Executive Suite: The Internal Consultant

American business is in a radically different place now from even five years ago. The boom days are gone, the times in which a strong economy compensated for less than excellent business judgment and shrewd management. But you know all that. What is too often ignored is that the pace of change in every sector of life, including business has become nearly Darwinian. Hidebound, unmovable traditions in business and industry have given way to an “adapt or die” mandate.

Printing is a virtual poster child for these shifts in the economic and mercantile terrain. Our industry engages additional challenges. Not only are prey to international low-wage competition, but with the internet itself being a major marketing modality, the printing pie has shrunk severely.

For the printer, the Executive Suite is a place in which problems cry out for solutions Printers need answers—lots of answers constantly—to questions of efficiency, cost-cutting, and increased sales.

And if you will depart from the tired, top-down model you may very well find a lot of those answers to problems crying out for solutions within the walls of your own building.

It’s been almost 20 years since Martin Edelston and Marion Buhagiar hit the literary marketplace with their ground-breaking book, I Power: The Secrets of Great Business in Bad Times (Barricade Books, 1992). The book was very well-received within the limited circles of its readership. Change a few phrases here and there, however, and you could publish this tome in 2011 and be considered cutting-edge in your business thinking.

It is the authors’ contention that too many businesses operate with the model that quality ideas for improvement and growth flow from the top—upper management—down through the bowels of the corporate body. The further down you go the more conformity rather than problem-solving is valued. The result of this model is too often “black hole” managerial meetings, gatherings devoid of fresh ideas and insightful solutions. Legendary management consultant, the late Peter Drucker, prescribed a cure for this malady, recommending that every person who attends a meeting be prepared to offer two ideas for making his or her department more productive.

Think about it. No more politically correct, safe, and innocuous conversation. No more sterile discussions of mission statements, company visions, or “bold new initiatives” (which are often warmed-over notions that are neither new nor particularly courageous). No more positioning or corporate brown-nosing. Instead, come to the party with ideas—ideas that will make us better.

And that is only the start. Here is how it works.

 

Every Level

I-Power is about as effective as the frequency with which it is used. In other words, it needs to be practiced at every level of a company, beginning with monthly department meetings. There are many advantages to this widespread approach, but here are a few. First, no one knows better what is going on in the prepress area than the people who spend their work lives there. And believe it or not, many of them would like to see the department become more efficient and successful. Moreover, once these people’s ideas are solicited and given consideration they become more engaged in their work. Furthermore, this emphasis on ideas and improvement creates a day-to-day work atmosphere—a mindset, if you will—in which the value the company places on improvement is a part of the work environment.

 

Double Negative

Can’t have no negativity at those meetings. Meetings must be positive with people feeling comfortable saying what is on their mind without fear of disapproval. It is out of that atmosphere that the best ideas come.

You can make the meetings fun by giving away a few fun goodies (one-dollar bills, candy, coupons, etc.) for obviously good or highly creative ideas.

You get the point.

“But what if my people clam up because they are afraid their manager, Bruno?” you ask.

I’m tempted to suggest you get a new manager, but that may not be practical. You can always rotate the leadership of department meetings or have someone outside the department be the coordinator. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you do everything you can to create a high-energy, positive environment. And when you do, you will be surprised at how much your workers want to share their ideas on how to do their jobs better.

 

Tracking

Have someone note each person’s name and his or her ideas as they are expressed. Get as much detail as possible from the originator while the idea is fresh. You don’t want to stall the meeting on a few ideas, but you do want a good record.

You can place an Idea Box in the room into which people can put ideas that occurred to them during the meeting. Be sure they write their names and a clear idea as to what they are thinking.

 

Respond and Implement

Respond to every idea within seven days if possible. You can delegate this to a high-level person, but make it happen. And be sure responses are honest and tactful. And whatever you do, tweak the good ones and implement them. From there you go head in any direction—Idea of the Month, Person with Most A-Rated Ideas, Best Idea Department, and on and on.

But do something. People love recognition and feedback. And the payoff for you will be higher morale and better ideas.

 

Follow Through

Make this happen. If you don’t have the time or skill to wear the pants on this, put someone in charge who does and be rock certain that your employees know you are not only behind this but up to speed on everything. You people will respect the program about as much as they perceive you do.

Things may be a bit rocky in the first few months, but most new endeavors have bugs in the earlygoing. Stay with the I-Power program, improving it as you go, and you may just find that the people have become an invaluable internal consultant for the Executive Suite.

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