A small business owner learned to include his employees in creating processes to ensure work would be done right the first time, on time.
The fastest growing printing company in Santa Barbara, CA was experiencing unprecedented growth, despite a downturn in the local economy. Their key competitive advantage was quick turnaround. Known for its customer focus, the company also did a lot of pro bono work for community groups. The owner, a man in his early 30s, had bought out the previous owner. He often experimented with the latest management fads, only to abandon them.
Production quality began to suffer. The error and rework rate shot up. Customer complaints rose. Absenteeism increased.
The shop was trying to do too many jobs too fast. The owner accepted new jobs and let the customers dictate deadlines without discussing the timetables involved with his department heads. He didn’t view his department heads as a management team and gave them little authority. He didn’t delegate much to them, and communicated even less. Department heads weren’t communicating often. The “system” to document print jobs’ progress consisted of a white board. Because the owner didn’t meet regularly with his employees, he assumed they wanted to put in overtime for the additional pay, regardless of individual family situations. Employees felt more and more frustrated, even angry.
Susan Bellows initially came to Printing Impressions as a marketing consultant, hired to increase business. But she first had to overcome employee suspicions that she represented yet another management fad with no lasting impact. Serving as an objective third party, she interviewed all 15 employees, positioning herself as someone ready to hear what they had to say. Employees yearned for a break in what felt like a never-ending loop of overwork, fatigue, rework and anger. They also wanted to work as a company-wide team, rather than as individual departments.
Despite their frustrations, employees remained very dedicated and committed to doing a good job. There was a good sense of camaraderie where people were treated as equals – but they just weren’t given the authority or the tools to get things done.
Bellows concluded that employees needed to understand the shop’s work flow – the way work came through the shop. And the owner needed to create an empowered management team that could work together without his interference. He also had to learn how to bring in new business while respecting established work procedures.
After Bellows finished the interviews, the company held a half-day, off-site meeting on a Saturday at a local hotel. Employees discussed their issues, and after a workshop on communications/behavior styles, the group undertook a “mind mapping” exercise that identified the major challenges to getting jobs done right and on time. They examined and prioritized the various components of work flow. Employees volunteered to chair problem-solving task forces to recommend remedies to recurring issues.
To reinforce and support the changes necessary to keep the company working together and differently than in the past, the owner announced Bellows would consult with the company for a year. She met weekly with the management team – now including the owner, department heads and task force heads – to improve company-wide communications and accountability to keep everyone on track and feeling heard. Employees felt they had a role in creating the changes. If the owner accepted jobs without consulting others as in the past, he agreed to apologize to employees. He came to understand that for the company to work in unison, he, too, had to honor the new system. Quality improved, complaints declined, business increased, and absenteeism fell.