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Delegating And Outsourcing Require Similar Skills

Have you noticed that the skills and techniques required for good delegation are very similar to those needed for good outsourcing?  In today’s world of increased specialization, it’s vital to get people to perform to expectations, regardless of whether or not they are on the payroll.

Many graphic arts leaders have deep entrepreneurial roots.  Unless important tasks are delegated to trusted subordinates or vendors, growth will be stymied as the abilities of key executives become fully tapped.  Companies experienced in combating plateaus know that they are very difficult to break through.  To extend above “glass ceilings,” company leaders must learn how to delegate and outsource.

There is a paradox in our industry.  Our information-laden world is tugging graphic arts companies toward increased specialization, yet print buyers are demanding that printers provide one-stop-shopping convenience.  Printing companies that expand in both size and operational complexity eventually will reach a level at which they cannot do it all.  Stagnation is the inevitable result.

Point The Compass In The Right Direction
When either delegating or outsourcing, leaders need to guide, not micromanage, the activities of others.  At one time or other, everyone has felt that they could have done a job better themselves.  While this may be true in some cases, printers should frequently ask themselves if effort expended in “non-core” areas is beneficial or misguided.  Although we may be making progress in the micro-management of our business, what’s the point if we’re heading in the wrong direction?  Sure it would be nice if a printer could offer top-notch prepress, press, bindery, finishing, design, photography, mailing and trucking services under one roof, but in today’s world of scarce resources, this just isn’t practical.  Delegation and outsourcing are the only reasonable alternatives.

Once a job has been delegated or outsourced, resist the urge to micromanage.  If you don’t, then you have to accept responsibility for the outcome.  Micro-managers strip their subordinates of empowerment and have only themselves to blame when people develop an “it’s not my responsibility” attitude.  Managers skilled in delegation plan ahead and involve others early in a project’s development.  Similarly, skilled outsourcers include outsourcing partners early so that the best ideas can be chosen from a pool of alternatives without the pressure of last minute deadlines.  Once a project has been delegated or outsourced, good leaders involve their associates in today’s tasks and tomorrow’s planning.  In this way trust-based relationships are developed.

The Importance Of Mutual Trust
Quad Graphics’ Harry Quadracci once said, “If you do business with people you don’t trust or like, there is no question that you will have trouble.  The only question is, ‘when will it happen and how much will it cost?’”

A standard procedure for hiring prospective employees is to ask for references.  It’s appropriate to do the same when evaluating potential new vendors.  When searching for an employee to delegate a task to, most managers will inquire about the reputations and skill levels of internal candidates.  The same should occur when outsourcing.  Talk with industry colleagues who have worked with your short list of potential business partners.  When outsourcing bindery work, be sure your choice has the C’s and E’s (capability, capacity, experience, enthusiasm and expertise) to do your job right.

Good delegating and outsourcing begin with clear, unambiguous statements of what is wanted.  For good performance, carefully choose employees and outsourcing partners, precisely define what constitutes success, exercise good leadership and treat people right.  A key success factor for a long-term partnership is developing a shared “vision” of mutual benefit.

When delegating or outsourcing high volume bindery work, consider establishing quality and delivery benchmarks.  It is important not to set standards so high as to be unrealistic.  You will not get a 100% effort from someone who considers your goals unattainable.  In the graphic arts world, where goals so often appear to be moving targets, getting people to buy into a work vision is crucial.

As significant in-house bindery jobs are completed, appropriate team leaders should conduct evaluations and provide feedback to all involved.  Employees should be invited to make suggestions for improved performance.  At Rickard Bindery, we have found that being generous with praise and stingy with criticism goes a long way.  Even when jobs go south, maintain a calm demeanor and emphasize future improvement rather than past shortcomings.

Similarly, give feedback directly to venders after significant outsourced jobs are delivered.  All but the least progressive subcontractors will be eager to receive honest performance evaluations, even when the feedback isn’t positive.  If you are happy, let everybody know it.  If you are unhappy, remember that lower level employees usually have limited abilities to correct problems on their own.  Serious complaints should be addressed to key business influencers because they will do a better job of delivering an accurate representation of your message throughout their organization.

Avoid The Blame Game
There are several ways to respond to problems after a job has been delegated or outsourced.  Among the possibilities are 1) hollering, 2) giving further instructions, 3) asking for options, 4) asking for recommendations or 5) saying, “you handle it the way you think is best.”  Which do you think is the most empowering?

If poor performance on a job is a shared responsibility, own up to your errors and foster a positive environment in which creativity can thrive.  The ability to develop win-win solutions to tough problems is jeopardized when disagreeing business partners engage in the “blame game.”  Open and honest talk rarely is one-sided.  Remember that it’s better to win the war than just a battle.  Loyalty is greatly reduced when vendors must shoulder disproportionate responsibility for shared problems.

If a job goes badly, it is generally counterproductive to launch a witch-hunt.  One of the people I admire most in the graphic arts industry typically reacts to problems by asking three questions: “What went wrong?”  “How do we fix it?” and, “How do we proceed from here?”  As a method of control, blame is ineffective.  It’s analogous to beating your kids.  It shuts them up momentarily, but doesn’t cure the underlying behavior problem.  Fact-finding is a much better alternative.

Positive Reinforcement
Recognition is important to most people.  If employees do an exceptional job, managers should recognize their efforts.  The same should be done for outsourcing partners.  Regardless of whether someone is on your payroll, people are people.  Think of how much you appreciate it when your customers send you positive testimonial letters.

Over the years, I’ve noticed what happens when customers praise our employees.  Although the response is transparent to the casual observer, most workers put forth an extra effort to give appreciative customers a little bit more in return.  Even cranky Customer Service Representatives have been known to become downright tenacious about quickly catering to the needs of pleasant customers.

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To be successful in today’s graphic arts world, offer technical expertise, excellent quality, and prompt service at a fair price.  Business relationships need to “feel” right for both the buyer and the seller in order to thrive.  Whether you choose to delegate or outsource, you should demand and receive “peace of mind.”

Kevin Rickard is Vice President of Operations for Rickard Bindery and a Director of the Binding Industries of America.  Rickard Bindery specializes in discovering solutions to challenging folding, saddle stitching, gluing and other bindery jobs.  Kevin can be reached at (800) 747-1389.