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Print Business Leadership – Give Yourself a Promotion

Rather than face the reality that all print businesses need to evolve, many print owners default to staying “busy” running the business the way it’s been run for years. Don’t be tempted to “numb yourself” by keeping busy, the market conditions are indisputable, the past performance of your print business is not indicative of future results. We are operating in a different reality with very compelling digital alternatives to print communication.

By Jennifer Matt
Published: December 9, 2015

Do you spend a lot of your time doing work your employees could do? Most people who run businesses have some tendency to dive a little too deep, get a little too involved, and end up spending too much of your time (your most precious resource) on stuff your team should be doing.

Now more than ever, strategic thinking – the thing you can’t outsource or delegate, is vital for you to carve out time for because even if you hire outside help you need to be directly involved. Strategic planning has to be your top priority because your print business needs to evolve to remain relevant in the connected economy. When I worked for a large company, I was asked to produce a 5-year plan for the technology business I was running. I confidently and defiantly stated, “Spending time making up a story about what is going to happen to this business in five years is a complete waste of time.” Technology is moving too fast, the market is changing, customer’s preferences are changing. Five year plans are for companies in stable markets, I can’t name many off the top of my head because technology is destabilizing virtually every market on the planet. As far as I can tell, two things don’t change very quickly, the Catholic Church and the US tax code. If you’re a business serving one of those two entities, you can probably plan five years out, for the rest of us, let’s keep our planning to 18-24 months!

Rather than face the reality that we all need to evolve, our day to day choices often default to simply staying “busy” keeping the business running the way it’s been running for years. Don’t be tempted to “numb yourself” by keeping busy, the market conditions are indisputable, the past performance of your print business is not indicative of future results – we are operating in a different reality with very compelling digital alternatives to print communication.

Last month I got to see one of my favorite authors, Michael Abrashoff, author of It’s Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy speak at the C-Suite Network event in San Francisco. My most memorable take away from Michael’s talk was when he posed the question, “Are you doing $10/hour work or $1,000/hour work?” If you’re reviewing every print estimate that goes out the door because you don’t trust your Print MIS, over the course of the year you’re doing hundreds of hours of $10/hour work when you could simply invest about 1-2 days of strategic work ($1,000/hour) to build in the costs and margins so your team can run the system (your Print MIS) and your system can run your day to day business.

You need to promote yourself out of as much $10/hour work as possible, so you make room for the $1,000/hour work that only you as the business leader can do. If you have control issues (like me), this is hard. I didn’t really understand how I was spending my most valuable resource until I took the time and effort to track every minute of my day. I then started assigning hourly rates to the value of each task. One by one I’m delegating away the low value; low margin tasks to free up my time. I used a free tool called Toggl to track my time and produce reports, set goals and track my progress. You will be amazed at how measuring your activity affects your behavior almost immediately. Measure your activity for at least one week, preferably one month and then analyze, set goals and start marching towards building more $1,000/hour work and delegating the $10/hour work to your team.

When we do large print software development projects, I typically start by telling the business leaders that 10,000 decisions will be made during the course of this project and you (the leader) will be involved in VERY few of them. For some leaders, this is very disconcerting, for others their immediate questions revolve around who is making the majority of the decisions and do they have the skills to determine what decisions need to be escalated up the food chain? You can’t and should not want to be involved in all the decisions; your time is better spent on strategic decisions. Your people or the outside resources you hire need to be given enough direction, enough understanding of your vision to make the tactical decisions and most importantly understand when to bring decisions to others in the organization.

A promotion is about leaving lower value tasks to someone else and making the room for you to have the space to lead the company through the changing marketing conditions. When we think about career paths, we miss the most important promotion for the business – the promotion of the leader when they dip too far into the minutia and need to be propelled back to the strategic level of their print business. 

Jennifer Matt is the managing editor of WhatTheyThink’s Print Software section as well as President of Web2Print Experts, Inc. a technology-independent print software consulting firm helping printers with web-to-print and print MIS solutions. You can reach her at jen@whattheythink.com.

 

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