Make sure you will hire the right support team’s manager who is the best fit for your company, but also aligns with what your customers and company actually need.
There will come a time in every support organization’s life where they must move away from a team of autonomous individual contributors and create a more structured approach to their work.
During this time, some teams may choose to promote from within, whereas many others will choose to hire from outside of the company, and bring in a person with experience in leading a team at such an opportune and delicate time.
Are you there? If not, you likely soon will be. Hiring a support team’s manager to come in and lead an already existing and established team can be one of the hardest things you’ll ever do, especially with a team as emotionally responsive as one that handles primary support duties.
This post will give you a few questions to consider before getting started, and then some strategies that you can take to make sure you are hiring someone who is the best fit for your customer support team, but also aligns with what your customers and company actually need.
First, a few questions to consider:
- Are you hiring (or hoping to hire) for an executive-level person, support team’s manager? If you are hiring for an executive-level person or a manager, it will be in your best interest to hire from outside the company. You are looking just for a team-lead, promoting from within will be your best bet—you won’t be gaining much additional knowledge or experience hiring from outside of the company.
- What is the current size of your support organization? If it is big enough, you actually might need more than one manager.
- What’s the maturity of your support organization (ie, how long has it been around?) The longer it has been around, the more processes you have in place, the more difficult hiring and onboarding is going to be. It’s better to get this process started sooner rather than later.
- Are you remote or in-office or mixed? And, subsequently, will you want the manager to be remote or in-office? I would lean towards whatever the majority of your office is.
- Do you currently do any support networking? If not, you should! Get into communities like Support Driven or Elevate, and go to local support meetups. It’s the best way to meet awesome people, and to learn more about what your company does and doesn’t need.
Once you’ve answered those questions and you have a bit more insight into what, when and who you are looking for, here are some of the next steps to get the ball rolling:
Talk to your customer support team
Ask your employees what they think are the most important traits for the support team’s manager to have, and what they think they need to be successful. It might sound counterintuitive, and certainly you do not want all of your hiring strategies to be directed by your first-level employees, but getting an understanding from the inside can lead to an incredible impact once you actually hire someone.
Think about it: no one knows better what the team needs than the team itself, especially if they have been running in a self-directed way since the founding of your company. They know the intricacies and the ins-and-outs of support better than anyone else does.
Along with asking them what they need to be better employees, ask them what the company needs to do better at support. Do you need to implement better tooling? Is your knowledge base totally out of whack? If so, hiring someone with experience doing those things will be incredibly important and beneficial for you moving forward.
Lastly, after you’ve written up your job description and included the insights your support team has provided you with, give each of your team members the opportunity to interview with every potential candidate, even if just on a panel.
It is important that each of the members of your team feel comfortable with the person that you are hiring to lead them, or at least are able to feel like they are involved in the process. This is especially important for an autonomous group of individual contributors in support—the feelingest of feelers.
Accommodating their need to be involved early in the process will save you a lifetime of headache upon hiring someone that doesn’t fit their needs or expectations.
I would also ask your current employees if they have anyone that they would like to work with again or that they think would be a good fit. An endorsement from someone already on the team is as good as gold.
Consider cultural impact
Someone joining the company at a managerial level has a great deal of power when it comes to impacting your culture and the way your company does support.
Before you write a job description or do any interviewing, make sure that you have a solid definition of the traits that you definitely need, culturally; the traits that you wouldn’t like but could tolerate; and the traits that absolutely do not fit with what you are looking for.
Be clear about these in your job description and, prior to interviewing, make sure that everyone on the interview team has clarity about the ways these traits can present themselves during the process.
A good way to do this is preparing specific interview questions to help “uncover” some of these traits, or giving specific interview kits to each interview group that allow you to designate certain individuals as responsible for figuring it out. Be fun with these questions, though, and creative—the more outside of the box, the better.
For example, I love to ask people how they would go about putting together a box of legos instead of asking “tell me about a time where you were given a project to complete, but very little direction.”
If you are not aligned on cultural fit for this managerial hire, it will impact your customer support team deeply, and eventually will start to make a negative impact on your company as a whole. Obviously, though, this doesn’t mean that they need to fit a cookie cutter image, but find a support team’s manager who complements the existing personalities or moves forward your goals as a team.
Nothing is more awkward than coming aboard and trying to take over something that “seems” like it should be a manager’s job when actually it’s owned by someone else on the customer support team.
Before the manager comes on board, get a clear understanding of what roles and responsibilities will be going to them, and which will remain under the ownership of someone else on the team. This is important for a few different reasons:
First, it lets your team know that you value their contributions. Also nothing is going to be disrupted or shifted by this new manager coming on board. It also gives you the opportunity to open dialogue with them about things that they don’t necessarily enjoy doing anymore, or things that they perceive as “necessary evils.”
It is a manager’s job to support your employees moving forward with responsibilities that make them feel good, and this is just one step towards that.
Second, it takes out the unnecessary ambiguity of your new manager looking around at their new team members and saying “oh, this seems like it’s something that you don’t really love doing. Should I take it over?” The likelihood of that going well for either the manager or the team member is slim-to-none.
Save everyone a little bit of time and strife and define the expectations of the manager and the expectations of the team before getting the ball rolling.
Post in a well-known community
There are tons of amazing support professionals in the world, and most of them are active in established communities like Support Driven or Elevate. Post your job in those communities and you are guaranteed to get at least a few applications from people who have made support a way of life.
You can even reach out to specific individuals, if they’ve said something that resonated with you or that you found well-informed.
Support communities are great places for people to learn from others. Also to speak about the niche knowledge associated with support as an industry.
Most of the people in there, even at a starting level, will be a cut above the rest of the applicants that you will receive at sites like AngelList, or even from your own personal marketing site. Similarly, if you’re already active in the community, people will already be familiar with your brand and what you’re looking for in an employee.
Hiring a new support manager, especially when you’ve never had one for your team, can definitely be stressful but doesn’t have to be rocket science.
Talk to your team, get their perspective on what you want and need. Make sure it aligns with your company culture, and where you want to go with your product.
Then, once you have an excellent job description, post it in the places where you are going to get the best applicants: support-centered communities. Once you’ve done all that, you’ll be sure to have an excellent leader that jives well with your team, and will help lead the charge in support for your company moving forward.