance management. The one thing you can do to significantly improve the performance of your IT team is to do a better job of managing the performance of your staff. With nothing but the investment of time, the performance improvement benefits can be huge and here’s why…

According to numberous studies, e.g. DeMarco & Lister 1985, Curtis et al. 1986, Card 1987, Boehm & Papaccio 1988, Valett & McGarry 1989, Boehm et al 2000, high performers are phenomenally more productive than average and poor performers. For example, high performing software developers are orders of magnitude more productive than their under-performing colleagues – at least ten-fold.

In fact, some studies show that this performance variation exists in any job role you care to consider, e.g. a study by Norm Augustine found that in a wide range of professions, as diverse as policing and football, the top 20 percent of the people produced about 50 percent of the output. That’s four times as productive. In my own personal experience from a decade of leading and consulting to Service Desk teams, I’ve found high performing Service Desk Analysts to be about twice as productive as average performers.

With that in mind, here’s a list of seven things I see great IT managers do to improve the performance of their IT team:

  • They make performance expectations clear by agreeing on specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timebound (SMART) objectives and then by monitoring progress against those objectives.
  • They ensure their staff have the autonomy, authority, knowledge, skills, resources and support they need to achieve their objectives.
  • They invest time to understand exactly what motivates their top performers and then do whatever it takes to retain them.
  • They provide continual, timely feedback to promote desireable behaviours (behaviours that are aligned to the implicit or explicit values of the organisation) and eliminate undesireable behaviours.
  • They take prompt, decisive action when it comes to underperformers – people who are unable to meet their objectives or whose behaviour cannot be aligned to the corporate values.
  • They dedicate time to coaching and developing staff who have the potential to become top performers.
  • They take great care to hire great people.

It’s a straightforward performance improvement strategy really – keep the best people, develop those with potential and be decisive with the worst. Being decisive means acting quickly and either moving underperformers into a role where they have a chance of being successful or, if there is no such role in your organisation, by firing them.

You have to be prepared to be decisive with that genius system administrator who’s always offhand with customers, that well-liked developer who’s code quality sucks and that long-serving team lead who says one thing then does another. It’s tough, but if you want your team to perform at least twice as well as they do now, you have to do it.

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