Written by Howie Fenton
Senior Technology Consultant, NAPL

Secrets of Digital Service Leaders

Twice in the last month, Andy Paparozzi, our chief economist, and I made presentations in which we talked about common denominators that separate leading companies from the rest of the industry. The first presentation, during the Print 13 show, was entitled, “The Secrets of Digital Leaders.” The second was a recent webinar in which we unveiled the 2013 NAPL State of the Industry Report.

Personally, I find these presentations more fun and satisfying than most others because the information combines rigorous scientific studies, along with our face-to-face consulting experience with customers.  As a result, we find that the research and consulting efforts “feed one another.” That means observations we make while working with customers helps drive new questions in our research, and research findings help drive our consulting work.

For example, something that keeps Joe Truncale, our President and CEO, closely in touch with our members is spending time helping them in the strategic planning process. Not surprisingly, as he started to ask more questions, we learned that leaders are better at strategic planning.

In our latest State of the Industry report, we also learned that leaders are better at thinking outside the box. For example, they meet more frequently with their customers, listen to the voice of their customer, are more successful in training their sales force, utilize subject matter experts, use team selling approach, and they use social media as a marketing tool.

One of the most consistent research findings we see across all of our research projects is that leaders are better at hiring and training. In our 2012 digital services survey, we found that many companies hired from outside our industry for IT skills. Leaders are also better at training and cross training staff to perform multiple tasks.

Another finding which became obvious in our consulting efforts is that leaders measure and benchmark performance better than the rest of the industry. For example, in our 2007 digital services survey, we found that leaders were better at overcoming upfront bottlenecks, such as estimating, and in subsequent studies we learned that leaders are better at automating their workflows.

But one of the things that I find most interesting in the latest state of the industry report is that leaders actively critique their performance. They either do it themselves or hire someone for an objective evaluation of their performance. This is something we see all the time on our consulting projects with commercial and in-plant printers. The best want to benchmark their operational and financial performance against similar companies.

Leaders Love Report Cards

The result is a report card that shows what they are doing well and where they need to improve. Report cards of performance is more of a leader than a laggard exercise. Ironically, leaders are more motivated to compare their performance to other leaders.

Our research shows that leaders like report cards … and leaders take action based on report cards, while the rest of the industry does not. Leaders are not afraid to admit that they have problems with poor follow-through, insufficient skills, issues with overcoming resistance to change, and procrastination. And when they recognize their own shortcomings, they’re willing to change.

So, if you want to act like a leader, you should consider using report cards, which measure and compare your performance…and then take action based on your report cards.

If interested in the presentation, “The Secrets of Digital Leaders”, it is available for download here.

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Howie Fenton is a consultant and business advisor at NAPL. Howie advises commercial printers and in-plants on benchmarking performance against industry leaders, increasing productivity, and adding digital and value services through customer research. For more information click here.