Write your help desk's mission statement to raise team awareness

One sure-fire way to improve help desk morale and raise awareness of your technical support team is to write a help desk mission statement. Get some tips on what to include and find some samples of other mission statements.

Why does your help desk exist? If the first four words out of your mouth aren't "Our mission statement is…" it's time for you to get out a pad of paper and a pencil and start scribbling. If you've been putting off writing a mission statement for your technical support team, follow these tips to jump-start the process.

Never be shy about your mission
Here's the best thing about a good mission statement: It justifies your existence. It says to the world, "The paychecks of the people in the help desk are well earned because the people who work there are providing a most valuable service to the company and to its customers, resulting in happier customers and higher profitability for the company."

That's the way I see help desks anyway. Some companies see them as a necessary evil, a cost coming off the bottom line, a department they'd eliminate or outsource if they could—but that's another rant.

Start with the company mission statement
Does your company have a formal charter or mission statement, either etched in bronze on a plaque in the foyer of company headquarters, or emblazoned on the company's home page, or both?

If so, that's the place to begin when you're writing a mission statement for a team. Borrow liberally from the form and language of the company document. It doesn't hurt anything if the two documents look and sound alike.

You'll want to make sure your goals are aligned with and support the goals in the company mission statement. Of course, if your company has a template for internal documents, use that template for your mission statement.

Tell it like it is
Some of the best mission statements boil a high-level goal down to one sentence, and that sentence doesn't have to be elaborate. Start with something as simple as "Team A's mission is to provide the best possible around-the-clock technical support services for Company A's employees and customers located around the world." Replace "Company A" with your company's name and "Team A" with the name of your team, department, or division.

Then garnish that high-level mission statement with some specific goals that answer these questions:
  • What are the benchmarks on which your team's success will be measured?
  • What things must your team do to complete or achieve its mission?

Get as granular as you like when you write your list, but don't write a novel.

To give you an idea how other help desk managers are crafting their mission statements, check out these excerpts from a few mission statements I found on the Web. Click through to the original sites to see the full text of the mission statement in context.

The usual promises
The first example comes from the help desk of the University of Wisconsin-Fox Valley: "Help Desk Mission Statement: The Help Desk is to provide all users (students, faculty, and staff) with a single, helpful, first point of contact with the Instructional Technology department. The Help Desk covers a wide variety of activities including:
  • To provide a helpful and friendly first point of contact for the Instructional Technology Department.
  • To provide basic support for computing, audio/visual, and distance education services.
  • To provide the necessary online forms to request equipment, repairs, and network account changes.
  • To provide online FAQ's, manuals, and tutorials to empower users to self-troubleshoot.
  • To provide equipment delivery and repair services.
  • To provide media duplication services."

I think this one is interesting because it states right there in the mission statement for everyone to see that there's a requirement that the help desk team will "provide online FAQ's, manuals, and tutorials." That means there's more to working in that department than just sitting around waiting for the phone to ring. (For more on that topic, check out my column on managing time between callers.)

Establish a scope of services
Here's one I like because it contains the phrase "supported software." Rogue users will still try to install their own software, but at least it's in writing that you're not supposed to do it.

From the help desk of Idaho State University (emphasis added): "Technical Support Mission: Provide prompt and professional problem resolution with services provided by Computing and Communications. Technical Support's Purpose: Serve as the primary point of contact for ISU students, faculty, and staff seeking problem resolution with supported software, hardware, and operating systems, including general IT services provided by the Computer Center."

Pronounce yourself a profit center
This final sample mission statement comes from the call center of a company named 1Call, a division of Amtelco, which is "dedicated to serving the unique call center and communication needs of Healthcare and Higher Education facilities. 1Call has been, and will continue to be, the leader in developing, implementing, and maintaining features and technology designed to streamline communications and contain costs."

In this context, "streamline communications and contain costs" refers to what Amtelco's products and services can do for their customers. I quote it here because I think every help desk or call center ought to be treated as a profit center for companies and institutions of any size. When you write your mission statement, find a way to address the return on investment the company realizes from help desk services.

Get the word out
If your company's management already requires business unit teams, including the help desk, to write and maintain charters or mission statements, you've probably promised in meeting minutes somewhere to review your mission statement on an annual basis. If you haven't done so in a while, convene the committee assigned to reviewing it, and make sure it's up to date.

If you're the first manager on your corporate block to write a team charter, do it today. Set the pace. Then publish that mission statement on the intranet and make a big deal of introducing it in your team meeting.

That mission statement and the attendant list of specific goals will come in handy when it's time to evaluate the performance of help desk managers and analysts. Everybody gets put to the same test: What have you been doing to help the team accomplish the mission that's plastered on the walls all over the data center?

What's your mission statement?
Other than "keeping the network up and running and users out of trouble," does your technical support team have a written mission statement? To share your experience, post a comment or write to Jeff.