A Print MIS implementation/transition is a massive undertaking. It is usually driven by an extensive technology-focused project plan and/or strategic document. These projects can take anywhere from 6-18 months to implement. So much thought and effort gets put in to so many elements: data conversion from the old system, automation and integration in the new system, workflow, scheduling/tracking, accounting, etc. However, oftentimes what derails most Print MIS implementations is a failure to manage the 'human' transition.

I’m not necessarily talking about training, as that usually gets handled quite well. I’m talking about the required communication and engagement plan that needs to run in parallel to your technical implementation plan so that the people are properly transitioned alongside the technology. This is NOT something you can delegate to your software vendor – this is your team, your business, your responsibility. Anyone waiting around for a technical resource from the vendor to provide this kind of strategic human focused leadership will be waiting a long time!

To quote a former colleague:

“The system should run your business, but the people need to run your system.”

If at your go-live date, you have failed to engage and communicate with your people, and you have not helped to prepare them for transition, a smooth and successful kickoff will be greatly compromised. As much as your staff may complain about the old system, if they are afraid of the new technology, they will approach it with resistance and anticipate failure—a prediction that may well ring true without proper buy-in from your team. Soon you will start hearing, "Our old system did this so much better." My personal favorite is when the people that complained the most about the old system become the biggest fans of it once the new technology is in place. Negativity spreads fast and furious, and a year of hard work on your part can be emotionally deflated in just a few days by a fired-up group that is resisting the change.

All of this is generally based on one thing: fear. Fear is the over-arching feeling that is conveyed through multiple other behaviors:

  • “I wasn’t included in the process.”
  • “This new way will never work.”  
  • “This is a total failure.”

It only takes one person to inject negativity, but it can spread like wildfire.

My colleague Jennifer Matt likes to say, “People who fear new technology become extremely good at finding reasons not to launch.” Software is a target-rich environment for finding flaws. When your team is in a resistant, state you should outsource them to the vendor as quality assurance engineers because nobody is more motivated to find problems (aka reasons to postpone the launch). How do you know you’re in this state? Have you been waiting on a few things to be fixed before you launch for about 12 months? Bingo – you’re there.

The reality is there is not one Print MIS system implementation that will go perfectly. There is not one technology that will do everything brilliantly. Knowing that, you need to plan how to take care of and manage your critically valuable human capital during the transition.

Let’s start with some of the most common fear-based reactions that happen with a Print MIS transition:

 1.    “If this system works well, I might lose my job.”

Let’s face it, every business owner out there is buying Print MIS technology to improve efficiency, reduce costs and improve profit. Of course, this often translates to the desire to reduce labor costs. What I tell people is that employees that are efficient, customer-focused and show the ability to adapt to change are less likely to lose their jobs. Great team members will always be part of the team. The goal of Print MIS technology is to allow employees to have MORE time to do meaningful tasks that are more customer- and revenue-focused: customer service, quality control and so on. Print MIS technology will remove time-consuming, costly and tedious tasks like keeping up spreadsheets, chasing jobs around the plant, etc.

 2.    “I’m the employee that has always been the ‘go to’ person; if the system works well, I might not be the superstar now.”

Okay, those probably are not the exact words to come out of someone’s mouth, but you most likely know who I am referring to in your facility. They are doing a fantastic job of keeping your organization functioning. They know all the details about customers, types of jobs and even how things should be invoiced. They have so much critical information stored in their head.  Your customers love them. These stars often don’t speak up about their fears, but they exist nonetheless. I often hear this from the business owner” “I don’t want the new Print MIS system to take away from what my superstar does, or I’m afraid he will leave.” Trust me, if you have a resource like that on the team that is doing such a phenomenal job with limited technology; imagine what he could do for you with great technology! You need to let these key resources know that part of the goal of implementing the new Print MIS is to be able to relieve some of their stress and increase their value, so they can continue to do great things for you in your organization at a higher level than what they are able to do today

 3.    “They are just doing this to keep tabs on us.”

Another common threat that employees feel is that the job costing tools that come with Print MIS systems are all about “Big Brother is watching us.” Of course, you will want to monitor productivity through the system. But there is so much more to this data than that. Tell your employees that you are using the information to look at all aspects of the business such as pricing, equipment performance, and product-specific time requirements. You will now be able to monitor downtime on equipment, labor load in all areas, utilization of equipment etc. This can be very advantageous for employees – they knew you needed to replace outdated equipment long before you did, but now you have the facts to back it up. I also love using the system to inject some fun via employee rewards. With your new system, you will be able to set measurable goals for your team. You can do things like, “If in the month of June our on-time percentage hits 98%, I’m buying pizza for everyone.” Making the numbers fun and rewarding gets everyone on board.

Outside of managing the fear, you have to work hard to communicate throughout the entire Print MIS process (not just the implementation phase). Here are a few tried and true tactics:

  1. 1.              Involve Your Team as Early as PossibleBefore you buy, solicit information from all areas of your organization about what tools they are lacking in their toolbox. What would enable them do their job more effectively and with less stress? What causes mistakes? What makes jobs late? What frustrates customers? If you preface your communication with, “We are going to start the process of looking for new Print MIS technology, and we want your input on what tools would help you,” they feel they are part of the process from day one. And you will gain an amazing amount of very valuable information that will help you make the best possible decision for your business, your team and your customers.

Here is a great question for everyone on your team: “When you start your day, where do you look to determine what your day is going to be like?” The answer to this question will reveal how your people have adapted to their jobs in spite of the limitations of your current Print MIS system. You will find lots of manual tracking systems and a tremendous amount of overlap and inefficiencies in the application of your most precious resource (LABOR).

2.     Create a Pilot Group

A great idea is to form a pilot group that will be part of the implementation process. They will be the ones to give input on various elements, and they will also be the ones to do the testing to help work out the system. Most importantly, they will be the project champions that will help their peers through the transition. It gives people the chance to do something great and be part of a critical transition. Ask for volunteers and see who steps up. This pilot group will become the system advocates, and they will make your job a lot easier.

3.     Openly Communicate (the good and bad)

Communicate the good and the bad. A Print MIS implementation is long and at times can be painful. Post the milestones you are working towards so people know what is going on. If you have any setbacks, communicate them. Don’t be afraid to let people know that you have had to change course and explain why.  It builds trust between you and the entire team, and it also helps them to understand the complexity involved as well as why you are making specific changes and choices.

4.     Control the Drama

Technical projects that impact every area of your company are by their very nature stressful. So many projects drop into a state of spinning drama that kills morale and impacts not only this project but your whole business. The technology will have issues, the vendor will mess up, your people will resist, all of this will happen at once sometimes. Your leadership is critical here – don’t feed the drama. When there’s an issue, take note of it, address it, but be very careful to not let it cycle over and over. Your focus determines your outcome. When you and your team are constantly focused on what’s wrong, you will attract more of what you don’t want. Your job as the leader is to keep the focus on solutions, not challenges. When your team keeps recycling challenges or complaining endlessly about the vendor or software, stop and ask them to move to results. Your job is to succeed IN SPITE of all the challenges thrown at you. Product has a bug, how do we work around it until it’s fixed. Vendor isn’t responding, how do we keep moving forward until they get back to you?

Your investment in Print MIS technology is so critical, but don’t let the complexity of the software make you forget about investing time and resources in your team. They have to embrace it and live in it each and every day. Remember: A system is only as good as the people that are running it. Make sure yours are the best.