Human Resources: A Lifetime of Lessons Learned

I often wondered where I would be or what I would be doing once I made it into my sixties – that seemed so far away at the time. I am here to report that I’m in my 60s and I am still in the same industry I started in over 37 years ago. And interestingly, I am back this time as an employee. The print industry has changed dramatically over the years. However, when it comes to being successful in the graphic industry, there are certain basics that not only remain the same but are even more important than ever.

After 37 years of experiencing our business from three different perspectives – owner for 17 years, consultant for 14 years, and now an employee for more than six years – I have had enough experience to clearly see what separates the winners from the rest of the pack.

In Chicago, at the NAQP Owner’s Conference. I will share what I have experienced in a lengthy presentation. In this article I only have enough space to share some of the highlights of the winners in our industry.

The winners are savvy business people, not craftsman. They understand the numbers, and they are conscientious in maintaining profitability. They watch “creeping costs” and they are willing to make whatever adjustment needs to be made to keep the company moving forward profitably. Today’s marketplace changes quickly, and winners are able to make decisions quickly. They understand what it takes to obtain optimum financial health in their business.

The leaders know the importance of having the right people on board. They have a diligent hiring process to ensure hiring the right personality to fit the position and the team. They also test for intelligence, which is critical in being able to learn new things quickly and to see the big picture. The leaders are not hesitant to let go of “bad apples.”

They create a team that works well together, which means they do not put up with high-maintenance people. No matter how good the employees are at their jobs, they are replaced if they don’t have the right attitude. Having the right people is a major key to success.

The leading companies understand the need for continual process improvement and how to accomplish it in such a changing world. Every time a new piece of equipment, or software, or person is added, the process will inevitably need to be changed or at least tweaked. Today we need to do an even better job of measuring everything that we do and evaluating how we can do it faster, with less touches and higher quality.

As we evaluate our processes we may learn that we need to upgrade to a new piece of equipment that will save us time in handwork. We may decide that it is financially better to broker certain jobs, rather than have some equipment that is not filled to capacity and costing us money to keep it around.

The winners understand that if you are not growing, you are shrinking. The goal must be to focus on continual growth. Growing in today’s marketplace is much more difficult than in past years. The sales efforts of today are more than just having a sales force on the streets. It’s having a presence in social media and on the web. It’s using search engine optimization, e-blasts, direct mail to trigger and complement face-to-face time with current and prospective customers. You must walk the talk to be credible. Your entire sales force must understand all the different marketing channels to help transition your customers to new ways of growing their businesses or organizations.

I must say that after 37 years in this industry I still love it. I think that’s very important to having a successful career. If you are tired, demotivated, or find it impossible to keep up with all the changes, financially or otherwise, than it may be time to get out. The secret is to get out while you still have something to sell. I have seen too many times in the last few years where a company was struggling but felt they could somehow pull it out of the downward spiral and then finally realized it wasn’t quite possible. However, they waited so long to put it on the market and they didn’t have much to sell.

The business world that we live in today is challenging, but it is what it is. To be successful you need to be willing to wrap your arms around change, then sell it to your employees and to your customers. You must challenge the status quo, create visions and goals for the future, and inspire your staff to buy into the visions.

I hope to see all of you in Chicago this fall. I have made so many friends over the last 37 years. No, we don’t see each other or talk to each other often, but friends in the printing industry are friends forever.

Debra Thompson is President of TG & Associates, a consulting firm specializing in Human Resources for the Graphics Industry. Debra can be reached toll free at 877-842-7762 or Visit for help in finding, developing and retaining top performers and the tools to help motivate them for success. She also is general manager of Allegra on Park in Tucson, Arizona, and can be reached at