A Path to Change
“I think I hav bin patient long enuf!”
Those oddly spelled words look like they came directly from any teenager’s text messaging stream. In fact, that sentence is more than 100 years old. They are the words of American industrialist Andrew Carnegie, announcing his departure as benefactor of the Simplified Spelling Board; an organization he helped to found in 1906.
“A more useless body of men never came into association,” he said of board members.
The Simplified Spelling Board was created to recommend and implement spelling improvements for the English language. Carnegie believed a sleeker version of English could spread more easily across the globe. He envisioned English as the language of every living person. He thought that if we all spoke the same language, we might all get along better.
Carnegie gave a total of $283,000 over a period of 14 years to eliminate the unneeded letters in words such as “hiccough” and “doughnut” so that humanity could achieve world peace.
The board ultimately failed to achieve any measurable change. Carnegie blamed their methodology. They approached their work by prescribing recommended changes and then having them instantly enacted.
“You can’t just announce change,” he said, “You have to give people a picture of what change looks like. Then, you have to manage the journey from point A to point B.”
Change in the In-plant
Implementing change is never as easy as just making a proclamation. Marcie Carr, who has been the director of the Bureau of Publications at The Pennsylvania Department of General Services for the last five years, knows this all too well. When she came into her position, she observed a busy production area struggling to meet deadlines and be cost-effective.
“We needed focus,” she says looking back. “Our small litho presses were far too idle, and we had skilled, knowledgeable employees with unutilized potential.”
Marcie envisioned a more streamlined version of her shop in the same way Andrew Carnegie envisioned a streamlined version of spelling. Just as there are unnecessary letters in the word “bureau” there were unnecessary services in the Bureau of Publications. The Department of General Services needed to be a Department of Specific Services.
I was curious about how Marcie went about implementing the changes she envisioned and whether or not she was successful. We spoke on the phone in late October. Here are some highlights from our conversation:
Dwayne: When you came into the position you now hold, what were some of your initial observations?
Marcie: In a word, I saw potential. It was clear to me there were things we were very good at. We needed to build on that. At the same time, I saw antiquated and underutilized equipment. I saw areas where we were operating ineffectively. I saw redundancies and a need for improved cooperation across our various operation sites.
Dwayne: What led you to these conclusions?
Marcie: The process of collecting and analyzing data. I am a numbers person. Numbers provide the foundation for a strong business case. I’m also a people person. It was important for me to include our employees in the review process. I knew I was arriving at some very sound conclusions because I was relying upon the knowledge and experience of good employees.
Inclusion Alleviates Apprehension
Dwayne: When you realized you were going to need to implement changes, what was your strategy and did you meet with any resistance?
Marcie: At first there was some apprehension. Some of the changes were going to impact employees, but it helped that they were included from the very beginning and assisted with the review process. We worked very hard to retain and retrain employees. We give them new opportunities to prosper using existing skills. The knowledge and experience of an offset press operator, for example, translates very well onto digital presses. They understand color.
Other changes were going to impact how our different operation sites would be working together. In those cases, it was important to make a case that any changes we implemented would be mutually beneficial. We painted a picture showing them how we could realize cost savings, gain new efficiencies, and improve customer experiences.
Dwayne: How important was it for you to paint that picture of the end result? Did people really need to see how the changes you wanted to make would one day bring about positive results?
Marcie: Very important. Change is a process. Processes take time. Processes are work. Processes tend to always meet with obstacles. If you do not have a clear picture of where you are headed and what you are building, any resistance you meet will ultimately derail the process.
Be Patient and Celebrate Victories
Dwayne: Besides casting the vision, is there anything else IPG readers should know about implementing change?
Marcie: Don’t try to eat the whole elephant in one bite. A good leader will understand the importance of breaking things down into manageable pieces. It’s important to be patient. Going slow is not always a bad thing. And be sure to find opportunities along the way to celebrate the small victories. Going slow also allows you enough time to build relationships. Meet with people face to face. Listen to them and genuinely value their opinions.
Dwayne: How do you balance the importance of patience with the equally valuable need to be the driver; the one pushing for change?
Marcie: I am fortunate enough to have a diverse management team, and we all complement each other very well. Often I am the person doing the pushing. If we were a car, I would be the gas pedal. But a good car also needs properly functioning brakes. Brakes give us flexibility and control. A journey of change without any brakes will most likely end with a crash.
Dwayne: How did your journey of change end? Have you been successful?
Marcie: The journey of change never ends. There is always something new and there is always something we can do better. But we have done well. We have successfully implemented new services. We are a full-service mailer, we have a sign shop, we are offering online ordering, and we are doing variable data. We have eliminated our small litho presses. We are doing a better job of partnering with outside vendors. Our various operating sites are communicating better and we are sharing work. We are providing faster turnaround times, and our customer service has improved.
Dwayne: Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?
Marcie: I would have involved IT staff from the very beginning. We eventually brought them in and we now have two of our own amazing IT employees working with us. But almost everything we do requires a thorough understanding of how to manage and process information.
Dwayne: If the journey of change never ends, what is next on your radar?
Marcie: I’m looking into inkjet technology. I also hope to be able to share our story at IPMA 2017 (the In-plant Printing and Mailing Association conference) in Pittsburgh. Sometimes, implementing change can result in new opportunities.
It was a pleasure talking to Marcie. She and her team have a very positive, forward-looking attitude when it comes to innovation. I tend to think more about the consequences resulting from implementing change rather than the opportunities.
If, for example, you are a member of Andrew Carnegie’s Simplified Spelling Board and you want to implement a spelling rule change, you have to think about all of the words impacted by the new rule. Say you want to eliminate the double consonants at the end of the word “glass” so it’s spelled “glas.” You need to keep in mind what that rule will do to the word “needless.” If you do, then you will get my point.
Marcie, like Andrew Carnegie, would point to the concept of teamwork as the key ingredient to the successful implementation of change. “Teamwork,” Carnegie wrote, “is the ability to work together toward a common vision. It is the ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.”
Incidentally, it was also Andrew Carnegie who wrote, “Pittsburgh entered the core of my heart when I was a boy and cannot be torn out.” So I hope to see you all there in June at IPMA 2017.
Or should I say, “I hop 2 C U all ther in Jun.”
Currently serving as president of the In-plant Printing and Mailing Association, Dwayne Magee is in his 13th year as director of Messiah College Press and Postal Services. Before that, he worked for 17 years at Alphagraphics as an assistant manager and ISO coordinator. Outside of work, Dwayne enjoys exploring spiritual, environmental, and social concerns through creative writing and the arts. He can often be found speaking on the topic of diversity in bookstores, public libraries and elementary schools, where he makes use of his award-winning children’s book “A Blue-Footed Booby Named Solly McBoo.” His travel writing and fictional essays have made appearances in various publications including the Northern Colorado Writers Anthology and the Goose River Anthology published by Goose River Press. Dwayne is the father of two children and currently resides in Mechanicsburg, Pa., with his wife and their two dogs.