Turning around a service desk -- it starts with the staff

But you'll need to be the leader who can harness their enthusiasm and build relationships with other departments

Dear Bob ...

Congratulate me -- or offer me your condolences. I've just been promoted to service desk manager to fix a situation that's seriously broken.

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It's your fault, too. We have a new CIO who's a big fan of yours. The company brought her in to "fix IT" (an open secret), which the rest of the company pretty much sneers at and does their best to bypass whenever possible.

She told me one of your pieces of advice is that the service desk is where the IT/business relationship lives and dies. My job is to "reanimate dead tissue" (to quote "Young Frankenstein"): to take a service desk everyone in the company calls the "helpless desk" and make it the top-of-mind destination for everyone in the company whenever anything goes wrong.

Since you're the one who got me into this mess, I figure you owe me some advice on how to clean it up.

Now what do I do, oh great guru of my new boss?

- Floundering

Dear Floundering ...

This is easy! Just buy the ITIL manual that covers the service desk, adopt its recommended practices, and everything will be glorious.

Actually, it won't. Though there's nothing wrong with ITIL's account of how a service desk should run, it's -- to borrow a line -- insufficiently right.

What ITIL will do for you is outline processes to follow for incident management (something happens) and problem management (the same something happens over and over again). The problem you'll face if you were to start with ITIL -- or any process-driven approach to the challenge -- is that adding a layer of process on top of an already broken relationship will give you an instant reputation for being a bureaucrat. In other words, it will make a bad situation worse.

Instead, start with the people. Talk with everyone on your team who interacts with business users on a regular basis, whether it's on the phone, face to face, through remote-control sessions, or what have you. These should be casual conversations, not interviews or formal one-on-one discussions. What you're trying to find out is who among them does and doesn't enjoy technology, just because it's very, very cool.

You're looking for contagious enthusiasm about PCs, smartphones, tablets, and the software that runs on them. You're looking for people who enjoy online gaming in their spare time and who think Steve Ballmer is a fool for not shipping Kinect with Windows 7 drivers so that they can go all "Minority Report" with their computers.

In particular, you're looking for technology evangelists -- people who love working with computers so much that they want to share how they experience technology with everyone around them. Staff your service desk with people like this, while finding other assignments that report to other managers for everyone else.

Then coach them about the need to listen well and to empathize with people who are less enthusiastic and more fearful of technology. You need to make sure their excitement and evangelism doesn't sour into "white-out on the screen" jokes. Rather, you want their energy to drive a desire to give everyone in the company a great experience whenever they interact with technology.

That's where you start. Once you're able to send out people with the right attitude and who not only take care of reported incidents but put in the extra effort to help everyone they work with develop a bag of useful tricks, then you'll have started to build a positive relationship with the rest of the business.

What else? Meet with the team once a week to ask about the most interesting incidents they've dealt with. This will increase esprit de corps and help you spot anyone whose attitude is headed in the wrong direction.

Ask what they need to be more effective and successful.

Smile a lot, and look relaxed and confident, no matter what you're really feeling. A relaxed, confident smile is contagious, as is looking stressed.

Start a mentor program to build a strong relationship with and support the company's power users. Ideally they'll want to be the first ones asked when there's a problem and see this role as a career-building opportunity. Find two volunteers from your team to work with the mentors. This isn't your job; your job is to make sure it happens.

Your job is also to spend a lot of time talking informally with managers throughout the company, asking them what else they need the service desk to do so that it's as effective for them as possible. In fact, everything is informal. Informal is how you build relationships, which is what you need to do.

Once you've done that, you can start to think about a better incident management process. It's a good goal, so long as it doesn't get in the way of the relationships that matter more.

- Bob

This story, "Turning around a service desk -- it starts with the staff," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Bob Lewis's Advice Line blog on InfoWorld.com.