TLDR; Our L2 teams have been a nightmare to grow. They instantly believe they are worth so much more than what their contribution is to our profitably. Does there even need to be an L2?
How do you deal with L2 Prima Donnas? I am a service coordinator with a mid-sized MSP. A minimally technical role, but I have been here for about 10 years, so I know the MSP space pretty well now.
Our L1 team manages calls, triage, customer service, and basic technical issues. Password resets, MFA issues, printer issues, etc..
Our L2 team members manage escalations from L1, mostly if they are unable to resolve an issue within our SLA, or have issues related to Server OS, switching, firewalls, etc… L2 will investigate further, and assuming that L1 didn’t miss something obvious, deal with issues related to these items. L2 will escalate to L3 if they are unable to solve the issues. L2 will also assist with project work by deploying network gear for greenfield/upgrades based on standard company practices for gear we use everywhere.
Our L3 teams manage escalations from L2. L3 is responsible for designing the systems we we use for our clients. So, the networking, servers, storage, DR, etc… are all fairly standardized in terms of how we deliver. L3 defines and documents for L1 and L2 so that troubleshooting, and deployments are as similar as possible.
We encourage all team members, especially L2 to get familiar with more advanced IT concepts like Advanced 365 and AzureAWS, virtualization, server backup, and firewalls/networking. We begin to introduce them into these technologies by adding them to deployments and installs. Giving them some objectives and seeing where they get with them. Having them work with L3 to learn things safely and with backup. We encourage at least 2 to 4 hours a week of self-improvement on the tech of their choice towards certification. We pay for any courseware and training they want to help reach these goals.
As it should be, the L2 techs will start to do some more interesting L2 tasks. Like setup a firewall or setup an SMB Hyper-V host with a few VMs. Create a backup job, etc. All with help and guidance from L3 and documentation. A safe place to learn. We will get to the point where we can assign them into doing these deployments on their own. This all seems good, until they begin to perceive that because they can install a server or a new firewall from scratch (with help from L3 almost every single time) that they are practically L3 now. And damn it, they should be paid for it. (L2 is paid between 55k and 65k)
Seemingly For the last 8 or so years, every tech that is able to move from L1 to L2 or is brought on as L2, after about 4 months to 1 year of experience, believe they are L3s. And every year, they want to be told they are getting 5% raise because they bring so much to the table. We can’t keep these guys since they have a totally unrealistic sense of what they bring to the business.
I hear, “We are doing L3 work” and “we are vastly underpaid”. Our L2 team is like a secret society of back patting Muppets. They talk each other up constantly. They are condescending to our L1 team and do nothing to encourage or ever correct them with kindness. On average, our L2 techs have at least 5 years more IT experience than our L1. But they act like L1 is so stupid. All the while, the same things they are complaining about to L1, they are constantly doing to L3. But all L3 does is bend over backwards to help them get better at their craft and encourage them to try. Some of these guys have been in IT for 10 years, and they are just now getting to a place where they are allowed to learn new tech. And it gets to their head, really quick.
To add to it, they never get certs. Ever. We are a 365 CSP shop, and we have to have certifications to maintain our compliance with MS. The L1s went wild getting certed up. Everything we needed. So did L3.
L2? Not a one, in the entire team of 4 over the last year, not a 1 bothered to take a single course, or get a single cert, for a single thing. Not even the stuff they want to do. It is to the point where our L1 team will surpass L2 soon on many of the new technologies we are endorsing.
When they were L1, they seemed all about it (though in retrospect, they never did get certs then either). When getting to L2, it’s like they want to be in their own separate world, and they don’t need to be told what to do. It is maddening.
Our L3 team could manage most of the deployment work it with a little reengineering of delivery using L1 resources. We need an L2 for escalations from L1, and they do serve a great purpose in that gap space for us. Understanding that you need to check the logs, get more info, just have a bit more experience that L1 can’t have. We introduce the more advanced concepts as a courtesy, not a requirement, to help them learn. We always ask what think they would like to learn and focus on. We understand that techs want to learn the more interesting stuff, so we let them learn in real time, with help.
This feels like it may be the double-edged sword, as it is this model that I think makes techs feel suddenly superior.
Our goal for L2 is to provide an elevated technical learning space for an up-and-coming L3, to help grow the L1 team, and to help backup L3 in very limited ways. Our expectation is that with a normal amount of effort, that could take anywhere from 3 to 5 years in the role, depending on the person, motivation, etc… Progress is measured mostly by certifications and a demonstrated competency at being able to not only deploy but diagnose and troubleshoot more advanced issues without L3 intervention or significant delay. As an L2 tech develops, we begin to bring them into the fold in design decisions as well as assisting with more risky tasks like live upgrades, working on advanced networking concepts with our bigger clients, and getting involved with internal systems and back-end systems management.
But for the last 6 years, every L2 tech has been in the role for all of 1 year before they want more money, or they walk. We have not kept any L2 tech for more than 2.5 years.
Are we making a mistake by introducing our L2 to these technologies to soon? Should we simply hire and promote into L2 with far stricter guidelines about what they should do and prohibit practical experience as a learning tool?
All of our L3 team has been there about as long as I have or longer, and this is the method they claim helped them “get good”. Maybe this doesn’t translate with younger techs anymore? Are we paying too low for L2 perhaps?
If you made it this far, thanks for your time. Interested to see if anyone else is seeing this sort of thing or we have just missed the mark in how we are approaching or growth path.
If you are an L2 and want to chime in, please do.
OK, so answer to some repeating questions more generally and give some final feedback from the comments.
- We don’t have departmental management. Just a general manager (technical person). This is where all compensation decisions comes from. (Not me. Take it easy.) I just help manage the schedules and projects, inventory, etc… I do get stuck in the middle of all positions though. Perhaps this makes us a small MSP, not midsized. We do about 5mil. Clearly we are lacking some maturity.
- We don’t require certs or determine compensation on certs. While we need them in some cases, we have found that making them voluntary has worked. Probably could mature this up as well. Thanks for the feedback.
- We are clear on the technologies we want L2 to learn and we are clear that compensation will follow with competency. We are not so clear in communicating when we believe they have reached that point or how they can ensure they are making progress. Our leadership seems to think that every employee thinks like an entrepreneur and the work will speak for itself. Perhaps having departmental management could help here?
- We don’t push our L2 teams. It is the the most laid back gig in the building as it is designed for learning. If we have staff that are capable of performing at L3, that is where we put them. The majority of our business is L3 type work supplementing IT staff. We aren’t a sweat shop pushing our guys to perform at 80% efficiency or anything crazy. We pay our beginning L3 team members 85k to start. Some of them are making well over 100k at this point and we have little issues keeping them. We may not be operationally mature, but it is a generally fun place to work where most of the team, including the manager and owners, are highly technical, which seems to resonate with everyone.
- From what I have gathered, we don’t see the L2 techs that leave early generally take more money. (exceptions for those that move the large cities) They take a position with a higher title, by name. We don’t see movement to competition ever. My understanding is that this a phenomenon that started over the last 6 years or so.
I appreciate everyone’s comments. I came here to vent some, but also to gain clarity and improve our company as much as I can. Obviously we want the guys to grow into our L3 team and not leave. So here are my takeaways:
- Be clear on expectations and tie compensation to these expectations.
- Look at pay rate for L2. 55 to 65 is low in the industry for any L2 work with any experience in IT at all.
- Talk with management about operational maturity, culture, and being open about expectations at all levels. Being a large group of techs is not going to cut it any longer at our size.
The original article can be found at: Managed Service Provider - Reddit