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Management Counts

Management Counts

By Ray Chambers

About Ray

Ray Chambers, CGCM, MBA, has invested over 30 years managing and directing printing plants, copy centers, mail centers and award-winning document management facilities in higher education and government.

Most recently, Chambers served as vice president and chief information officer at Juniata College. Chambers is currently a doctoral candidate studying Higher Education Administration at the Pennsylvania State University (PSU). His research interests include outsourcing in higher education and its impact on support services in higher education and managing support services. He also consults (Chambers Management Group) with leaders in both the public and private sectors to help them understand and improve in-plant printing and document services operations.

My New Year’s Wishes

My wife and I were talking the other evening while the tube played the usual holiday fare. This particular show featured some entertainment awards. At one point, I glanced over at the show and there was a singer, older than me, singing a song that he must have recorded in the 1950s or ’60s.

So I said to Cat: “Gee, how can someone sing the same song for 40 or 50 years? Doesn’t it get old?”

She looked at me over her laptop, gave me that sweet smile, and said, “Sweetheart, you should know. Haven’t you been singing the same song for years and years?”

I thought about it, and you know what? She’s right. My mission is defending in-plants. About 40 years ago, I had to defend my in-plant when a member of the city council where I worked decided we should send all of the city’s printing business to his brother. Or cousin. Or whomever. I’ve been doing it ever since.

And 40 years later, it’s the same old song with the same old tune. Management/administration questions why the organization has an in-plant (“That’s not the business we’re in.”), and the in-plant manager wonders why the guys that run the place don’t recognize the in-plant’s contribution.

I’ve worked on 50 or more projects over the past few years trying to help top management understand why they have an in-plant and why the in-plant really is “core” to whatever business they happen to be in. After a while, a theme starts to emerge, sort of like the singer belting out his signature song. It’s all too familiar.

I wish there was a way to help in-plant managers see things from my perspective. If I were to make three wishes for 2012, they would go like this:

Wish #1: I wish that in-plant managers would go to the trouble to understand―really understand―the business they’re in. And I’ll give you a hint: It’s not the printing business.

Organizations exist for a purpose (read the mission statement) and if the in-plant can’t show how it directly supports that purpose, why is it there? I’ve had more than one VP tell me:

“Ray, I think the print shop is doing a good job, but why is it important? Why don’t we just outsource it and move on?”

Most of my projects involve colleges and universities. When I ask the in-plant manager, or the digital press operator, or the customer service person, what they do, or why the in-plant exists, the typical answer is, “We print stuff.”

That’s the wrong answer.

A better answer (and what the VP wants to hear) might be something like:

“We support the university’s academic mission by preparing instructional support material, and by the way we make sure we have permission to use the material the faculty selects.”


“The University just concluded a very successful fund-raising campaign, and we printed all of the collateral used to contact donors.”


“Enrollment is up this year, and we printed all of the marketing collateral used to recruit new students.”

See where this is going? So my first wish is that in-plant managers would take the time to relate what they do to the organization’s mission and purpose.

Wish #2: I wish in-plant managers would make an effort to be more visible. Two recurring themes I find when I do customer satisfaction surveys and/or interview print users in an organization are:
  • “We have a Print Shop?” and
  • “I didn’t know they could do that!”

Richard Beto, director of Document Solutions at The University of Texas at Austin, gets it. He once said to me, “Every year, UT hires 1,800 new people and none of them have ever heard of Document Solutions.” So Richard makes reaching out to the new hires a priority in an effort to let people know what Document Solutions can do. It’s a broad-based initiative.

In addition to handing out the usual calendars and scratch pads that promote the service, Document Solutions hosts an annual holiday party and a barbecue. The department conducts “Document Solutions 101” and “Mail Services 101” classes each semester that not only educate customers on what the in-plant can do, but also teach them how to do it.

Document Solutions also participates in the university’s annual Work Study Fair, an event that informs students of employment opportunities in all parts of the university, including the in-plant. And it makes an annual presentation during new faculty orientation. In short, Richard makes himself and Document Solutions visible.

If you run a small shop, or if you just don’t have the resources to offer printing seminars or free scratch pads, you can still be visible. Many organizations sponsor charitable and public service activities, and they’re all looking for volunteers. So sign up and pitch in.

One thing that I’ve learned over the years is that it’s a lot harder to close an operation and eliminate jobs when you’re working side-by-side with some of the people who will be affected. So get out there and be seen!

Wish #3: I wish more in-plant managers would recognize the importance of tracking meaningful metrics. You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve worked with in-plant managers who can’t answer some very basic questions, like “How many jobs did you do last year?” or “How many jobs are in your shop today, and how many are late?” Let alone questions about what they print and who they print it for (see wish #1).

How on earth can you expect to justify the investment in a six-color press, or a DI press, or an envelope press if you don’t know how many full-color brochures, newsletters or envelopes you ran last year? You can’t!

Management guru Peter Drucker famously said, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure,” and he was right. The folks that run your organizations keep tabs on the organization’s performance by measuring things that are relevant to them—like revenue, costs, market share and return on investment. They expect you to do the same.

So, those are my three New Year’s wishes. If they were all to come true—if in-plant managers really started to show their relevance, became visible and started measuring performance—my job would be a whole lot easier. And I would be very grateful.

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