It’s All About the Mission
The topic of metrics came up again on one of our in-plant discussion boards recently. An in-plant manager was looking for suggestions on what to report to upper management. Most of the responses followed the Peter Drucker model — you know, you can’t manage what you don’t measure — that I’ve written about in the past. They included things like sales volume, numbers of jobs, numbers of impressions/pages, late vs. on-time delivery and the like.
In other words, they focused on the “what,” as in what did you do?
Don’t get me wrong. These are vital numbers. These managers are measuring the things that they are responsible for. This is applied Drucker!
But . . . I’ve come to understand that this may not be enough, and it most certainly isn’t enough if the shop is being studied for closure.
One of my "aha" moments came a few years ago when I was interviewing a VP at a fairly large state university as part of an in-plant assessment. The VP and I exchanged pleasantries, and after a few minutes she looked at me and said something like . . .” I get these reports about revenue and numbers of jobs and impressions and the like, but I don’t know what they mean. I need you to tell me that the print shop is doing a good job.”
In other words, the VP and the in-plant manager had different perceptions of what is important to measure and report on. The in-plant manager needed hard numbers to guide shop performance. He needed to know “what,” but the VP needed to know that these metrics were important. She needed to know “why.”
And that’s where we run into trouble.
What we’re really talking about here is value. To paraphrase Drucker, “It’s not enough to work hard; you have to work on the right things.” And the right things are directly connected to the strategic purpose of the organization. Knowing that you printed 10,000 sheets of letterhead, for example, may not be as important as knowing that admissions letters went out on time and under budget.
In my view, in-plant managers need two sets of metrics to report performance: One contains the data needed to run the shop, and one contains the data your boss needs to understand the value you add. The first is fairly straightforward. We can measure most of the activities that take place in the production environment. We can count impressions, dollars and production time, for example. But if the material we’ve printed does not support organizational priorities, why bother?
One way to find out what to report is to ask. I always suggest that the in-plant manager have a conversation with the boss to identify what kinds of metrics are important. This could start with a conversation about the types of things currently being measured and their importance to upper management. It’s a good time to ask about metrics that management would like to see as well. You should be able to walk away from the meeting with a pretty good idea about the kinds of things management wants to see.
Reporting on your progress in meeting departmental strategic goals is also important. If your shop has participated in a formal planning process, one where you set performance goals, you should be gathering data that measures progress toward meeting those goals. If your goals support the strategic imperatives of the organization, progress toward meeting them directly supports the organization’s purpose, and that’s important to share.
If you haven't developed a departmental plan, look at how your work supports organizational priorities. In higher-ed, for example, most colleges and universities recognize the importance of academics, marketing, development, admissions, athletics and student affairs; and reporting on the ways your shop supports those priorities is important.
For example it’s one thing to report that your copy center did, say, 100 million copies last year; it’s another to point out that course packs and class notes accounted for 75% of that volume. Or that your offset press guys printed all of the fundraising material that contributed to a very successful campaign.
And don’t forget: When the outsourcing question comes up, and it probably will, being able to show that the print shop is focused on the organization’s priorities is a powerful argument. “What” is important, but without a link to purpose — “Why” — your metrics are only telling part of the story.
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.