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Management Shared Their Goal And We Knew We Were Doomed

January 8, 2015

We don’t see support as a income generator. Our goal for Microsoft Support Services is cost recovery. We’d like to have it be revenue neutral.

That’s a reasonable goal wouldn’t you think?

It struck fear into our hearts. We all groaned. (Softly, so management wouldn’t hear, of course.) It was 1995 and I was supporting Microsoft Mail Gateways. I’d been with the company about a year.

Microsoft was trying to be open with employees about how the departments were run. Even as support engineers we had access to the financials of the Support department. A support call cost a customer $75. Some customers thought that Microsoft was intentionally putting bugs into the software so they would have to call support and Microsoft would make money on the deal. What we knew, and they didn’t was that it cost Microsoft on average about $110 per call. So, every time the phone range we lost $35.

And that’s where we ran into our problem. A problem that was a direct result of the company sharing too much information.

We looked at the budget and it’s various categories.

1. Salaries
2. Equipment
3. Lease
4. Employee Morale

They told us they wanted to balance the budget. We looked over the expenses category and arrived at only a single area to cut.

There goes the morale budget!

Having more experience in running companies and teams, I now understand our mistake, but at the time it seemed pretty clear.

What do you do? Do you overshare and have to correct these types of misconceptions, or do you undershare and get accused of hiding bad news? Sometimes there is no right answer.

Management had no idea that stating their goal would cause concern in the support teams. When they figured it out they quickly sent a follow up email to all the support engineers.

They explained that the goal of cost recovery was a long term goal and it would be achieved over time by improving the product, better documentation and gradually raising the price per call.

No, they did not plan to balance the books by cutting the morale budget.

The message from that experience that I’ve carried with me over the years is that you need to communicate early and often. And when you think you’ve made yourself clear, go over it again.

Unless you really plan to cut the morale budget.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild.

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