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Emotional vs. financial investment

Jul 1, 2006 12:00 AM

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Gorelick's Management

I expect dissent, even rabid dissent, from some readers of this column. I also expect that some of the dissent will be reasonable and justified. Having donned my Kevlar vest, I will proceed.

Change in our industry is grudging. That’s human nature. I suspect that cold type would exist today if many large buying organizations hadn’t threatened their major print suppliers with loss of business if they failed to adopt hot type, photocomposition, desktop publishing and, now, PDF files. While many companies are at the vanguard of change, others respond under duress, then congratulate themselves for being responsive to customer needs.

This is particularly true in the case of prepress and press operations, the two parts of the manufacturing process with the greatest customer involvement. Attend an industry trade show, analyze the advertising pages of this publication or engage in a dialogue with managers from other print companies: The primary subject is likely to be print-on-demand, variable color presses, computer-to-plate technology, “oversize” presses and PDF files.

Employee investment
While I hate to apply a blanket statement to industry management practices, it seems that most owners and managers find it more comfortable to invest money in equipment than to invest money, time and emotion in upgrading the organization’s human resources. It’s sad, because people are an asset that can appreciate. Equipment can only depreciate.

Change is the theme of every trade show, seminar and business book in the graphic arts industry. Some owners and managers have encyclopedic knowledge of stochastic screening, press innovations, makeready times and plant spoilage, but have little idea about the perceptions created by their salespeople and customer service reps. In too many companies, a sales meeting consists of berating reps for lack of volume and poor job specifications. The objective of a sales meeting should be reps who are more competent and knowledgeable after the meeting than they were at its beginning.

Even at companies that hold regular sales meetings, customer service reps are not invited to attend in more than half the cases I’ve observed. Despite the rhetoric about appreciation of the growing importance of the customer service function, there is minimal investment in creating more competent CSRs. It appears that, in many cases, customers value a CSR more than the employer.

Workflow worries
“Workflow” is a subject that has received reams of print and hours of dialogue. The concept is admirable. Who, however, is going to explain the benefits to customers? In too many companies, salespeople, CSRs and others with frequent customer contact aren’t even told that a piece of equipment has been purchased. Even after the equipment mysteriously appears on the shop floor, there’s often no formal education on its features and benefits.

Reconfigured workflow might be great, but most printing companies do not have a system—other than repositionable notes and a customer service person’s memory—to contemporaneously record missing information about a job in process. Instead, a job is expedited through production only to have someone find that shipping information is missing.

People: more than a magazine
Owners and managers are willing to invest in technology but are not as willing to invest in creating more competent, productive staff members. In the case of salespeople, many believe that a sweetened compensation program can be used to lure a top performer from a competitor.

Survey after survey finds that owners and managers claim to be concerned about the quality and quantity of the future work force. The graphic arts industry is not attracting its share of bright, young talent. Those who proclaimed the death of print during the previous decade have done their damage, even if their predictions might not have come true.

The rhetoric in this column might seem harsh. Admittedly, it is not descriptive of every company, but it does describe too many companies. It’s human nature to want to deal with equipment rather than people.

Equipment is predictable. It comes with operating instructions. One knows its location at all times. Someone else can be called if it doesn’t perform as promised. Faulty parts can be replaced. Equipment doesn’t take vacations or antagonize other pieces of machinery.

At some point, however, many owners and managers will need to address people issues. I’m simply trying to issue a wake-up call.

Dick Gorelick is president of Gorelick & Associates and the Graphic Arts Sales Foundation. He can be reached at

To read more of Dick Gorelick’s Management columns, visit our Management Archives.