What Should You Tell Upper Management?
As in-plants, we are all faced with certain realities. One of them is that we all have bosses.
While some of us may report directly to the president, others may report to a vice president or possibly a director. Needless to say, our bosses have much more to worry about than our operations. It doesn’t really matter if we have 100 or five employees; we are what we are, and that is a support service. The real world facts are that while we supply a valuable service to our parent organization, everything we do can be bought out and management knows it. More importantly, we know that they know.
So the question is, what and how much should we share regarding our operations? There are basically two philosophical approaches to this question. We can be high profile or low profile. The high-profile manager creates elaborate reports about every activity. The low-profile manager tries to fly under the radar, hoping no one will notice. Here are the problems with each of these approaches.
High-profile Scenario: Operation A has just completed a moderately important job three days early and the manager can’t wait to e-mail management. It doesn’t matter that this tidbit of information could wait and be included in the normal weekly report. This information is too important to wait. Plus the manager doesn’t want “The Boss” to miss this great achievement amidst the copy volume analysis, overtime breakdown, productivity reports, cost vs. actual billing summary, trends in paper costs thesis, and the statistical report on snack purchases from the vending machine.
Low-profile Scenario: Operation B has staff members report 30 minutes early for work so that no one sees them arrive and they can leave early without anyone noticing. Semi annual reports to management consist of a brief e-mail stating that “things are going pretty good, most of the time.” The department never buys new equipment because purchases outside the budget would require approval. Covert alliances with a secretary in personnel allow for the occasional hiring or salary bump. When the organization is surveyed, most are surprised to find out that the department even exists.
These are two examples of polar opposites that exist in our industry. Interestingly, both must work to some degree, because they continue to exist today. I have used a small amount of literary license in describing the High/Low approaches, but not much. While too much information is better than no information, both are poor approaches.
Know Your Audience
The key is to know and understand your audience, which in this case is “The Boss.” If “The Boss” has time to read the mountain of data in the high-profile scenario, then he/she probably is an extra layer of management and will be a casualty in the next round of layoffs. The other reality is if he/she doesn’t have time to read all the junk, it will be thrown away and “The Boss” will be left thinking, “This manager has too much time on his hands.” Not good for your future.
On the other side of the fence, the low-profile group should start looking for new employment immediately because the “out of site, out of mind” philosophy simply translates to out of job.
The reality is that senior management could care less if there is a printing and mailing operation. They may care a little about mailing, because everyone likes to get mail. But other than that, it’s a no-go. What do they care about? They care about their core business. What do the shareholders care about? Profits and dividends. It’s that simple. They don’t care about in-house printing. So how can we make our operations relevant to “The Boss”?
- First and foremost, have a clear understanding of your organization’s mission and how you fit into the overall scheme of things. Make sure your departmental mission statement dovetails with the big picture.
- Make sure each and every employee understands how fragile the relationship really is. Once the goals and direction are in sync, it is all about marketing. Reports to management should be viewed not as a tool for reporting information, but as marketing opportunities. You need to sell your services every time you make a connection with upper management.
- Get to know your boss and know exactly what his or her duties include. Know how much time he or she has available to communicate with you, and then tailor your reports and contacts to match the situation.
- Equally as important is marketing to the entire organization. People need to know what you can do and why you exist. Awareness building needs to be an ongoing process. Staff changes quickly and as a result, the relationships that are built can disappear quickly. Be active in company activities and committees. Provide give-away products that keep your department’s name and contact information visible. Meet people face to face and bring items that you produced that are outstanding or unusual. Look for new markets like variable data, wide-format and novelty items to enhance your product offerings.
- Finally, know the capabilities of your competition and their pricing. The biggest gripe management will hear about you is cost.
The best strategy is to become indispensable. Make your operation easy to access and quick to respond. If something truly outstanding happens, then crow and crow loud. If your customers are happy, ask them to pass it on to the “The Boss.” After all, you can be sure that customers will complain up the ladder if they are unhappy.
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John Sarantakos is the director of Printing and Mailing Services at the University of Oklahoma.