Managing for Survival
Let's face it, senior management probably does not understand your in-plant's strategic contribution. To stay in business, you need a defense strategy.December 2013 By Ray Chambers
This article is about management. It's not about management theory, it's not about supervision, and it's not about consensus building. It's about hands-on, down-and-dirty decision making—recognizing you have a management problem and addressing it. It's about analyzing the situation, identifying alternative solutions, evaluating expected results, choosing a solution and going forward. It's about survival.
Management Guru Tom Peters says that management is really pretty simple. According to Peters, management is about "making things and selling things." It's about understanding your environment and adapting to whatever challenges may be standing in the way of accomplishing your mission.
A few years ago I did a presentation at a conference, which I called "Prepare to Defend Yourself." In it I explained that in my experience senior management probably does not understand the strategic contribution of an in-plant, so it's up to us to make the connection for them. The content was informed by more than 30 years of dealing with management and hundreds of projects involving in-plant performance.
A subsequent speaker criticized me for daring to suggest that we need to "defend" our operations. He accused me of being defensive, and he was correct. He argued for the better-mousetrap theory: do a good job and your customers will beat a path to your door, and that should be all you need. My point, while decidedly more cynical, was based on my experiences working with dozens of in-plants: do a good job and the commercial sector will still do everything it can to close you down. If you want to survive, you have to have a defense strategy.
Sadly, the other speaker's shop was closed the next year.
Wolves in the Shadows
The first step in managing for survival is recognizing the wolves that may be lurking in the shadows—the things you might have noticed had you been paying attention to your environment. What sort of things? Have suits with measuring tapes and clipboards started dropping in to "tour" your space? Are your phone calls not being returned? Are you being left out of meetings you used to attend? Does your boss avoid you? Was your last capital request turned down? Are you having trouble filling open positions? Did your VP ask someone else for printing and/or copier advice?
Ray Chambers has invested more than 30 years managing and directing print plants, copy centers, mail centers and document management facilities in higher education and government. Most recently, Chambers served as vice president and chief information officer at Juniata College. He is currently a doctoral candidate studying Higher Education Administration at Penn State. His research interests include outsourcing in higher education and its impact on support services in higher education and managing support services. He also consults with leaders in both the public and private sectors to help them understand and improve in-plant printing and document services operations (www.ChambersManagementGroup.com). Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.