Managing Staff and Technology

Build a learning organization

“From the start, I had conceptualized the ideal of a learning organization. I wanted to develop employees’ skills and include the ability to constantly learn,” says Ian.

“In particular, I had seen a lot of film houses where desktop operators were secretive about their knowledge to protect their positions and get paid more for overtime. So I looked for people who were not afraid to collaborate and constantly encouraged them to do so. Still today, when staff members learn something new, it’s part of their job to tell everybody else.

“I also looked for employees who were not just interested in their pay cheque but also in the product and technology. I learned early on that if you don’t love this business, it will eat you up and spit you out. I wanted to find people who are positive about the work and not afraid of pushing a new button to find what will happen.”

Such fearless individuals are in the minority. A 1999 study of business attitudes showed that 26% of staff and 42% of managers are Eager Adopters of new technologies; 12% of staff and 5% of managers are Resisters; and 62% of staff and 53% of managers are Hesitant “Prove-its.”

Listen to the Hesitant “Prove-its”

“Your staff needs to include a few reluctant ones to balance those who want to rush ahead with new technology,” said Ian, who identifies himself as an Early Adopter. To reign himself in, he relies on a skeptical prepress operator and a financially savvy partner, who insist on being shown the effectiveness of new technology and how it will pay for itself before they’ll agree to implement it.

Form a technology committee

Over a year ago, after a software installation didn’t go smoothly, Ian’s eighteen employees struck up a six-person committee to help drive their company’s future technology investments. The committee is comprised of representatives from prepress, sales, production and management. Besides informal discussions, they meet two or three times a month and attend numerous supplier webinar demos.

“To be successful, no one person should implement new technology without buy-in from the others involved,” said Ian. “You can have the right technology solution, the right tool, and the right timing, but if you don’t have the right sentiment or culture to make something work, it can destroy a plant. Other people can give you fresh ideas you didn’t consider, so it’s a good proposition to sit together and discuss it.”

Give staff time for research

“A key thing business owners have to understand is that you can have your employees produce, produce, produce, but they’re not advancing themselves or the company. They might as well be machines,” said Ian.

“Staff need time to think outside of their own routine, to surf the Internet, to dream and be creative. When given this opportunity, they come up with astounding results—things you never expected.”

Hire carefully

“Just as it’s easier to sell to an existing client, it’s easier to get more out of existing employees because they know your environment and can produce more if given better tools,” said Ian. “But sometimes a situation arises when you need to hire someone who might propel your business even further by bringing in a new set of skills and a new perspective. On the other hand, sometimes a new perspective can be disastrous if it doesn’t fit a corporate culture. You have to be careful about this when hiring.

“For example, a hiring manager can ask a staff member to participate in an interview. During the interview, they can provide pertinent information and ask open-ended questions to be sure the prospective employee understands your business. This is key to determining whether you will be comfortable with the new perspective and any technology the new employee may recommend.

“We still put ink on paper, yet the world of printing has become so bizarre that an entire company can be held hostage by a piece of technology, like a server. It’s become such an integral part of the business that if you don’t hire the right person to effectively utilize your technology, it could end up costing you thousands of dollars to fix the damage plus hours of lost production time.”

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