The constancy of change in the print industry has been true since Guttenberg, and Ben Franklin would be amazed at how mail is prepared, processed, and delivered today. The most successful organizations have embraced the changes in technology, media, and management.
Even forward-thinking, progressive managers have been challenged by the impact of the pandemic. Yet there are still consistent threads among those in-plant organizations that not only survived, but are positioned for a successful future.
To learn more, we gathered managers of four successful in-plant print and mail operations. We discussed new strategies, new services, and new staffing models. The group included:
• Danelle Clark, American Family Insurance
• Lauren Tarbet, Pflugerville Independent School District, Texas
• Mike Lincoln, State of Colorado Printer
• Tammy Golden, Document Solutions at State of Tennessee
Adapting to Volume Changes
The initial shift to remote workers and remote students had an immediate impact on volumes – positive and negative. The Pflugerville school system needed physical material to support distance learning, and Ms. Tarbet’s shop saw a dramatic increase in the size and number of jobs. The team was able to meet the demands while maintaining social distancing in the copy center.
The shift to work from home means fewer in-person meetings and fewer on-demand jobs. Buildings were vacated and departments consolidated. Both Ms. Golden’s and Mr. Lincoln’s teams absorbed the work from other departments, meaning an overall increase in volumes. American Family continued to acquire new companies, meaning more print and mail for Ms. Clark’s department.
Each of the managers adapted to the changes through innovative staffing decisions, adjusting shifts and using automation wherever possible. Key technology purchases made in 2019 and early 2020 had a direct impact.
Prior Technology Investments Reaped Benefits
Planned changes in software and hardware became keystones in building success. Ms. Clark had launched a program to move all work to the same enterprise platform. The white-paper factory solution optimized workflows, eliminated forms, and grouped jobs by envelope type. The operation went from 12 inserters to five, and nine printers to five. Meanwhile, the volumes increased by four million pieces during the pandemic. Clark’s team hasn’t missed a single service-level agreement (SLA).
Using automated processes and inkjet technology, Mr. Lincoln reduced the processing time on certain work from eight hours to four hours on the third shift. Volumes are up by 40%, with no additional staff or equipment.
Directly before the pandemic, Ms. Tarbet had invested in a 60-inch, wide-format latex printer. She was fully prepared for the spike in requests for floor decals and signage. Next, her team is bringing an automated cutter onboard to further increase efficiency.
Partnerships Are Key
Among the challenges created by the pandemic, supply chain issues have had a significant impact on the print-mail industry. Strong partnerships with vendors have been key in creating solutions.
MICR toner shortages threatened the ability of Ms. Golden’s unit to meet the needs of the state. She contacted her disaster recovery (DR) vendor with the intent of activating the DR plan. The vendor responded with a surprise solution – they shipped the needed toner to Tennessee – with no markup costs.
Software vendors came to the table to help Mr. Lincoln migrate through needed changes to onboard the new work. Paper and envelope suppliers were resourceful in finding ways to deliver the needed material. Special permission was obtained to go outside the standard procurement process.
In the new environment, “business as usual” is no longer the way to do business. Managers and vendors need creativity and innovation to find ways to deliver success.
Staffing Will Remain a Challenge
“Work from home” was never going to be a solution for producing print and mail. Not every employee wanted to take the risks in working alongside other people, especially during the different waves of infection surges. And no industry is immune from the “great resignation.” Fewer people are applying for open positions.
American Family had already increased the minimum wage of employees from $15 per hour to $20 per hour before the pandemic. There was minimal attrition of Ms. Clark’s staff over the past two years. However, some people have been at the company for 40 years, and are “retirement-ready,” so 2022 may be a challenge.
Incentives are having a positive impact. While harder to implement in the government sector, Mr. Lincoln took advantage of a “spot awards” program to function as bonuses. More importantly, he led team conversations about the challenges and individual life needs. This approach engaged the team to work together in creating solutions to meet the staffing needs of a 24x6 operation.
In addition to changing hours, Ms. Golden is also looking at different ways to hire. They are looking at the potential of collaborating with vocational high school programs, the state rehabilitation center, and prison programs. On top of that, she has a robust cross-training program to provide coverage for vacancies.
Even faced with multiple challenges, these leaders are optimistic about the future. Mail is still a primary source for information for much of the population. Printed material has a key role to play in the hybrid scenario of in-person and remote work.
For Ms. Tarbet and her team, it’s all about new services. What can they provide their internal customers that they haven’t done before? Plus, she’s adjusting schedules and staffing to meet new requirements and new volumes.
Mr. Lincoln is looking towards technologies to add value to everything that they print. That means looking at “all the tools in the toolbox” like augmented reality and targeted communications.
To counter rising postage and shipping costs, Ms. Clark is making sure that critical documents are sent using the right method, including electronically. This may include getting customers to opt-in for digital solutions. Of course, that means changing customer behavior, which is never an easy task.
With all of these changes, Ms. Golden stressed that communication is key. Managers need to make sure that customers – internal and external – understand what is happening. Then everyone can plan accordingly.
Successful leaders don’t just react to change, they become agents of change. These four in-plant managers are examples of the type of leaders we should strive to become.
Mark M. Fallon is President & CEO of The Berkshire Company, a consulting firm specializing in mail and document processing strategies. You can contact him at email@example.com. To watch a recording of the interviews, please visit: http://www.berkshire-company.com/webinar-recordings.
This article originally appeared in the January/February, 2022 issue of Mailing Systems Technology.