The FT Word – December 2005

By Technical Support

The FT Word

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Welcome

Welcome to the December 2005 issue of the FT Word. Spread the word: forward it to your colleagues.

Topics for this month:

· surviving mergers and acquisitions

· interesting support organizations

· the knowledge management book has a title!

Surviving Mergers, Acquisitions, and other Bumps in the Road

Thanks to Paul Lake for suggesting this topic.

If you haven’t yet gone through a merger or an acquisition, my prediction is that you will soon… Here are some suggestions for surviving the storm, whether you are on the side of the acquired company or not. Experience shows that the ride is not necessarily more comfortable on the acquiring side: the changes affect both organizations and it could be that the support executive from the acquired organization ends up taking the lead for support. So the general message is to expect lots of changes, strong emotions, and some amount of chaos, but to keep your head on so you can maneuver to a positive outcome for you and for your team.

1. Grieve… and move forward

Mergers are traumatic and you should give yourself time to grieve for what’s lost. Grief specialists use the Kubler-Ross five stages of grief to describe the process: denial (that can’t be happening); anger (I cannot believe this is happening), bargaining (if we could go back to the old days I would be a perfect corporate employee), depression (there’s no use) and finally acceptance (I need to find a practical solution). What you want is to move steadily to acceptance so you can work in the new reality, but do expect to feel sad and regretful for some time.

2. Get to know the other side

The people who survive and who thrive post mergers are the ones who are known to the decision makers, not necessarily the best performers. Find out who is making decisions, introduce yourself, and offer to provide information. Face-to-face meetings are very important in the early stages. Be yourself, but be your charming and outgoing self.

3. Participate in planning exercises

It’s rare that all decisions are made behind closed doors. Often, elaborate planning exercises are held to define the new strategy and most often the planning is open to representatives of both organizations. It’s an opportunity to get visibility (see #2) and also to exert some influence on the future.

Volunteer for planning exercises despite the extra work required. During the planning sessions, try to clear your mind of “the way we’ve always done things”. You are under the microscope: anyone who is seen as hanging on to the past may be classified as undesirable.

4. Embrace the big-bang unifying option

My experience is that trying to make incremental progress towards one single support organization is a mistake. It’s better to bite the bullet and move to a single set of offerings to customers, one customer database, consistent internal processes, one staffing structure, and one set of tools and metrics very quickly. Naturally it’s best to pick the better practice from either side on each point, but even if the *worse* practice is chosen it’s still a good idea to move to a unified way of doing things within the first 3-6 months after the merger. Don’t drag it out.

5. Help your staff

If you’re worried, just think of how your staff feels, one level removed from decision-making! I’ve found that mergers are a great time to create tight bonds within the team, if you do it right. Hold frequent communication meetings, even if there is little to report. Staffers will quickly conclude that doomsday is coming if all they see is closed doors. Be as open as you can: naturally you cannot broadcast confidential information but say as much as you can. Instigate a “Rumor Central” mechanism to respond quickly to any and all rumors. Reality is always better than gossip.

Lavish TLC on your high performers. High performers can easily find other jobs and you don’t want to lose them to some unwarranted paranoia. So unless you have specific information that points to their not being included in the future organization give them plenty of reassurance.

6. Don’t forget your customers

Weak morale and the extra planning work make it hard to deliver great support to customers. That’s your job, though. Also, customers will have concerns about whether their products might be discontinued so work with the Marketing organization to create appropriate messaging rather than letting the front-line staff wing it.

7. Assess your chances

The vast majority of support staffers keep their jobs in a merger. The most exposed positions are at the top: no organization needs 2 support VPs, for instance (but I’ve seen several situations in which the VP of the *acquired* company got the combined job). Staff positions such as planning manager are also vulnerable. And anyone with a bad performance record or simply a bad relationship with his/her manager is in jeopardy. But again, most everyone else, especially level 1 and level 2 technical staff, is pretty safe.

And you could get much more than a job, you could find wonderful new opportunities for yourself. I have been promoted and been given increased responsibilities as the result of mergers and I know many other people with similar experiences. Mergers bring the kind of large-scale changes that are just not possible in a steady-state situation, which means unique chances for some. Do not automatically think of mergers as the kiss of death.

8. Prepare your resume

You may get a wonderful new opportunity and you may love life post-merger, but you may also get a pink slip. So without delay and even if you think you are perfectly safe, dust off your resume and contact all those ex-colleagues you meant to keep in touch with. It’s much easier to network and to find jobs when you are still employed. Keep in touch with departing colleagues from your and other departments, as they may land somewhere interesting.

9. Take care of yourself

Mergers are draining physically because of the extra workload, and psychologically. Take it easy outside work and be disciplined with sleeping, eating, and exercising. Expect the great new world to be exhausting for some months to come.

If you are in a merger process right now, hang in there! Even the positive thinkers amongst us remember very black moments post mergers, filled with politics, uncertainties, and back-stabbing. If you can muster the energy to adopt a can-do, flexible attitude when you’re at work, you will do well when the dust settles: your team will be fiercely loyal, you will have developed a network in the new organization, you will understand (if not agree with) the new direction for the organization… and you will know that you can survive the next merger (not too soon we hope!)

Interesting Support Organizations

Thanks to John Rogers for suggesting this topic.

There are many support associations out there: which one should you join? What conferences should you attend? Here’s a selected list of associations and resources, annotated with their specialties. In many cases, it makes sense to participate in more than one since they cover different aspects. I will list them in alphabetical order.

AFSMI

http://www.afsmi.org/
The Association for Services Management International targets service and support professionals in a variety of industry. It publishes a bi-monthly magazine to its members, Sbusiness and organizes both regional and national conferences. It’s a good resource for hardware support and field service organizations (ASP and SSPA are much more oriented towards software.)

ASP

http://www.asponline.com/
The Association of Support Professionals targets customer support organizations. It’s particularly strong for shrink-wrapped software. It publishes frequent reports that are well documented and very practical in their approach as well as a members-only newsletter. I like their down-to-earth, practical suggestions, often drawn from the members themselves. Many ring true even for enterprise software support.

Call Center Magazine

http://www.callcentermagazine.com/
This is a trade magazine, not an association, but could be useful to some of you. As one can tell from the name, it’s very oriented towards call-based, low-complexity support so expect to find coverage for phone systems, staff monitoring tips, and the like. The articles can read like thinly-disguised series of commercials, but multiple vendors are mentioned so it’s not too painful. It’s perfect for low-complexity support and customer service organizations.

HDI

http://www.helpdeskinst.com/
The Help Desk Institute targets IT help desks, although many members are vendors with external customers. It’s a very large organization with many offerings, including a publishing business (they will publish my upcoming “Transforming Support with Knowledge” book.) It offers, training, certification for support staff, a bi-monthly magazine for members, and an annual conference. A good resource if you manage an internal help desk.

SSPA

http://www.thesspa.com/
The Service and Support Professionals Association targets tech support in technology companies, especially those that target enterprises. It’s particularly strong for software companies. It offers a free newsletter (no membership necessary), targeted reports, a newly-launched certification program in coordination with J.D. Power, and holds two meetings yearly. The best bet if you support high-end software.

FT Works in the News

The knowledge management book has an official title: Collective Wisdom: Transforming Support through Knowledge, which we feel expresses the power of knowledge management as not only sharing information, but helping individuals and organizations make better decisions. Thanks to all of you who sent in over 100 suggestions. Wow, what a group!

The book is targeted for release at the end of January. If you’d like to reserve your very own copy go here.

SSPA News published an article I wrote entitled Knowledge Management Models. You can read it at http://www.thesspa.com/sspanews/November05/article2.asp The article is an excerpt from the book.

Curious about something? Send me your suggestions for topics and your name will appear in future newsletters. I’m thinking of doing a compilation of “tips and tricks about support metrics” in the coming months so if you have favorites, horror stories, or questions about metrics, please don’t be shy.

Regards,
Françoise Tourniaire
FT Works
www.ftworks.com
650 559 9826

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