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5 tips for print business survival

Jun 1, 2011 12:00 AM

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Management fads come and go, even in our printing and bindery businesses:

  • Six Sigma
  • Sensitivity training
  • Management by Objective (MBO)
  • Core Competency
  • Management by Consensus

“Fun” is one of the current fads. Twitter, which prides itself on wackiness, has a team of people whose job is to make people happy. Seriously.

Fads are not without value — they do, indeed, provide useful business practices to many companies. It's been estimated that 80% of Fortune 500 companies used MBO in the early 1990s. Today, few will admit to using MBO even though, in very basic terms, it is the act of setting goals and mapping a plan to reach them.

How is it that so many management techniques, created by so many brilliant people, ultimately fail and pass into “Fad History”? After all, if a fad were successful, it wouldn't be a fad.

It starts with the promise of a cure-all. “Take this Magic Pill and it will cure everything that ails your business. It's fast, painless, and will totally transform you and/or your business.” It's human nature to prefer a cure over prevention.

The failure comes when the fad doesn't deliver on its implied promise of results. “Son of a gun, this is really hard work. My coworkers are resisting, and customers, vendors, employees and bosses are upset.” The charm of the “Magic Pill” vaporizes in the face of hard work and difficult change. We'll pick and choose what works, leave the rest, and move on to something else. If you've been in or around business long enough, you've learned that there simply is no Magic Pill. As Warren Buffett says, “In the business world, the rearview mirror is always clearer than the windshield.”

Start at the top

There is one thing, in business, that you always can work on, whatever the latest fad: Yourself. It doesn't matter if you are the printing company owner or a new hire loading a folding machine. Neither corporate culture nor your circumstances matter. Personal development pays dividends forever in proportion to the work you put into it. It's totally in your control. It makes your work life and personal life better. And it doesn't need to cost you anything; libraries are chock full of the wisdom of the ages.

Here are 5 tips — simple habits, really — that are guaranteed to improve you and your business relationships, and to withstand the onslaught of any fad.

  1. Compete with yourself, not your coworkers

    Set your own personal standards and see if you can meet or exceed them.

  2. Place a high value on your contribution

    You are an expert in what you do. After all, you spend thousands of hours every year doing your particular job and, like it or not, this bestows a certain expertise. Be open to suggestions from others, but remember that you play a valuable role.

  3. Do your part in a timely manner

    Try your best to get your work done so that no one has to wait for it.

  4. Be polite

    “Please” and “Thank you” are not just old-hat expressions. Grease the wheels of cooperation with courtesy and consideration.

  5. Don't take people for granted

    Your colleagues intend to do their part, but remember that without them, the job wouldn't get done. Place as high a value on the contributions of others as you do on your own.

The extra effort you put into building a better “you” results in better relationships with colleagues. Good deeds come back like “bread upon the water.”

So if your production manager is strangling your chief fun officer with his Six Sigma belt, ignore the fuss — you've got work to do.

Andre Palko, president of Technifold USA, spent more than 20 years as owner/operator of a trade bindery. Contact him at