How to Work on Your Company and Not in Your Company

Last Friday Dr. John Leininger, professor in the Department of Graphic Communications at Clemson University, explained how successful companies find time to work on the company, not just focus on day-to-day operations. Today he explains how to make this happen and recommends two books to get you started.

Something I have found in common among successful managers is that they read. You can test that observation quickly by just asking them to name their favorite book. You will find them giving you many alternatives. Now, I have to admit to you that I cheat a little at this process. I subscribe to Executive Book Summaries and have 316 twenty-minute book summaries on my iPhone that I listen to when I travel (this is from 10 years of subscriptions to the summary program, receiving 30 summaries a year). I find that with most books a twenty-minute summary is enough. If I find a good one, I will purchase it and read the whole book.

In my last post I talked about companies investing in new ideas to help develop for the future. But so many companies cannot focus on next year because they are focusing solely on next week. How do you change the mission of the management from working in the company to working on the company?

Two books come to mind. I think the two together are important, because if you focus on one without the other, you are missing critical elements that help promote success. The first is System Busters, by Philip Beyer. Before I get into the specifics, you need to know the principles in his book will work with any company, not just a printer. Would you say your business fits the following statement? “The daily work environment is managed chaos.” Most printers I walk into seem to be in a firefighting mode most of the day.

Philip Beyer, president of Beyer Printing in Nashville, came up with a way to retool his company to make it more organized. It took him 12 years to figure out how to systemize his company procedures to achieve a 99 percent on-time delivery history. He then wrote a book to share this insight with others. In it he outlines the process starting with a system of 100 percent cleanliness and proceeds to fine-tune every process in his plant to optimize everyone’s time and activity. Instead of using his management time to monitor everyone’s work, he designed a system that allows his employees to be empowered and take responsibility for the success of their work area. He created an environment that allows him to work on developing his company rather than acting as the sheriff.

This is a book I share with my students to help them see how things can be if you are organized and have a plan. Philip Beyer is giving you the formula that could help your company go from chaos to smooth, predictable scheduling in just six months, instead of 12 years.

Systemizing a company is all well and good. Printers have been doing that throughout the production process for years by trying to standardize the proofing process, standardizing the press make-ready process and reducing the amount of waste in the process. But you need to be careful you do not remove the creative opportunities employees need to find unique innovations to improve processes.

This is where the second book comes into play. Disciplined Dreaming, by John Linker, is a book written to help any company offering a service to its customers. It is a critical read if you are trying to become a “Marketing Service Provider.” If you are the customer, it is a critical read to know what you should expect from your vendor. For the last twenty years, American industry has been streamlining production and pushing creativity away from the process. This book talks about how to promote the value of creative thinking and bring it back into the process. Both of these books were ones I purchased and found substantial value in reading them from cover-to-cover.

If you can figure out how to systemize your production environment and promote creative thinking at the same time, you will create a highly productive environment. Consider having two different people read each book and then bringing them together to retool for the future. If you are not preparing for the future, success is doubtful and failure is waiting to take over your company. The good news is you get to choose what will happen.

Blog Author

Dr. John Leininger
Dr. Leininger is a Professor in the Department of Graphic Communications at Clemson University. You can reach him at or 864-656-3447.

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