IT and Business Insights for SMB Solution Providers

A Lesson in When to Get Out of the Way

Being fired from the help desk led to self-enlightenment for the owner of Matrix Computer Consulting and a new focus on process, product development, and strategic client relationships.

By Andrew Harrover

My operations manager fired me from the help desk, and it was both the biggest lesson I’ve learned and the best thing to happen to my business. It was, as Eagles drummer and co-leader Don Henley put it about the breakup of the band, “a horrible relief.”

As an entrepreneur, you pour everything into building your company and developing relationships with clients. They are your bread and butter. You feel you can’t trust anybody else to handle them. It’s not true, and it’s an impediment to growing your business.

You see, whenever something came into the help desk that I knew was touchy or needed handholding, I was immediately in the mix. If a technician was already working on a problem I’d tell the tech to drop that and work on what I thought was the more pressing problem. That person would always say “OK” because, after all, I was the boss. I wanted the client to be happy—right now. Ten minutes later I’d see an email from a different client and I’d demand my staff turn their attention to that problem. Rinse and repeat.

You could best describe our operations as chaotic. It didn’t matter what the service manager had scheduled. Everyone waited for me to dictate what was going to happen. When you’re building a business every ticket is like a little drop of blood that could lead to your demise. Or so I thought.

Things changed when we brought on a new operations manager. She took some time to get comfortable with our organization before she came to me and simply said: “I’m firing you from the help desk.” She pointed out that my involvement was disruptive. She said we needed some order to our processes and scheduling; we needed regimen in our service organization and less chasing of the last email.

I could see her logic and, reluctantly, I agreed, with one big caveat: I told her the first sign of things not getting done would put her job at risk. It was risk she was willing to take, she said, because if I did not remove myself from operations she would be leaving.

Predictability and a Strategic Focus
Today, with procedures in place—and me out of the way—we have a smoother, more predictable response to client problems, and a much higher percentage of scheduled tickets and issue resolution. I always wanted everything, both high and low priority, to be fixed right away. Now, if someone calls and says they can’t print, for example, we have a methodology. We ask: Is it just you? If yes, can you print to the copier? If yes, that issue can be scheduled. It doesn’t need to be resolved immediately. The client just wants to know it will be fixed, and when.

With this predictability, both our clients and our staff are happier. I still review tickets from the previous day, but the fact that I’m no longer involved in day-to-day operations has made my business better and stronger. I now have larger, dedicated blocks of time to work on sales, process improvement, or product development—things you just don’t get done when you’re running around with your hair on fire because someone can’t print. And we’ve done a lot of automating, enabling the staff to focus on the most important problems.

This has also changed our fundamental relationship with clients. I have time to talk with them about how to make their businesses better. For example, we automated one client, a law firm, which freed up 140 billable hours a month. The office bills at $400 an hour, so that’s real money.

Removing yourself from operations, however, does require transition on two levels. First, as the owner, you have to transition from seeing your clients every day and be disciplined enough to let others do their jobs. Second, clients have to get used to not seeing you every time they stub their toe and get comfortable with your team. This can take time, but make a plan and stick to it.

It’s also important factor to have trust in your operations manager, and vice versa, and keep very open lines of communication. The person has to be empowered to deal with issues, and he or she also can’t be afraid to tell you bad news.

Finally, being fired from the help desk can lead to self-enlightenment. I learned that I am good at 30,000-feet strategic thinking, evaluating new opportunities, and developing new solutions, but horrible at the day-to-day blocking and tackling. As a result, the company has grown much faster over the last three years, and more important, it’s now a model that can scale.

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