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What's the problem?

Jul 1, 2007 12:00 AM

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The job was processed without a hitch. For once, the specifications were complete and accurate. The job was awarded. When the files arrived, they were prepared well and elicited no alteration charges. The job cleared press and bindery with few, if any, alterations or extra charges. Everyone involved in the process understood the importance of this job; internal communication was exemplary. Everyone in the manufacturing process understood the buying organization's needs and requirements. The job shipped on time, at or near the quoted price, and in accordance with the specification's standards.

What's the problem? This scenario sounds idealistic. To many, it will be regarded as a fantasy.

Let's assume the scenario occurred in your company a month ago. I have a few questions:

  • Would you and all members of ownership and senior management even know about it?
  • Having received very well-prepared files, would someone in the prepress department write or call the designer to say, “Thank you?” Would someone in the prepress department tell the salesperson or customer service rep about the scrupulously prepared files?
  • Assume the salesperson and CSR did an exemplary job of providing complete, timely and accurate job specifications and customer expectations. Did anyone compliment them except, perhaps, the customer?

A negative answer to these questions is symptomatic of a company that has a production orientation — it sells jobs, not customers. My experience is that some readers will provide the explanation, “This is what people should be doing. Why should we go out of our way to thank them simply for doing their job?”

People cannot be treated as machines. They are subject to change. Unfortunately, too much management and communication has a punitive or remedial purpose. Insufficient attention is paid to management and communication intended to reinforce positive behavior.

Accentuate the positive

At the typical graphic arts company, communication likely is dominated by problems and problem solving. When one aspect of a job “goes off the rails,” it is difficult to bring everything back on track. Those are the jobs we tend to remember.

Instead, try to quantify the number of jobs in which all goes well. Is there room for improvement in the selling and processing of those jobs? Probably. If that's the case, what's the reason the areas for improvement are seldom discussed in the spirit of process improvement?

Why is interdepartmental communication consumed by problem solving rather than process improvement or positive reinforcement? It could be related to the classic issue of urgency vs. importance. Problems are urgent. Perhaps it's learned behavior, especially among industry veterans who have accepted the notion that there's an inherent adversarial relationship between production, on one hand, and the sales area, on the other. Why does management share information about the changing marketplace and changing buying motives only with staff members who deal with customers? Wouldn't a little understanding among others in the company be helpful?

CSRs are the air traffic controllers of all job-related information in many, if not most, printing companies. Without being told and reminded otherwise, CSRs often fall into the trap of conscientiously communicating problems but seldom documenting and circulating positive comments from customers. Another frequent communication failure involves a supplier that performs above and beyond the call of duty. In too many cases, word of that performance is not passed up the organizational chain to senior managers.

Having said all this, I acknowledge that Dr. Phil's television program attracts more viewers than a patently motivational program might attract. Problem solving is always more compelling and satisfying, whether it's as an observer or a participant. The long-term impact of a climate of positive reinforcement, however, can be outstanding: a more productive work force, improved internal communication, and a positive attitude that, if pervasive, can become the basis for competitive differentiation to customers.

I'm not advocating launching a giant corporate love-in. It's sufficient to express a simple “Thank you.” After all, things sometimes go right in even the worst-run graphic arts company. Perhaps people really are simply doing what they're paid to do. The odds of that behavior continuing are improved in an environment in which communication, both negative and positive, flows freely. I believe positive reinforcement can make a marked difference in a company's operations and its customers' views.

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