Are you planning on staffing up? The Business Roundtable, an association of CEOs of big U.S. companies, surveyed their members and found that 39% of the executives expected to increase their workforce in the second half of 2010. And DMNews reported a 16% increase in direct mail volume for the first quarter of 2010. Business seems to be picking up and your organization might very well be anticipating a need for new employees. Some of them may be in your department.

That's good news for our industry of course. Most document print and mail centers experienced several waves of lay offs over the last couple of years. But there are some challenges to be aware of when you expand from a core group of seasoned experts in order to meet the demands of additional print and mail volume.

Experience gets thinned out
It's likely that when you had to make those tough personnel decisions about who would go and who would stay, you kept your more senior people and had to terminate less-experienced employees. You may have kept things running in the meantime by relying on those top employees to catch errors, make minor adjustments, or be responsible for run-time decisions. They could handle those responsibilities because of all that experience and a history of working together.

Once you start adding junior staff members, that valuable experience in your shop becomes somewhat diluted. You will no longer have expert eyes on every step of every job. And that can be a problem.

We tried adding people without a plan - bad idea!
I actually experienced this phenomena first hand when the service provider I was working for went through a period of rapid growth. We always thought we had processes and procedures nailed down tight - mistakes were pretty rare. It turns out, we were relying heavily upon the knowledge that our key production people had acquired after years of working in our business. We were successful not because of great processes, but because of what went on inside the heads of some talented document professionals.

When we started hiring a lot of new people, we teamed them up with the more experienced staff. But even though our print and mail production people knew their jobs inside and out, not everyone could communicate their specialized knowledge effectively. As a result, the new people started missing details and our error rate started to climb. Customers complained that they were not getting the quality of service they had come to expect from our company. It was an uncomfortable time there for a while.

We came to realize that we really had no structured training method - and we needed one! Nor had we developed anything that could be characterized as complete documentation. We had bits and pieces written down, which was good enough before we brought in the rookies. But those rough disorganized notes were sorely inadequate for bringing new people up to speed.

We took a look at every single production job and set up a standardized format and a central location for the documentation. Then we picked our best trainers and let them be responsible for delivering the information to the new people. It took a while, but we eventually returned to an acceptable quality level and things ran a lot smoother.

Work on your documentation in advance of hiring
As you anticipate an uptick in hiring I recommend you take a look at your own documentation and training materials. Have you added new jobs for which there is no documentation? Have some jobs changed without updating the examples and instructions? Has there been new hardware or software added recently? Are there new procedures to follow as a result of converting to IMB?

Take my word for it. The time to get your house in order is now - not after you start getting reports back from customers about printing and mailing mistakes that used to be automatically caught and have started making it out the door.

Mike Porter is an expert in Print and Mail operations and President of Print/Mail Consultants, an independent consulting firm that helps companies nationwide be more productive, adapt to changing requirements, and lower costs in their document operations. For more information visit www.printmailconsultants.com or email Mike directly at mporter@printmailconsultants.com