How to create a great culture for your MSP business in 2021

| By: Jen Locklear

Whatever their size, focus, or location, all MSPs share one thing in common: The company is the employees. That’s why it’s so important to hire the right people. Who you hire sets the standard for skills, quality, customer service, and culture.

This works the other way around, too—a great culture attracts the best talent. 

Attracting great talent is an important part of scaling an MSP business. But hiring can be a challenge, especially in roles with talent shortages, such as cybersecurity. This is even more true during economically unstable times, as potential employees may be hesitant to leave a stable job for a new opportunity. 

Culture is a differentiator and a huge part of why people stay at jobs, or leave for new opportunities. MSP business owners who build a great culture will set themselves up to successfully attract the best talent—which will keep their clients happy and help their MSP businesses grow in 2021. Read on for several key ways to build a great culture at your MSP.

Listen to your employees

No one likes to feel ignored. Great cultures start with empathy and listening to what employees want. And what they want may not always be what you expect. For example, employees may prefer a student loan match over a more traditional 401(K) match. They may want more flexible hours, or have a strong perspective on how your business interacts with the local community, social causes, etc. MSPs who listen carefully and respond accordingly will make these employees feel understood. 

Luckily, you don’t have to become an expert on your own. There are staffing and resourcing firms that specialize in the shifting workforce needs. And, of course, communication is key—you can always just ask employees what they want, during one-on-one conversations or through an office survey. The results may surprise you! 

Be creative and thoughtful with benefits and perks

As mentioned above, the wants and needs of the workforce have changed over the last ten to 20 years. While the kinds of benefits and perks an MSP can offer will vary by size and revenue, being creative and responsive is something everyone can do. By listening to employees and accommodating their needs, you will be able to build a happier culture. This goes not just for policies such as WFH, but benefits and perks, too.

Start by reviewing the current work benefits and perks your MSP business offers. For example, some popular benefits include:

  • 401K matches or profit-sharing contributions
  • WFH or flexible work hours
  • Health, dental, and life insurance 
  • Commuter benefits—train, bus, car, and bike

A few creative, less expected benefits could include:

  • Student loan repayment matches
  • Pet insurance
  • Annual deductible for a Health Savings Account (HSA) (for those with High Deductible Health Plans)
  • Specialized mental health services, such texting with a counselor

Beyond major benefits such as retirement and healthcare, small perks can make a big difference too. Weekly or monthly team lunches, a free vacation day on employees’ birthdays, small spot bonuses for great customer service or work, and other inexpensive benefits can show employees how much you value them. 

Offer a career path & training opportunities

We all like to know our careers are going somewhere—especially if we leave a stable job for a new opportunity. Employees invest in organizations when they feel that organizations are investing in them. Having a clear career ladder within the organization can reassure employees that they have a future with your MSP business. 

LinkedIn’s 2020 Global Talent Report found that internal recruiting—the act of hiring people from within your organization to fill open roles—improves retention by 81 percent. In other words, when organizations are thoughtful about advancing employees’ careers internally, those employees stay with the organization. In fact, on average they stay 41% longer, according to that same LinkedIn report—a strong sign that internal opportunities are highly valued by talent.

There are several ways to create great growth opportunities in your organization. Two of the key was are:

  • Performance Reviews: Performance reviews may sound scary or unnecessary to smaller businesses, but they have a big impact on the company’s mindset. Annual, quarterly, or twice yearly reviews show employees that you care about their work and that they’re adding value. It shows them that you want to partner with them throughout their career. For these to successfully improve your company’s culture, rather than drive a wedge between management and employees, remember that it’s all about advancing forward together and looking for ways you can mutually support each other to improve and succeed.
  • Training and Education: Technology today changes incredibly quickly, and MSP technicians need to keep on top of their skills. Make sure you are offering educational opportunities to employees. For example, there may be certifications in tools, technologies, or methodologies that could boost your employees’ careers. Or there may be new skills—such as cybersecurity training—that could expand their skillsets. Having highly certified and trained employees isn’t just a nice perk. It’s a huge benefit for your MSP’s credibility and your customers’ satisfaction and IT results.

Look for resources to support your employees’ career growth from your MSP network. For example, industry groups may have advice and frameworks for performance reviews. The vendors you work with may offer training and certifications, too. For example, at ConnectWise, we offer a range of training and community support via The IT Nation, as well as cybersecurity training and certifications for MSPs looking to expand their offerings. In short, offering more training doesn’t have to mean going it alone.

Help your employees see their work’s value

Employee engagement is crucial to a great culture, but it will be especially important in 2021. Over the last year, many MSP jobs went virtual. When people are separated from the workplace and colleagues, it’s easy to lose sight of why a job matters and why it has meaning. 

You aren’t just patching software for a medical office. By keeping their systems up and running, you are actually helping patients access the healthcare they deserve and need. You aren’t just monitoring a legal office’s endpoints. You are helping to serve justice by protecting the firm’s confidential client information. Helping others and making a difference is much more inspiring—and gives more context for how the daily work of an MSP can have an impact on the world.

To keep employees engaged, MSPs need to help employees see why their work matters. One way to do this is to develop a company mission, vision, and set of values. Center your organization around those values, and share the mission and vision often. Remind employees why their work matters to the world. 

Whether your organization will remain largely remote after the pandemic, move back into the office when it’s safe to do so, or adopt a hybrid model, keeping employees engaged in your MSP business’ mission and value will help build a great culture.

Communicate clearly and honestly

Communication is crucial. And that communication should be honest and clear. Employees don’t want to be left in the dark about important updates, and they also don’t want information to be sugar-coated. 

This has been especially true in the last year, when so much has been uncertain. Make sure your employees know where the business stands, what that means for their roles, and where the company is going. 

Organizations can do this in a number of ways, such as:

  • Weekly all-hands meetings
  • Lunch & learns
  • Routine corporate updates (such as quarterly or year-end)
  • Sharing key metrics for business success and updating them month over month or year over year
  • Facilitating Q&A sessions with leadership regularly

Clear communication is a sign of trust. It also goes hand-in-hand with having a clear sense of vision and mission. When employees feel that they understand the company and are trusted and valued as partners, their engagement levels go up. While activities will be different for a three-person shop vs. a fifty-employee MSP, the fundamentals of honest, direct communication are a best practice for everyone.

Create a great MSP business with great culture

Employees are not just employees. They’re your partners in making your MSP business succeed. In 2021, culture will be more important than ever in scaling your MSP business with new talent—and retaining existing talent. MSPs who listen closely, offer great benefits, provide opportunities for growth, articulate a vision and mission, and communicate clearly will be far ahead of the game when it comes to creating a great culture.