In my last post, I reviewed the benefits of merging print and mail operations – benefits to organizations, customers and employees. To achieve those benefits, managers will have to face challenges from different sources.
The way to overcome those challenges is through efficient planning executed by effective leaders. The merger of the two units should be approached like any other major project, with clearly defined tasks and deadlines.
When planning the transition, include the following:
- team meetings
- process redesign
- work tracking and management
- cross training
- feedback mechanisms
- publicity plan
While no one wants more meetings on their calendar, regular staff meetings are a must. Make sure that meetings are structured and have set agendas. Hold joint meetings with the supervisors of the print and mail units. Review major jobs, customers and projects.
The department's processes must be redesigned to include the entire print/mail cycle, not individual sections. Diagram how the jobs move through the department, and review for potential errors and inefficiencies. Put together a team of supervisors and senior operators from both units to conduct these reviews. Foster an atmosphere of openness with brainstorming sessions held offsite. Increase the effectiveness of these meetings by bringing in an external facilitator or consultant to lead these meetings.
Process reviews aren't a one-time event, but an ongoing practice. Have someone physically monitor jobs as they move through the shop. Question operators on why they handle files and materials in a certain manner. Again, bringing in an external consultant can provide an unbiased critique of the process.
It's important to develop a system to track and manage jobs as they move through the department. Depending upon the size of your organization, this could be as simple as a white board that's updated manually, or a sophisticated software solution that monitors all the equipment and systems in your shop. There are systems available that will integrate with all equipment, regardless of vendor. Most systems are browser-based, and while sophisticated in programming, are user-friendly. Any software should integrate with your chargeback system as well.
You'll need to have scheduling and capacity planning as well. Using tools like Microsoft Project will put you in the right direction. Also, scheduling and capacity planning will help when negotiating deadlines and service level agreements with customers.
A cross-training program should begin as soon as possible. Start with staff members who already have experience in all areas. If possible, employees should spend an entire week cross-training, completing the same program you use for new employees. Conduct interviews to get feedback on the program.
Like process reviews, training must be ongoing. Schedule individual and unit refresher training. Also, plan management training for lead operators and supervisors. Ensure that these key people are ready for the next move in their careers. As budgets are being cut, fight to retain training dollars. If external training is not possible, use internal resources. Also, make sure that all supervisors are reading both Document, and its sister publication, Mailing Systems Technology. Articles that have a particular relationship to your shop should be highlighted for discussion during staff meetings.
Institute mechanisms to get feedback from customers. Include comment cards with completed work, or email brief surveys on a quarterly basis. Schedule face-to-face meetings with your largest customers. People often hesitate to give negative feedback. Make it easier by asking soft questions like, "what else could we have done for you?"
If a customer relates a problem to you, don't attempt to solve it in that meeting. Bring the complaint back to your staff. Determine what caused the problem and how to resolve it. Even more importantly, figure out what steps you can take to prevent the problem from recurring. Then get back to your customer and explain your solution.
Publicize the merging of the two units. Use multiple avenues, including announcements in the company newsletter, flyers inserted with paychecks, and posters in common areas. Be sure to include services, hours and contact information. Hold an open house, and show how work flows through the department. Have food and prizes to add an air of fun and excitement. Make sure your key staff and supervisors have business cards with the new department name.
Who should be responsible for executing the plan and leading the new unit – the current print manager or the current mail operations manager? At a recent conference, this discussion took place among some managers from both disciplines. The print managers jibed, "anyone can lick a stamp." To which the mail operations managers responded, "anyone can push the start button on a printer."
The reality is that industry background isn't as important as general management experience. The person must show that they can successfully manage multiple priorities, enjoy new challenges, and most of all, have a good track record managing people. The manager of this new unit should have a clear vision for the future, and be able to communicate that vision to senior management, staff and customers. Technical skills can be learned as the unit grows. Leadership skills must be present at the outset.
It's important that the merger is part of a plan to bring added value to the entire organization, and not just empire building. While a person's true motive may be hard to ascertain at first, their words usually bring out the truth. When they talk more about their staff and their customers than themselves, then that's a sign that you've found a good candidate.
The leader of the new department must be able to reach out to all employees, especially those from the "other" department. For example, if the print manager is chosen as the overall manager, they must make a special effort to connect with the mail center employees. Recognize that the mail center employees may feel a loyalty to their former manager. Spend time in the mail center, asking employees to explain their jobs and the equipment they use. Show respect for their expertise, and ask for their involvement when solving problems.
Take the Challenge
Someone once described merging print and mail as "building the print/mail beast." And when you consider the challenges that must be overcome to be successful, that may not be far from the truth. To be successful will require considerable effort, and will be a real test of your management and leadership skills.
But the gains from these efforts are considerable. You'll be able to manage the complete process and provide a better product for your customers. Your customers will now have one point-of-contact for their projects and will know that the entire job is being handled by one department. Employees will have even greater opportunity to grow, as they learn new skills. Your company will now have one department with one mission: the creation and processing of critical documents.
Take the challenge and build a "print/mail beauty".