Creating a Career Path for Your Technical Team

With the unemployment rate for the technology sector hovering around 2 percent, finding and retaining top talent needs to be a priority for any MSP business. While there are many factors that contribute to a successful MSP business, I have found that developing a clear career path for employees is one of the core foundations for success.

When owning and or running a small business, you start out with a specific vision for the company, which often incorporates your personal career path. It’s extremely easy to get caught up in this vision because you see the future of the company and how you fit into it. But can you say the same about your employees?

Before going into best practices, I’d like to share an experience I had early on in my career that helped me understand the importance of seeing things from your employees’ perspective. I was doing an annual review for one of my best help desk analysts and was talking with him about potentially becoming the supervisor for the level 1 team. But he expressed that he really had no interest in the position. I couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t want the position – it would mean more responsibility, a new title, more pay, etc., all things that I would have wanted. However, what he wanted most was to be able to spend his days helping people with their technology problems. He had no interest in management because he was doing what he loved, had little stress and was making enough money to pay the bills and save for retirement. Until that point in my career, I believed everyone in IT was like me; I had a thirst for knowledge, advancement, responsibility, and well, more money.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, I once had an employee that was ambitious and passionate about everything in our industry. He was my best engineer but had a mind for business. We had a need for an additional sales person at the time and he was up for the challenge. He knew his stuff, was great in front of customers and could craft a solution with the best of them. As it turned out, though, he was a horrible sales person. This example is a case of what is often referred to as the “Peter Principle.” This is the theory that employees are promoted based on their performance in their current role rather than their abilities relevant to the new role. This results in employees being promoted to a level of incompetence because the new role does not fit their skillset.

The bottom line is this: everyone is different. In my experience, I’ve found there to be four common personas that I see repeatedly in our space, and it’s crucial to keep these in mind when laying out a career path for your business.

The Four Tech Personas

1. The Helper

These people enjoy using their technical know-how to help others. While they love technology, they get the most satisfaction out of interacting with other people. The helper tends to not be as focused on technical advancement as the other personas. Similarly, while they love interacting with and helping others, they may not be the best suited for higher-management positions.

2. The Builder

A large majority of the IT workforce fits into this persona. They love all aspects of implementing new IT systems; from the design, to the implementation and migrations. Builders have a thirst for knowledge and are continually looking for the next great solution to construct. Keeping this persona satisfied means keeping them challenged and offering them plenty of training opportunities.

3. The Fixer

Similar to “the helper,” the fixer loves solving problems but typically with less interaction with other people. I’ve had many senior engineers over the years that fit into this exact persona. Often times they’ll start their careers as a builder, and as technology advances and their home lives grow, they focus less of their time on learning new technology and hone in on their troubleshooting skills.

4. The Business Mind

Though these employees love technology, they may not necessarily be technical gurus. What they really love is how technology affects businesses. They are great candidates for management positions, sales, vCIO-level work or just about any position that is focused on growth rather than just the technology.

Fortunately for you, it’s likely that your company needs all of these types of people. However, the key is figuring out how to best build upon their skills while also keeping them happy and productive within your organization. To do so, there are a few areas that you should focus your efforts on.

Understand Who Your Employees Are

A key trait of a good sales person is understanding who you are talking to and adjusting the conversation to align with that person’s personality or what gets that person excited. This same rule holds true when it comes to being a good manager, though the “conversation” will last much longer. While regular interaction – both professional and personal – is a good way to build a strong relationship, it’s sometimes hard to get a sense of your employees because they might tend to hold back when interacting with you. I’ve found that personality profile assessments, such as the DISC profiles or the Kolbe Indexes, are invaluable in truly understanding who your employees are. Knowing and appreciating their core traits will help you guide them down a career path that they are most likely to succeed.

Understand What Your Company Needs from Its Employees

Simply reacting to current demand will likely lead you to promoting employees to positions that they may not be a good fit for. This could result in unhappy employees, loss of productivity or any number of other issues. To prevent this, you should have a clear 3- to 5-year plan and an understanding of what skills and job duties you will need to fill in the future. Create an organization chart that looks at all the roles you will need to achieve your vision. With this chart make sure you understand and define not only the type of skills required but the personality traits as well. Having this in place will help your employees translate your vision to their actual career path. As you work with your employees to understand who they are and what they want to do, you too will see where they fit in your organization as it grows.

Not sure how to organize your team for operational efficiency? Click here to download our new eBook: Scaling for Success!

Build a Culture That Makes Your Employees Want to Grow with You

For some companies, building a great culture comes naturally. For others, it requires a bit more work. Many companies make the mistake of believing that creating a great culture is all about the perks, ping-pong tables, company events & outings, flexible work hours, etc. While these efforts certainly add to making a great place to work, I have found that it is your underlying core values that are the most important foundation to a great company culture. I saw this first hand a few years ago while working with an MSP that was struggling to hire and keep great talent. The CEO had a clear vision, greatly valued his employees and put a lot of trust in them. Nonetheless, no one seemed to be happy working there. As we interviewed the employees we quickly realized that the manager in charge of service delivery did not share the core values of the CEO. This led to confusion, frustration and a lot of unhappy employees. After relieving the manager of his duties, we set out to build a list of core values. These values then went on to become the cornerstone of how the company operated. Employees were measured on these core values in all aspects of their jobs; from the hiring process, to their reviews and even ensuring that their peers were held accountable to them. Fast-forward to today and this company is not only hiring and retaining top talent, they are having a hard time keeping up with their incredible growth.

Related: Scaling for Success: The MSP Guide to Operational Efficiency, Continuum's new interactive eBook, examines the staffing and profitability dilemma that MSPs at all stages of maturity face. Inside it, you’ll discover how to reduce the costs of “noisy” technology and reactive service delivery, all while empowering your technicians to support more incoming business and continue delighting existing clients. Scaling for Success is ideal for any MSP looking to fuel operational efficiency in 2017. Download your copy here!

Lane Smith

Lane Smith is senior director of partner development at Continuum. Read more Continuum blogs here.