Some Questions are Threats in Disguise

NAPL's Howie Fenton.

Howie Fenton recently spoke about benchmarking at the IPMA 2013 conference.

When management asks whether your in-plant supports the organization's core mission, don't dismiss it. A storm may be brewing.

Have you ever noticed that certain questions, just by the way they are asked, are really hidden threats? If you work in an in-plant, you may occasionally hear some of these questions. As someone offering consulting services, I often see them in RFPs or request for proposals for evaluations. If you ever hear these questions you should prepare to battle the possible allegations that will follow.

Howie Fenton recently spoke about benchmarking at the IPMA 2013 conference.

Howie Fenton recently spoke about benchmarking at the IPMA 2013 conference.

While most of the words and expressions used in these requests are objective requests, others suggest an alternative agenda. The objective questions ask about measuring and benchmarking performance, as well as identifying opportunities for improvement. But questions that include terms such as, “Fulfill the Objectives,” “Provide Enough Value” and “Support the Core Mission” may really be wolves in sheep’s clothing.

If you’ve never heard any of these questions before, congratulations—but just because you haven’t yet doesn’t mean you won’t hear them after a change in administration. Here are a few tips to help address some of these threats.

Support the Core Mission

Does the in-plant support the core mission of the university? If the core mission is strictly education and research then the in-plant does not support the core mission any more or less than the mailing department or the physical plant staff that make sure that the roads are passable. However, you need to have snow removed or potholes fixed for the faculty and students to meet in one place. Similarly, mail delivery and printing enrollment forms, fund-raising forms or student course packs may not fulfill the core mission but may be required to support that mission.

Provide Enough Value

Does the healthcare in-plant provide enough value to its customers? Of course, the first question is what is value and how do you measure it? It could be argued that achieving high marks in customer satisfaction provides value. Does that mean if you survey your customers and achieve world class status that you are providing enough value? Some might say that a value is determined financially. Does that mean that if you perform a make-versus-buy analysis and find that the in-plant is saving the parent organization $200,000 a year, you are providing enough value?

Related story: A New In-plant Challenge Emerges

Howie Fenton is the Vice President of Consulting Services for IMG. For 25 years, he has focused on benchmarking operational and financial performance for enterprise and commercial printers. For more information, email

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