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I Took Over a Print Shop with Bad Morale – How Do I Fix It?

We take a stab at this inquiry in the latest “Ask Big Picture.”

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I recently took over as a manager of a struggling business. Morale is bad and moaning seems to be part of the culture. Any ideas on how to turn it around?

This one starts with you. Lead by example. Bring an upbeat attitude to the shop every morning and make it clear you expect the same positivity from your charges. In this new era under new management, it’s expected your employees will take responsibility for their own happiness and effectiveness. Sales may be down, and the economic environment is more challenging, but your employees are either part of the solution or they’re part of the problem. For truly disgruntled staff, there’s not much a manager can do except to make it known they’re on the wrong bus. (And it’s often a couple of bad seeds that will set the toxic tone for a store.) A wide-format digital print shop is no place for people who throw their hands up in the air and declare, “This place sucks!” at every setback.

As a second-generation owner, how do you balance tradition and new ideas?

“During our transition, my mother-in-law said to me, ‘The hardest part of all this is watching someone take care of your baby (the sign shop) differently than you. They change it different and feed it different, but the baby is still being taken care of. While it feels wrong to me, I can see that it isn’t wrong – it is simply different.’ There is no question that my husband and I are different people than my in-laws, but ultimately, we all have the same goal and vision: Building a company that we can be proud of, that’s growing, and that’s making a difference in our community. We have a focus on growing a strong team, as we’re only as good as our staff and we believe in empowering them to help us reach our full potential. We’re excited to continue to see the ways our company will flourish, change, and find new and creative ways to help our customers grow their business,” says Allison Kast-Eichenberg, owner, Signarama Chandler in Chandler, Arizona.

How do I lift my store out of the rut of mediocrity?

It’s said the toughest test of a manager is how they address lackluster performance. The reason is because it’s not as much about issuing dictates and drawing up policy as it is about fostering a culture that accepts nothing but excellence. Indeed, according to work by the Brigham Young business school on high-performing teams, peers manage the bulk of the heavy lifting when it comes to maintaining standards. Almost counter-intuitively, it is in mediocre teams that bosses must enforce standards and are the source of accountability. (It goes without saying that in the weakest businesses, there is no accountability.) But how do you get to that almost mythical land of self-enforced high standards?

Joseph Grenny, a social scientist and author of Crucial Accountability, stresses there is no silver bullet to address average performance, but there are four leadership practices that can help: Start by showing the consequences of mediocrity, to connect people with the experiences, feelings, and impact of bad performance. Keep the issue alive by telling stories that illustrate work well done and the real human cost of shoddy work, such as installs breaking down, ruined events, and upset customers.

Set clear goals and explain why they’re important. “Use concrete measures to make poor performance painfully apparent,” says Grenny. “Establish peer accountability so that people feel comfortable challenging one another when they see mediocrity. Regular weekly reviews can provide opportunities for mutual feedback and establish peer-accountability as a norm,” says Grenny.

It’s key that your business becomes an environment where everyone feels entitled to challenge anyone if it is in the best interest of the business. Be quick to defend the high standards. A chronic poor performer is a clear impediment to the goals you’ve set. How you handle this situation will let your team know whether your highest value is keeping the peace or pursuing performance.

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Any tips on how to get more efficient on the phone. I often find myself looking at the “duration of call” display and thinking, “Darn! 12 minutes! I really can’t afford to waste that kind of time”?

Phones can be a time suck, which is why millennials love texting so much – you’re in control. But phone calls will no doubt be around for a bit longer. Business consultant Jo Soard suggests these tips to improve your telephone efficiency:
Get to the point. If you’re the caller, say: “Paul. Hi, I need two questions answered, and I know you’re the only person who can help me.”

If you’re receiving the call, cut to the chase with the ever reliable: “Hi, Lynn. Nice to hear from you. What can I do for you today?”And to avoid never-ending phone tag: Leave short and instructive voicemails, stating the purpose of your call and exactly what you want. That will equip them with the information they need to respond promptly. For example: “Hi, Kent. It’s Jack from ZZ Print and Graphics. Please call me with the shipment date for the vinyl I ordered.”

Do veterans make good employees? Is there anything to the stereotype of them being rigid and rule-bound?

There’s probably not a worse thing to base a hiring decision on than a stereotype. Of course, an ex-military hire could turn out to be a dud – it’s a huge organization – but that risk is more than offset by the potential positives: Not just anyone can enlist. The recruitment process does much of the filtering for you, screening out people with criminal records, histories of drug use, problematic financial records, and even some long-term health issues. Even better is that not many join the military simply to pick up a paycheck, which is probably the worst kind of employee. Vets may have joined for patriotic reasons, to get help with a college education, or for the experience, but the ethos is about accomplishing a mission or a goal. There’s a chance a freshly retired vet will take some adjustment if your workplace is highly individualistic and competitive as opposed to team-based. But if you’ve got a good candidate, keep in mind they could bring a lot to the table. Now, do your job as a business owner to see if they have the relevant skills and personality to fit your culture.

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Big Picture magazine has been serving wide-format printing professionals for more than 25 years, providing business-specific content to help boost bottom lines through its industry-leading magazine, website, email bulletins, Brain Squad and social media channels.

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