This week, I caught up with support guru, Greg Skirving!
Greg is based in Canada, and is currently a Senior Manager of Strategic Support at Broadcom’s Symantec Enterprise Division. He’s been there about nine years, and in leadership for 24 altogether.
Hey Greg! Thanks so much for spending time with me, and telling your CS Leadership story! Where did it all begin?
I had graduated from college with a business diploma halfway through the year and had planned on going back in the fall. To fill the gap I worked at a technology company that enabled newspapers and phone directories to sell talking ads and information services. Although I had no formal technical training, I was curious and kept hanging around the computer room. One day I found myself on a plane to Philadelphia to do an installation and I was hooked. I ended up there for 6 years doing support, fieldwork, training, demos, shipping/receiving, systems staging and just about anything else.
How did you move from there to leadership?
As the company grew we had to provide audio content around the clock. The owner of the company came to me and said he liked my organizational and process skills but most importantly my ability to understand and get the most out of people. He offered me the opportunity to build and manage a team of 25 people in a 7X24X365 operation.
Tell me about the first challenges you faced. What did you find particularly tough in the first few months?
The biggest challenge I had was devising a system that would meet the needs of the business but was equitable for the employees. I had to consider shift coverage, team leads for times I was not in the office and employee retention. During this time I learned the importance of understanding people, knowing who was a risk to call in sick and conversely knowing who I could count on to cover. Like all challenges it helped shape me into the leader I am today.
This far down the line, do you have a picture of what skills make a good CS leader?
A good CS leader excels at achieving mutual “perspective”, that is being able to look through the eyes of their people, see what they see, understand their decision making process and what is important to them.
They are further successful by “understanding that their people understand” their perspective as well and not just communicating orders or messages that can be and frequently are taken out of context.
A good CS leader seeks to truly know each and every individual on their team to make a connection and provide an environment of trust. It’s only in this environment can a leader truly support and challenge their people to be as successful as they can be.
When it comes to helping your team achieve success, how do you ensure it?
Really by instilling in them they get to run their very own individual “Support Franchise“. As with any franchise, there are some basic guidelines and of course support from corporate, but the corporation doesn’t say who to bank with, what utilities to use, who to hire etc.
In terms of the support franchise, people have the freedom and flexibility to utilize methods that work for them as individuals. They are encouraged to try new techniques they come up with or learned from their peers or myself that can make them successful. I like to focus the team on making good decisions (as opposed to blindly following processes) and I support their creativity.
Every month we celebrate success in a Business Review. Instead of a monthly 1 on 1 where the manager leads a session that revolves around areas of improvement, I have my employees lead the conversation and deliver a “formal” presentation. The usual topics are discussed, challenges to being successful, areas of improvement, development and career planning but most importantly their accomplishments and highlights from the previous month. Another byproduct of this process is it makes the year-end self-evaluation a snap 🙂
And how do you measure it? Are you a fan of traditional metrics?
Overall metrics are necessary because you can’t manage what you don’t know, however numbers are the questions, not the answers. For instance, we are quick to say “Sally is at the top of list, so naturally, she is doing a good job, and Johnny is at the bottom so he is not performing well”. Johnny may be new or have just transitioned to supporting a new product, but if you don’t ask the assumption is he’s commensurate in talent and tenure and therefore must be underperforming.
Conversely, why is Sally at that top? What does she do that makes her effective? Is there something we can learn and share with others? Further, is this even Sally’s relative potential, can she be even more effective?
In terms of relative potential, I never set expectations on metrics, cases closed for instance. If you say 3 a day you may have people who are able to do 5 or 6 but just do 4 as it exceeds the stated target. Even worse you may have people who work their tails off and only ever reach 2.5 and they feel they have failed, which is not the case (as the 3 cases a day means some people will be higher and some lower).
Finally, you can always find some or many areas of people’s performance where the numbers are great and this is a wonderful opportunity to reinforce this success.
What about your own personal development?
Understand perspectives, delve deeply into peoples’ decisions and actions, constantly look at how I can improve my dealings with people to make them successful.
That was my biggest revelation, moving into leadership: coming to the realization (and fully embracing) that as a manager you don’t have “control” over people but your success is based upon what they do.
What else have you learned in leadership? What’s been particularly hard?
Letting someone go who you hired (due to performance), and realizing that in fact, you ARE doing the right thing and not considering yourself as having failed because you hired them and/or you couldn’t get the most out of them.
Those situations are always pretty tough to deal with!
In support we also have to deal with tricky customer situations. What’s been your worst experience there?
A customer once demanded we ship them a new unit, stating their existing one had hardware defects (the diagnostics indicated software). I politely said that we would ship hardware if the proposed software resolution didn’t work. The customer became increasingly angry and terse asking “are you saying you will not RMA this unit?”. I continued to not say “no” for about 15 minutes and finally after seemingly the 20th time asking I did answer “no” to his question. He immediately hung up on me, went to his VP and out of context said that I had flatly denied his request…. and within 5 minutes I was on the phone with that VP… the moral of the story… no matter how long it takes.. never say “no”.. 🙂
There’s usually a correspondingly good story, luckily! Do you have a favourite?
Yeah! We had a customer who had a reputation for not being understanding or cooperative. They had dealt with 4 other support leaders (including VPs) who had given up, however, I was able to turn them around them with a mixture of empathy, compassion, listening and directness. No one could believe I had tamed this customer and I received a spot bonus from my VP.
That’s so awesome! I love those days when you get to turn a customer experience completely around! What are you most proud of/what is your greatest accomplishment or contribution?
In my current role, I have helped 23 people advance their careers, leaving support but moving to new roles within the company. The employee wins, I win as their peers see I’m truly invested in them and the company wins as we retain the talent.
And my most revealing question for last – what’s your favourite way of signing off an email?
If I write a longer email with a request for thoughts or actions, I like to put a peculiar word at the end, like “Rapunzel”…. so when I have a follow up conversation with that person I say “Rapunzel” .. if they ask “what do you mean” I know they haven’t read my email.. 🙂 … other than that I simply put:
Ohhh that’s mean! I’m going to be looking out for that in your next email! Thanks so much for sharing your story, Greg!
Keep a lookout for another awesome leadership story here next week!