Surviving the Management Paradigm Shift

Historically, the printing business has concentrated on the goal of getting the work out. In that context, leadership was mainly a reactive process, focused on supervising and managing the workflow in response to customer requirements. Companies gave little regard to their actual work process (meaning the sequence of steps that got the work done) or to the staff involved in it. Even companies that hired appropriate levels of management to direct the process and staff on their day shift often left their off shifts to lead hands who oversaw production work only.

Today things have changed, however, because:

1. Printing has become commoditized and thus viewed mainly as a product of industrial manufacturing. (Formerly, because printing is service-oriented and customized, it was not classified with traditional manufacturing processes.)

2. Communication, once confined to print, has become fragmented into other media and services.

3. Perhaps most importantly, new developments in equipment and software have made print production more automated, freeing more staff to turn their attention to the business of managing.

Fundamental Change

The result has been a paradigm shift in management within the printing industry. According to PrintLink's Managing Director Myrna Penny, "The new thinking is that if printing companies manage and supervise people and process effectively, then work completion at a profit will follow."

"Along with a renewed interest in management, companies are also becoming more precise about the types of supervisory skills they require," says Myrna, who points out that, although the terms "lead hand," "supervisor," and "manager" are sometimes used interchangeably, in practice they are not the same. "Normally the lead hand oversees the crew and the work on one particular shift, while the supervisor directs the work of all the employees in a department and has discretion over hiring and firing recommendations and/or decisions. The manager's authority includes not only overseeing the supervisors, but also fiscal responsibility for the departmental or company budgets and control of resources and expenditures," says Myrna.

The Leadership Challenge

Clearly, in view of the recent paradigm shift, the printing industry faces an increasing need for people to fill all three management functions. Companies can proactively seek out opportunities to hire experienced leaders wanting to advance their careers with employers who recognize the value of leadership and management. Yet because leadership skills have not traditionally been cultivated among staff of printing companies, there are simply not as many lead hands, supervisors, and managers to go around. And more supervisors in particular are needed than ever before, because companies have to run 24 hours a day just to stay in business, says Myrna. So it seems that the industry has reached a developmental stage requiring initiative and foresight to ensure that its present and future leadership requirements are met.

Assessment & Training

"Since leaders are in short supply, it makes sense for the industry to create more of them. It also makes sense to try and choose staff members who already have the advantage of a good grasp of your company's production process and promote them to management roles," says Myrna. "But in this scenario, there are two keys to success: assessment and training. Without either one of them, you're just setting someone up to fail."

Here's why: "First of all, when you promote somebody internally who has done good production work into a leadership role, all of a sudden that person is in the position of having to supervise friends on the shop floor. Although this situation can be handled effectively, the majority of people require specialized training in advance to help them cope with it. Even if you hire someone with a production background from another company to assume a leadership role in yours, the new employee may still have difficulty adjusting to a supervisory role because he or she identifies with the people on the shop floor-so again, supervisory training is often your best option. Training of this type is available from numerous sources," says Myrna.

Myrna also recommends that, prior to investing in training or hiring someone with documented experience, companies should assess their supervisory and managerial candidates for leadership aptitude: "We recommend this be done using any one of the many systems for profile testing that are commercially available. Profile tests can cost as little as a couple of hundred dollars per assessment and can be completed in an hour or two via the Internet. The testing enables you to assess employees for their leadership potential or their ability to assimilate leadership training. Conversely, if you select the wrong production people without testing and give them all the management training in the world, you are still inviting them to fail as leaders."