Managers in the Trenches
Analyzing the results of a recent IPI survey on equipment installations at in-plants, I noted that 43% have between one and five open positions. When we asked them how they are coping, the top response (56%) was “The manager is working on the shop floor more.”
That got me wondering how common it is for in-plant managers to roll up their sleeves and run equipment or stuff boxes, and whether they do it out of necessity or for other reasons, like to assess their staff’s skills.
Certainly, pitching in by running a folding machine isn’t possible for everyone; you wouldn’t expect the director of a 60-employee in-plant to do it … or would you?
“I, at times, will go to the production floor. For the most part it is in the bindery when there is a large or time-sensitive job,” says John Sarantakos, director of the University of Oklahoma’s in-plant. “I have worked in the warehouse and driven the fork truck many times. I want them to know I’m not above pitching in when needed.”
“I’m the most expensive shrink wrapper in Austin,” quips Richard Beto, director of The University of Texas at Austin’s in-plant. “I have relieved a few staffers handling simple tasks because they had a skill needed elsewhere.”
Does it boost staff morale to see their director getting his or her hands dirty? Or does it just make them nervous? It all depends on the relationship they have.
“My print staff welcomes me being out on the floor when I can be,” observes Tammy Slone, director of Retail Services at Cedarville University. “I also think it reminds them that I actually get it. I personally think it builds unity and respect going both ways.”
Lisa Pitts manager of Graphic Services for the City of Greensboro, North Carolina, enjoys rolling up her sleeves and pitching in. “I feel like the contributions I make — however small or large — help staff see that my commitment goes beyond my job description.”
On the other hand, those in senior level positions may just spook their staff. Despite his decades in the trenches running presses, Julio Rosado, director of the New York City Police Department’s in-plant, says it’s very rare that he steps in to lend a hand these days.
“I either intimidate them or make them feel uncomfortable,” he acknowledges. His crew isn’t used to seeing him in that role, he adds, so it can be awkward.
Colorado State Printer Mike Lincoln says he has helped on the shop floor on rare occasions. “It makes staff nervous,” he says. To ease their discomfort, “When I am on the floor, I tell them they are my boss and to direct me.”
Ken Schanuel, director of Production Services at Catholic Health Association, says he is not "hands-on" in his shop because volume is not high enough to require it and he’s generally too busy with management responsibilities. “My manager wants me to think more strategically and less operationally,” he says.
Some say their time on the floor increased when they had vacancies.
“I basically took over most of the laser engraving work so that my staff could work on the other work,” says Slone.
Working on the shop floor not only serves a much-needed purpose – meeting deadlines – it allows the manager to evaluate the equipment, staff skills, and any other needs that have been overlooked.
“I can personally assess how well they do their jobs, how well they get along with each other, and how well our equipment is working for us,” says Pitts.
Beto has gone out on truck deliveries to help out and observe the process. “It also gives me an opportunity to watch the package tracking system process work,” he says.
“I feel working on the floor helps me be a better manager and keep up with the pulse of the department,” says Mark McCarty, manager of Printing and Postal Services at Missouri State University. “There are times during the year I spend the entire day in production for several days.”
“In order for me to have a pulse of what my department is doing and maintain department knowledge, I choose work alongside of my staff and student employees,” adds Richard Silver, director of Mail Services at George Fox University. “I feel it is an extension of customer service that you display to your staff.”
Pitts agrees. “I think when they see me step in and help ... they feel relief that the work isn’t just stacking up on them,” she says.
Beyond the benefit of personally assessing the workflow, it’s also important the manager knows the equipment. Nathan Thole, director of Printing Services at Iowa State University, has a regular presence out on the shop floor, running equipment when needed.
“It is helpful, as a manager, to make sure I understand how the equipment runs,” he says. In fact, he’s been trained as a backup operator of his in-plant’s Canon varioPRINT iX3200.
But also, managers who have moved up through the ranks often feel drawn back to the machines they once ran.
“Honestly, I like to feed pockets on the stitcher or throw boxes onto a skid,” admits Sarantakos. “It is a nice break from the mental stress that we battle in the day-to-day operations.”
Bob has served as editor of In-plant Impressions since October of 1994. Prior to that he served for three years as managing editor of Printing Impressions, a commercial printing publication. Mr. Neubauer is very active in the U.S. in-plant industry. He attends all the major in-plant conferences and has visited more than 170 in-plant operations around the world. He has given presentations to numerous in-plant groups in the U.S., Canada and Australia, including the Association of College and University Printers and the In-plant Printing and Mailing Association. He also coordinates the annual In-Print contest, co-sponsored by IPMA and In-plant Impressions.