In the past few months I had several opportunities to discuss the transition start-ups make when hiring their first support leader. Typically, they are in a situation where they have 2-3 engineers providing support to existing customers, partners and field teams. Those engineers will most likely report into the engineering team and as their workload grows the need for managing support as a separate section of the organization becomes clear. At this point in time support is not large enough to justify hiring a full time, experienced executive. The company therefore decides to compromise and looks for a Support Director with the following qualifications (slightly modified to protect the innocent):
- Strategic vision and the experience to implement it
- Ability and knowledge to scale the organization, including hiring, and preferably globally
- Technical knowledge and willingness to take customer cases until the organization is large enough to occupy the person full-time
I am fairly certain there are a few individuals that are able and willing to fulfill all requirements, but I have yet to meet even one of them. Eventually, it seems, companies will hire an engineer with some management experience to the position of director and be content for a period of time. At a certain point the demands of the role (grow and scale the organization, establish relationship with remote partners and sales teams) will extend beyond the person’s ability and impact the business. At this stage the company is forced to hire an executive to manage the support organization, while having to address two distinct challenges. First, this hire is done reactively and usually in crisis mode, and second, the need to address the dissatisfaction of existing management who feels pushed away from the action.
In order to address these challenges, companies must recognize the two stage approach to hiring. First, hire a manager / team leader using job specs similar to those posted above. Do not attempt to hire someone you believe will be able to develop from a case taking team-lead to an executive with global, strategic vision and the ability to implement it. You will fail and the price of recovery will be steep in business and personal terms. Instead, recognize the need for several levels of skill as you plan the organization, hire and communicate accordingly.