When working with clients in this industry, it is not unusual for management teams to tell us how much they know and what they do well. But truth be told, it’s not what you know that will hurt you; it’s what you don’t know. More specifically it is what you ignore or what you don’t know that often results in catastrophic failures.

Arguably the best book about this subject is Why Smart Executives Fail by Dartmouth professor Sydney Finkelstein. It is an interesting read of how some of the leading companies have struggled through serious failures. Included in the book are case histories of good companies led by smart, educated management teams such as Motorola, Rubbermaid, LA Gear and others.

Why do businesses fail? The conclusion drawn was not that data was not available some of the time or most of the time, but that the signs were evident every single time and the companies simply did not see or recognize the magnitude of the problem.

For example, the author talks about Motorola’s attempt to promote their aging Razr cellphones while customers were freshly enamored by the iPhone and BlackBerry. Motorola either chose to ignore the facts or they simply didn’t not know what they didn’t not know.

Impact in the Printing Community

We see this all the time in our client work. It is shocking to see that the evidence is there and the management team either: denies it exists, does not know what they don’t know, or believes it is not important enough to warrant action.

Here is a short list of danger signs. How many can you relate to?

  • You see shooting stars more often than your staff in receiving important training.
  • You believe that the estimating procedures are OK, but then again, there are times when your estimates are way off, perhaps because they have not been updated in years and should probably be checked and updated if needed.
  • You suspect you might succeed more by specializing in vertical markets or products but don’t know where to start.
  • The equipment procurement practices have never changed. It works but after each negotiation you suspect that there is money left on the table.
  • You could not write down which of your customers have switched to your competition and even if you did find out – you are not sure why because you have no way of tracking their changing needs.
  • Despite a series of ongoing mistakes and actions that have been discussed, the mistakes continue to plague production – impacting sales and profitability.
  • Some of the tools used today are long out of date increasing production time and raising costs of your products.
  • There are some staff that are unhappy and it’s possible that they are creating bottlenecks and possibly sabotaging productivity.

If you agree or can relate to 3 or more, then something is seriously wrong and you need to take action.

If you don’t agree, then ask yourself this question: How much longer do sales have to remain stagnant, profits slip away or customers defect before it is bad enough to fix?