Do great people lead to high performing companies or do high performing companies attract great people? Does having a laser-focused strategy lead to sustained growth or does growth justify a strategy that may have its flaws? Business leaders have been trying to answer these, and other questions, in search of that silver bullet. You may want to take a step back and think about how these issues can relate to your business.
“The greater the number of rivals, and the easier for new competitors to enter the market, and the more rapidly technology changes, the more difficult it is to sustain success” writes Jeff Thull, in his book The Prime Solution. We see the market littered with printing companies that once were on top and for a number of reasons, have since lost their way. Once the darlings of the market, they could do no wrong. Truth be known, their woes are probably not from taking their eye off the ball or that their people suddenly stopped caring, or that their equipment went out of date overnight and their customers left them in the cold. The ups and downs of success can be cyclical and the changes are usually so gradual that they can sneak up on you without knowing.
Companies have a tendency to benchmark their competitors and imitate them in hopes of outperforming them on their own strategy. That leads to looking, and performing in similar ways. During a workshop a few years ago, I asked senior managers and owners how they differentiated their company. Upon review of their responses one thing was clear-they were all different in the same way!Again, as an industry, we continue to struggle to differentiate our companies in ways that really matter to our clients.
Our industry is full of changes that throttle our ability to sustain success. As printers, we have usually done a good change managing change with technology and within our production processes. Sometimes we go in kicking and screaming, but we go in nonetheless. An area that the top performing companies seem to have tackled successfully are the changes to the way they do business. Choosing or changing the markets that they are in, how they go to market, understanding the importance of having a clearly defined strategy and a plan that helps them execute it.
Defining your strategy is often a process that includes defining who to do business with, having a clear understanding of the competition, what technology is available to you and at what cost, and finally, understanding your internal capabilities and your people. Aligning your business strategy with the right execution guidelines is a critical step you need to take. Careful though, absolute success can be misleading. Year over year improvements can seem great but if your competitors are improving or the market is changing at an even faster pace, then your relative success could be behind the curve. All ships don’t rise to the same level at high tide. And remember, this process is a lot more than just doing a promotional brochure or designing a new logo for the company.
Where is your company in this ever changing marketplace? We’ve seen through history the results of some great companies that didn’t change their strategy very much and yet remained successful. Their management team was viewed as being steadfast. We’ve also seen companies who kept the same strategy and their success vanished. They were viewed as being stodgy and that they had lost sight of their customers. Tom Peters says, “To be excellent, you have to be consistent. When you’re consistent, you’re vulnerable to attack. Yes, it’s a paradox. Now deal with it.”
What to do? What to do in our continued search for high performance and sustained profitable growth in our industry? Business owners usually have a good handle on what they want their companies to look like and how they want them to operate. Sometimes though, getting that message out can be difficult. If we fast forward to our interviews with the sales staff (hint: those delivering the message to the market) you’ll probably hear as many versions of that strategy as there are sales reps. Add to that that the senior managers usually have their own version of “the plan” and you can begin to see how hard it is to deliver on the original strategy. Organizational alignment within the strategy is a key to success for all companies.
This doesn’t mean that you have a bad strategy or you have incompetent people or that they should all walk the plank! What this means is that it’s just plain hard to tell everyone, “Here’s where we are going” without also giving them a road map that shows how to get there.
Most printing businesses have work instructions to prepare digital files for proofing, digital output or plates. We created those to deliver consistent and timely preparation of those files to the output devices so that they meet the needs of the department. To help in your quest to success, you should also prepare work instructions on how to implement your strategy so that you’ll increase your odds of implementing your strategy in a consistent and timely manner.
A traditional view of what top-performing companies are focused on includes their top and bottom line results. Our view of what these companies look like adds these five elements:
- Their differentiation is clear and meaningful to their clients
- Have a focus of being an integral part of their clients’ success
- The CEO spends time both on and in the business
- Their people, processes, and goals are in alignment
- Have a defined strategy with a clear communication and execution plan
Our industry is filled with smart, hard-working, passionate people working intheir businesses. Their next hurdle is to take a step back and work ontheir business. This increases the odds for success and keeping up with the strategies that will help you stay on top. We can place more effort into how we do business, how we go to market and how we get a consistent message to our current and potential customers. We need to do a better job in how we deliver the message that our company is different from the competitive pack and, when appropriate, be prepared to articulate and show the differences. More importantly, make those differences things that can actually solve some of your client’s problems and help them to make money.
Strategy, planning and execution still rule the successful businesses of today. Reviewing your strategy for today’s market and helping your staff deliver a consistent message to your customers is your next major hurdle to sustainable, profitable growth and continuing to be a top-performing company. The good news is that you can start today, let me know how you’re doing.