Executive Suite: Making Change Work

I have yet to meet with a print owner or CEO who did not lament over the need for more efficient organization — better and smoother systems. By that I mean perform more and more functions, from answering the phones to executing a multicolor job in a set and defined fashion, one that assures a level of consistent competence similar to that of a computer. There are not a whole lot of occupants of the Executive Suite who would not agree with that premise.

This lament is intensified during challenging times, because poor (or no) systems result in a great deal of additional man and woman hours invested in getting basic things done and, worse, repairing errors because there was no system to guide their efforts when the task was done initially. In short, there is not a company in Western civilization — from Microsoft to Al and Mary’s Print Shop — that would not be better off if it did more things systematically.

Whether in sales, production, or customer service, in most consulting projects I find myself installing or streamlining systems. And in the last analysis, it doesn’t matter whose brainchild a new system is — production supervisor, sales manager, or owner — it is the person perched in the Executive Suite who makes or breaks the important systems. It is he or she who can make change work.


When it comes to systems, I like to refer to three types of upper level managers. The first group is the Ostriches. These folks find comfort in the security of what they are currently doing. Sure, there may be a better way of doing things, but “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” That is often their illusion — the mirage in their thinking. Their current system is probably running


rather well, it is simply not doing the job as well as the job needs to be done. Things could be done more quickly and more error-free with some adjustments, but the need is not apparent to the Ostrich.

Ostriches are the people who were the last to install a fax machine, move from the typewriter to the computer, replace their pagers with cell phones, and buy a BlackBerry. They also kill the creative energies of those managers who report to them.

Wary and suspicious of change, Ostriches spend their business lives calculating the downside risks of everything. To their credit, they avoid a lot of calamitous mistakes the next group makes, but in a print world driven by high-speed change, especially in the tech arena, these non-risk takers are living very risky lives. Refusing to remove their heads from the sand, more than one Ostrich has gone out of business by refusing to adjust to the ever-changing sales and production market.


Group two, the Excitables, just love new things and new ideas. Anything new generates a near adrenaline high. When the trade show comes to town, they will be first in line, leaving armed with brochures and promotional CDs and DVDs. In their business, show them a problem and they will whip together some instantaneous solution and then make that “solution” company or department policy. Instant systems. Instant solutions. Instant gratification.

Alas, however, their systems rarely work. They are usually not well thought out for the downside potential, almost always poorly communicated, or never followed up. They die as quickly as they were born. Excitables often pay a hidden price for their impulsive behavior. They create in their people a healthy skepticism such that, after a while, any new system is dismissed as another hair-brained idea that will have the shelf life of a politician’s promise — the latest medicine show passing through town. Tragically, when a truly good system is introduced, their people ignore it from the outset and it is rendered useless. It isn’t easy being an Excitable, for though emanating from a different source, they live with even greater frustration than the Ostriches do. Not only does the status quo eventually win out, they are worn out by endlessly trying to drive new systems into their operation, only to watch nothing really change.


The third group is called the Jurists. Whether in department management or occupants of the Executive Suite, these people understand the importance of systems and how to implement them. There are not many in this group, but those who are follow the same principles and make money doing it.

Like a wise judge, they think through systems carefully. This may take some time checking out the industry and other companies’ experiences, discussing the system with trusted colleagues and employees, and carefully measuring the upside and downside, especially in the context of their own company. An important part of the process is the detail phase. The jurist may well realize he needs a new or different system from the outset. The challenge is putting it together piece by piece.

Assuming the jurist is the CEO or a manager with the full support of the person in the Executive Suite, once she decides to implement, she lets her people know what is going to happen. The sharper jurists build as much people support as possible before launching, but once the decision is made, it is non-negotiable. The train leaves the station and the people are either on board or left at the platform.

Jurists then guide the system through the “bug” phase. Tweaking will be necessary, but the baby stays as the bath water is drained. Only after a new system is clearly not working will they do any major tinkering with it. There is an important reason for this. Often the apparent “bugs’ are the result of employee resistance to a new system, put forth in the hope that the new system will go away and they will be able to return to the comfort of the familiar.

Last, Jurists continue to follow through on the system’s implementation and make certain their people do as well until all resistance is gone and a new status quo has developed. PN