Executive Suite: A 60-Day Plan

A few months ago, I discussed the findings of the PIA report, Moving Past the Great Recession: Print’s Recovery Path for 2011-2012 and Beyond. The report was candid and sobering. For those of you who may have missed my article on the report, here in capsule is a summary of the findings:

  • The printing industry was one of the industries most assaulted by the extensive recession.
  • We have not seen the end of companies closing their doors on the heels of the recession.
  • Recovery is slow at best.
  • Those companies that will emerge healthy will have moved away from conventional commercial printing in the direction of providing ancillary services, solutions-oriented selling, and outsourced print management (being the sole supplier of print resources to major clients).

With reports indicating sales on the rise in 2011 for many printers, it is tempting to mop one’s brow and feel a bullet has been dodged. That is what many owners are doing. Hence, they return to business as usual leaner, perhaps more efficient, but yet not largely changed. You cannot afford to do that.

Do Something New

Read my lips: You have to do something fresh in response to the economic catastrophes of the past few years. You need to heed the messages that have emanated from this attack on our industry. Amid the economic crunch, the only actions many owners took can be summarized in but a single word: retrenchment—cutting back. That meant out with the consultant, reduced involvement with the accountant and other outside services, letting the part-timers go, rolling back the hours of selected full-timers, and yes, reluctantly letting some faithful employees go. And that was that.

But that is not that. Not if, in the long term, you want to come out of this economic wind tunnel with your fiscal shirt on.

For many owners there is no more future retrenchment space, no more cutting available to be done. In addition, even in the best of times, change characterizes life in general and particularly our technological industry. So we have crisis overlaying scintillating change.

You need to be thinking about a new paradigm.

Consultant Dick Rossman, in a recent Printing Industries of Michigan publication, asks owners a number of questions. Among them are whether they are printing short-run, static work rather than using their digital capacities, and whether their customers are still placing orders by phone or email. This latter as opposed to having a customer-friendly online system.

Think about it. The future is in digital printing with sales rising three percent to four percent annually over the rest of this decade, while conventional printing will decline at a rate of 1.5 percent to 2.5 percent annually. With unrelenting downward price pressure, it is more important than ever not to get caught in the musical chairs world of chasing old-fashioned print-on-paper business.

What to Do

So what should you do? Panic? Lock the door, crawl under the covers, and pull the blankets over your head? Those are options, but not the ones I advocate.

There are five things I encourage you to do. And you can get a lot of it done in 60 days—before the end of the year.

  • Take a cold, hard look at your business and ask yourself what are the obvious changes you must make. You don’t need to bring in a consultant or attend a series of print conferences to know what some of these are. Identify and note them.
  • For the next 30 days, section off time and educate yourself about the basics of the future of print. Go online, read periodicals like Printing News, make some calls to colleagues or companies about which you have read and begin developing a profile of your company in the context of the direction of the industry. Don’t get overwhelmed by this. You can’t do everything and you would be unwise to attempt to do everything. You want to see your business against the backdrop of the present and future of the printing industry.
  • Armed with the new perspective of your company and the industry, determine who your key people are and meet with them. Share what you learned with them. Open the floor to discussion and ideas. Make notes. Reflect on the meeting and assign action steps—tasks. For some, it may mean visiting other companies to see how they are implementing new systems; for others, it may mean refining what is being done right now. For still others it may mean researching entire new programs and directions. Put a time limit on this and make them accountable to the point of putting on paper what they have done and discovered.
  • Construct a plan. Hold meetings, consult with your people and others, but in the last analysis, make it your plan.
  • Implement it.

Hidden Elements

There are three elements embedded in what I am saying. First, you need to get educated rather than lapse into immobilization or impulsive activity. Second, you must involve your key people. You cannot do this alone. They must buy in, stand up, and be counted. If not, don’t let the door injure them on the way out.

Finally, you need a rational plan to follow, one customized to your own situation. You do not want to flail. You want a direction—a game plan—to follow, one that may necessitate tweaking but not wholesale alteration.

Set short-term (30 days), intermediate (180 days), and longer term goals. Evaluate your progress at each phase, adjust, and move forward. You must have timelines. If you don’t you will either dawdle or overreact in the face of a new crisis.

Now get started. PN

Dr. David Claerbaut is consultant to the graphic arts industry. Visit his website, www.ccganswers.com for more free business insights or give him a call at 702-354-7000.