Today's Financial Storm Inspires Tomorrow's Long-Term Success
What's in it for me?
Challenging times provide a welcome incentive to explore new directions and new profit avenues. Under difficult financial conditions, effective business management doesn’t mean just scraping by. Granted, it definitely requires immediate ad-hoc coping strategies to survive the present tough economy. But it also requires additional strategies that will enable your company simultaneously to move beyond the current financial downturn towards long-term future success.
After all, this isn't the first financial reversal that the world economy and the printing industry have weathered, and it definitely won’t be the last. (In fact, our own company began offering industry-specific personnel services in 1994, just at the end of a severe business turndown in the 1980s. And although our current global economic turmoil seems to be getting more press, economists judge that the former recession was even worse.) Additionally, right now the number of printing establishments of all sizes is undeniably in decline and is predicted to drop still further for several years into the future. But this circumstance results as much from the evolution of communication-delivery vehicles away from printed matter as the economy--though arguably, current economic conditions will accelerate the decline.
Regardless, our industry has always been the purveyor of information, and it still is. For example, when graphic film began to disappear in favor of direct-to-plate or direct-to-press data delivery, the prepress service providers panicked. But the reality is that they never actually sold film. Rather, they sold the skills to produce the image that appeared on the film. So the astute ones were able to survive admirably by adapting their services and personnel to the technologies of the digital age.
In this article we now offer a similar insight into adapting your company’s services and human-capital requirements both for the short term to weather the current financial storm and for the long term to prepare your company both for economic recovery and future technological change. To fulfill these vital missions, we are currently recommending that you hire, dedicate, and develop your human resources to the three-part task of reviewing the past, assessing the present, and planning for the future.
8 steps that are always good business practice
It has always been a sound business outlook to review past success, and track what you do best and with what type of client base, then develop a business plan to further your business proficiencies. But in a tough economy this process is more imperative than ever. Thus under current conditions we believe that each and every company needs minimally a leader and perhaps a whole team to achieve the following eight steps:
- Analyze the numbers. The capture of business statistics and the ensuing reports enable people to identify your profit points.
- Review what client companies want and need to move their own businesses forward. You may want to develop a quick survey to capture real information.
- Decide what services you want to continue to offer or research what it would take for you to offer new services.
- Identify target business sectors and companies within those sectors. Be sure to designate someone to do the research to be sure you are targeting viable new business sources and also that their requirements are on track with your own company’s business direction.
- Review manufacturing and cost-saving efficiencies, develop them further, and be sure staff are trained to understand and work within them.
- Designate someone to investigate and recommend buying opportunities. Look for technology and real-estate bargains. These could be in the form of renegotiating a lease, deciding to convert a lease to a purchase, finding liquidation or used items – or decide whether now is the time to purchase something that will propel you toward a new avenue of value-added product or service. Your designated person or team can also explore other creative avenues such as examining and renegotiating your company’s benefits program. (Caution: now is not the best time to consider eliminating benefits. They demonstrate the value you place on your staff.)
- Identify potential business partners or merger and acquisition opportunities. There is less ramp-up time than starting from scratch, and there can be significant gains derived from each personnel base.
- Be sure your company has a training matrix for all staff positions that aligns your personnel with your targeted direction. Also investigate and recommend training programs.
Empowering your staff to assist all of the above eight stages of strategic planning will always reap rewards. After all, it will be in their best professional interest as well as yours to participate in fiscal business improvement. More than just making suggestions, the right strategic plan requires the people involved to research and validate their own recommendations. Do you have people on staff who can be designated, trained, and empowered to augment your business advancement? If so, there’s no time like the present to begin.
Additionally, just as has happened in the past, your staff’s skill sets and accompanying business models will continue evolving to maximize the benefit of the new technology. So regardless of your company size, part of your hiring and promotion criteria should include consideration of a potential employee’s ability to play a part in a big-picture outlook.
One important way to give your company the advantage of a big-picture outlook is to hire an age-balanced workforce—one that balances mature staff who possess a solid foundation of historical experience with an appropriate complement of middle-aged managers to succeed them, in addition to the modernist perspective of youngsters new to the workplace. One positive outcome of the tough economy is that companies may start to enjoy improved access to more mature workers (since current fluctuations in investments may require some older workers to postpone their retirement until they can amass more savings.)
Additionally, as technology continues to evolve and strengthen the printing industry, we will increasingly come to view it a service industry with a manufactured component. Hence, in formulating your hiring and staff-development requirements, you need to take into account the growing importance of your customer-service function and personnel.
Retain valued staff when possible
Toyota has served as a longstanding example of solid manufacturing, clearly mandated quality assurance, and staff empowerment, all in the name of commitment to product and business excellence. Now that car sales are down, although Toyota has lowered its 2009 global vehicle sales target and shut down multiple factories, the company has conspicuously not laid off workers in the factories they have shut down. Instead, they have reassigned those workers to various other constructive activities. Because the company can’t give them manufacturing hours, part of their revised workday includes reviewing and tightening manufacturing processes, procedures, and quality checks. Workers are also reassigned to perform procedural documentation and develop and deliver line training programs. Certain employees are also designated for additional career-based training.
By these measures, the wisdom Toyota is manifesting is that, since they have already invested in effective hiring, training and rewarding valued employees, they don’t want to lose them and start all over again when the marketplace recovers. They anticipate that, when the recovery occurs, they will need to hit the ground running instantly and be even more efficient (translate profitable) than before. True, the auto giant is a particularly large-scale example, but the same premise can apply to companies of all sizes: namely, that investing in employee career development, manufacturing excellence, and productivity initiatives will always return far more than the initial investment. And there is additional high value to be gained in increased employee loyalty and dedication.
Build customer and staff loyalty
Perhaps your designated strategic-planning researcher or team can innovate rewards to thank customers for their business or to express appreciation to selected staff for going above and beyond. For example, what about gift cards? They seem to be a growing phenomenon in these challenging economic times. You could well uncover opportunities for business partnerships with retailers, restaurants, gas stations, and personal service providers, all of whom are seeking ways to attract customers and to track their buying patterns. For these complex reasons, you may be able to buy gift cards at a discount or bartered against your own services. Your clients and staff will appreciate the full-dollar-value purchasing power the cards represent. Prior to distribution, however, be sure to identify an appropriate return on investment for your company as well.
Warren Buffett, one of the world’s most successful investors and philanthropists, is taking conspicuous advantage of the current economic downturn to make carefully calculated investments. So why shouldn’t you do the same? We suggest that now is an ideal time for you to consider the future advantages (and of course risks) of both capital technology investments and human capital investments.
Such sound demonstrations of future-focused investments are already occurring in our own industry. In at least one case we know of, a certain Canadian printer, well respected for his passion and progressive business success, has been making some very significant, strategic capital expenditures to augment his business. In a recent press release he stated: “In a time where most companies are looking to cut back, scale down and save a buck or two, [this business owner] is spending time and money, investing in his people, his business, in the industry, the environment and in the community at large.”
In calculating such investments, he relies on a carefully handpicked team to assist him in targeting the various elements of his business. Based on their company’s past growth, they have demonstrated the courage to move forward and embarked on a significant proactive strategy. Note that this step is not a leap of faith, however, but rather a premeditated and clearly defined plan for long-term business success.
Plenty of room for optimism
As outlined above, much as the press is full of worldwide doom and gloom, economic downturn does also in fact act as a welcome catalyst for positive business outlooks and actions. In determining your own best course, be sure to take advantage of the innumerable resources available in this Information Age, including two upcoming major trade shows: Graph Expo in Chicago and Print World in Toronto. PrintLink will be at both shows to confer with printing companies and suppliers about their personnel investments. After all, these investments are just as essential as the new technologies to the equation that will yield you the most profitable results. In formulating your own equation for long-term success, we can help you both quantify your staffing needs and then resource the people who are most appropriate to fill them.