Common Grounds: Solving Workflow with Leadership

Quality is best managed by leadership.

The conversation with a commercial manager of multiple in-plants was revelatory. His responsibility covered a variety of situations of business and higher education where management had been sourced. Each instance had a mix of team members who were employees of the institution or business and team members working for the commercial sourcing group. Few of us ever have to work in such a complexity. One of the shops experiences continual quality issues. VisionWhat is promised and proofed sometimes does not match what is delivered in color consistency. Every shop has to solve this in their workflow. Yet, no shop can ever claim to have final resolution. Why?

Can quality be 100% managed by workflow? Policy and procedure and process never resolve every issue. It is the team member performing the task that must apply discretion and excellence. Machines glitch. Chemical mixes fail. Papers absorb and dissipate moisture. Files are changed two seconds before a run. People forget to communicate changes. All of these items impact workflow. The finest workflow fit to the greatest team and equipment and software and supplies does not accommodate for all variances or all combinations of variances.

Priority and pressure pre-empt. They do. An angry customer can fluster the best of press operators. A haggard executive can shift priorities on a job in process in order to take care of the urgent. When the job is restarted not all the conditions are the same. What was going to be on time is now threatened as a rush. Content may shift due to final edits and the customer overlooks the slight but critical impact on the final piece as they sign the proof and rush out the door at 4:30pm for a piece due the next morning. “Well you signed it!”, just does not please the customer after they have handed out the goof at their most important meeting of the month.

Quality is best managed by leadership. Some things are taught and some things are caught. Leadership is best taught by being caught. A production team will reflect the tenor and approach of the leader. If you’d like to have impeccable workflow then start with impeccable leadership. What you do in the shadows will be done in the light. How you handle decisions needing discretion will lead them when you are not there.

Proactive: Leadership looks beyond the specific request to the heart of the need. Instead of overlooking a mistake on a proof by a customer, a leader reviews with the customer and asks qualifying questions if something seems amiss. That is caught when a manager does an employee review or barters with a vendor or approves a request for time off. Do you give that example at all times? Then expect team members to apply during production.

Responsible: Leadership is ownership. A leader will listen to a dissatisfied customer, personally apologize whether involved in the job or not, and give a reliable expectation of correction. That is caught when a manager takes the heat for the mistake of another department with no bad remarks.

Supportive: Leadership undergirds in tough times. A leader will stay an extra few minutes to make sure the next shift fully understands the job in process. That is caught when a manager cheerfully goes over to help a customer stuff envelopes when last minute changes threaten a mailing.

Customer Best: Leadership cares. Care means I want the best for the other person. A leader will make sure all the pieces of an order are packed so no damage can happen in shipping.  That is caught when a manager opens the door for someone whose hands are full at the front door of the company.

Summary: Plant management is a 24/7 leadership opportunity. How you live in the hallways will flow over into your shop. Cutting corners with vendor contracts will come out in cutting corners among layout artists. No workflow quality check will replace quality leadership example.

ROI/ROECOMMON GROUNDS: These tidbits come out of daily consternations, comments, and concerns of real managers doing what you do.

 This article focuses on the operations and communications levels of the operational pyramid.

Let’s talk: Phil Larson or Shepherd Consulting OK

Published by Phil Larson

Community leader, business leader, writer, dad, friend, amigo, hermano. Passionate about every activity in which I choose to participate.

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