As my clients know, I’m a fan of Dr. Atul Gawande, the surgeon and writer. At one point in almost every engagement, I hand the manager a copy of Dr. Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto – a book that explains the importance and effectiveness of using checklists. If pilots and doctors can use checklists to prevent errors, so can we who work in the print-mail industry.
I recently read one of Dr. Gawande’s earlier books – Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance. He shares his lessons learned as a young intern, the struggles encountered as a volunteer dispensing vaccine in India, and his thoughts on accountability. The decisions we make every day impact ourselves and our professions.
My favorite section was the Afterword, entitled Suggestions for becoming a Positive Deviant. Dr. Gawande offers 5 ideas – or challenges – to his fellow doctors on how to be a positive influence on their profession. These challenges can be adopted by every leader, regardless of industry.
Here are five ways we can become positive deviants in the print-mail industry:
Ask an unscripted question. Show interest in your customers and employees beyond the job they requested or the work they perform. Ask about their favorite vacation destination or the last movie they watched. Perhaps you both enjoy books by the same author or crave similar types of dessert. Find a way to connect – as a person.
Don’t complain. Being a leader isn’t always easy. We must always remember that our employees and our customers are looking to us for answers and inspiration. When things go wrong (and they will) that’s an opportunity to listen and to learn. And if you feel frustration building, give yourself a break.
Count something. Good organizations have great metrics – pages printed, envelopes inserted, postage spend and cost-per-piece. Consider what else you should be measuring. How long does it take – to the minute – from the time a job is received to the time it’s handed off to the US Postal Service or delivered to the customer? What’s the ratio of paper purchased to pages printed and volumes recycled? Thinking about and implementing a different metric will provide you new insights that may lead to improvements.
Write something. A vital component of our professional development is consistent reading – trade publications, association newsletters and management books. Just as important is contributing to the volumes of knowledge about the print-mail industry. Additionally, sharing ideas demonstrates a commitment to professionalism. Software tools make it easy to add a blog or newsletter to your website. Magazines and associations are always eager for new content. Your perspective is important, and we all benefit when you publish.
Change. The technological innovations of the last decade have launched a wave of unexpected consequences. Combined with decreases in volumes, corporate mergers and acquisitions, and new sourcing models, the challenge of staying competitive requires innovative approaches to every aspect of the print-mail process. From the way we sell, to how we receive and process files, to print and bindery, to tracking and reporting production information. What we are doing today won’t be sufficient to be successful tomorrow. Resistance is more than futile – it’s fatal.
Leadership in the print-mail industry means more than a title. It means being an example for customers, employees and peers. Follow Dr. Gawande’s prescription and become a positive catalyst for change.