Human Resources: Thriving Beats Surviving Any Day!

I thought I would take this issue to update you on my up close and personal view of our industry. You may or may not already know my history, but I owned and operated an American Speedy Printing Center in Orchard Lake, MI, from 1977 to 1994. After selling it, I started speaking and consulting within the industry.

After 14 years of working with printing organizations of all types and sizes, I decided it was time to take what I had learned and get back into the real game. So in March 2008, I signed on as the general manager for Peter Marcus’ Allegra Print & Imaging Center here in Tucson. It was a win/win since Peter wanted to back away from the daily management and I wanted an opportunity to practice what I had been learning and preaching over the last 14 years.

I thought it might be useful to provide a progress report on how things are going and also share what I have been learning along the way. Most of you have felt the pain of the last two years of economic trauma and much upheaval. Some have been hit very hard, while others may have suffered less. Be we have all been affected in some way.

For some, the worst may be over, but for others there may still be more upheaval before they are truly on the road to recovery. By and large, there was hope that if they could just hang on, eventually things would get better. However, judging by the state of the industry reports, and listening to economists in general, as the economy turns up, it doesn’t mean that everyone will get back to where they once were. In fact, if you haven’t been making the necessary changes over these last two years, you may find yourself struggling even longer and harder.

A New World

The structural change that has taken place over the last couple of years has permanently changed the landscape. The supply chain has changed, relationships are different, vendors have consolidated, outsourcing vs. doing more in-house is a concern, more automation is necessary, and different media for communicating are only a few of the challenges we will all be facing.

Before going on, I want to let you know that we have seen a 10% growth, year over year, for each of the past two years and have a very healthy bottom line as well. It’s important to know this because here is an example of having a business owner who understands the numbers and one who has continuously re-invested in his business. Throughout the years equipment and technology have been upgraded. Training employees has been important, and challenging the status quo is a regular event.

For the past two years, we have focused on making sure we have the right infrastructure in place and shoring up systems and processes. Unfortunately, right after I started at Allegra, the economy started slowing down, but it was a great opportunity to start weeding out the weakest of our employees. In our most dramatic act, we terminated some long term employees who had become entrenched, had attitudes, and were frustrating harmony. We have hired replacements, but only those who met a new, higher bar. Now we have a solid team that works well together and enjoys coming to work. Despite our growth, we have achieved higher SPE with the same size staff.

Building a Better Future

Have we made other changes? Absolutely! My main goal has been to become an “Employer of Choice,” which means having a staff that is engaged and bragging to the outside world about their workplace. This type of marketing spreads and sends a message to the most talented workers, making them want to work for us.

In order to be an employer of choice, there must be a clear vision of where we are going, strategic goals that hold individuals accountable, measuring and monitoring, complete engagement from each individual, constant feedback, and most of all, open communication from all angles.

As part of this, we have published a formal organization chart and an updated employee handbook, adjusted and cross-trained the staff to provide continued growth and improved productivity, and implemented daily production meetings and monthly staff meetings. At the monthly meeting Peter shares the financial numbers, results of the previous month, and plans and goals for next month. It’s important for the team to be as informed as possible about their expectations and the company expectations overall.

To stay focused on our niche and what we do best, we have been developing a formal marketing plan and have energized the sales and marketing efforts. We are selective about where our marketing dollars go and will not do work where the profit is not right. We’re not afraid to say no to that type of business. We are in a constant stage of raising the bar in every aspect of the business with the end goal of having an infrastructure prepared to capture even greater market share.

I will acknowledge that creating an infrastructure and a team that is prepared for doing business differently as we move forward can be difficult. However, we are committed to being a value-added supplier to our customers. We are committed to following the successful road and will not hesitate to make needed changes.

Your business is no different. It is essential to recognize our industry has changed. You need to learn what works in this new world and apply it. Don’t expect that the old ways will still work. Involve your staff, create a new solid infrastructure, and build a competent, stable, well led workforce. You can no longer just sit on the fence and hope to survive. You need to be deliberate, strategic, and laser focused to do what it takes to thrive in this new world.