Over 10 years ago, I started questioning myself about how I can start a company that behaves differently than the way most printing companies behave. As some of you may know, there are either printing companies that have speed but can’t deliver complex projects or companies who can deliver complex projects but aren’t flexible enough to the needs of the client.
I was, for a long time, a part of the latter. I worked in environments where quality was king but the ability to rush jobs through was a hassle. It required so many steps to get something done that we could only deal with set timelines. Short timelines required a considerable effort and introduced the potential of making mistakes at every turn. We shied away from rush projects or charged our clients a considerable rush charge that deterred them from doing it.
FGS was created with that in mind. How can I create a company that can change on a dime and be able to do it on a consistent basis and, at the same time, minimize mistakes? Here are 5 things I made sure to do that have worked well to help me achieve this.
1) Hire Right
When you are looking at who to hire, you must find people that have an open mind. Someone that is willing to say, “I don’t know about that but I’m willing to learn.” You must look for people that are not afraid of asking “Why?” The first person I hired to be part of my team was someone that in the interview got so excited about the possibility of building a company where asking “Why?” was part of the norm. She literally said, “Even if you don’t hire me, you still have to do this.” Those are the kind of people you are looking for. Stay away from your traditional group. Surrounding yourself with people that think like you, act like you, and behave like you is not a winning strategy.
2) Teach more than expected
From day one, you need to teach. You need to find ways to give away all your knowledge. You should remain open to all questions and be ready to say “I don’t know” when you don’t. You, as the head of the organization or team, can’t be the only one that knows something. Your team should understand the background information on clients, projects, and even industries, so that they can adjust to the client’s needs just as you would.
3) Build the right culture
One of the most important factors is culture, and this starts with the people on your team. If you have a culture of intolerability, it is because most of your organization acts that way. A good analysis starts by looking at what you promote to your team and what your teammates promote to each other. One thing to remember is that you have little power to influence the culture single-handedly. A change in culture requires a change in the mentality of your organization and employees, and over time the culture will align. If you want people that play well as a team, stop looking to hire people that are all about themselves and would do anything to win. If you want a culture all about winning, then stop hiring people that want to be part of a family. There is nothing wrong with either one, it is the mixed message that creates problems. Do not say you are a family and then fire someone at the first sign of problems. Do not say you want to win at all costs and then feel betrayed when they do something questionable. Make sure you are clear on what you are saying and listen carefully to what your team is saying. If they are not in line, you have a culture misalignment that you’ll need to adjust.
Stay open to changing the way you do things. If you ever catch yourself saying, “This is the way we have always done it,” stop and see if you can change. Innovation comes from trying something new and allowing everyone in your team to contribute, especially when your team is asking “Why?” questions. Every time you feel that someone in your team might have asked a stupid question, stop and try to understand why they asked it. You never know when a simple question of “Why?” can change your whole outcome.
Just as you want your team to ask questions and help you innovate, it is on you to also challenge the thoughts in your team. For example, if someone on your team bypassed a process, try to understand why they made that choice. Pay attention to how they react and challenge their thinking. Help them get more clarity on the reason they made that decision. They should understand all the reasoning behind their choice. Challenging your team members’ thoughts should be about discovery and not about who may be right. The goal is to let your team come up with new ways of doing things, but never stop challenging them so they can take things even further.
None of these items on the list stand alone. In order to be successful in creating a flexible company, you should apply yourself in all 5 areas. By doing so and continuing to refine them, you’ll have a company and a team that is nimble and can change on a dime.
We like to give credit where credit is due. Photo by Austin Distel.