Hardly any business owner and/or entrepreneur would call her company “a social experiment”. I have to recognize that I proudly do. When I read James Lawther guest blog (A View from the Q, August 2015) I immediately thought of Ludovico, a print shop I have owned with my high school and basketball buddy Jorge Fernández for the last sixteen years. Lawther ends his blog with these words “the way to create a high performance culture is to seek out poor performance, embrace it and fix it, not punish it”. That is precisely what we have done from day one. Don’t get me wrong, we do not run a textbook, utopic, business-magazine company here. Our small twenty-employee company has seen all sorts of mistakes from its not-so-enlightened owners, but we have stayed fervent about creating a culture where each person understands, embraces and practices quality, productivity and outstanding service.
Juan (left) and Fabio (center) part of our pressmen
From the beginning we made it clear to our first six employees that we wanted to run a company where they would want to return every day, have a nice work environment where they could perform, have a saying in their jobs, and return home every day feeling proud of their accomplishments. Three of those six initial employees are still with us, the other three we had to let go when we discovered they were stealing from the nascent company. But we were not discouraged, back to the plan. We replaced the bad seeds and added new personnel and new equipment. Everybody knew they have permission to stop working if there was anything that they did not understand. Once a new pressman, nicknamed “Pin Pin”, printed a whole job in the wrong shade of blue. I asked him whether he was sure of the color when he printed the order, his answer was that we wasn’t but he was afraid to ask because he did not believe me when I instructed him to stop under any doubt. Culture, but not our culture, was still too strong in his mind. It took him some time to change.
Right the opposite happened to Pablo. He started working for us when he was 18, right after he finished high school. He had plans for college, but a new baby made him change his mind. Being new to the job market, he was not contaminated from previous work cultures so we had the opportunity to literally “shape” him. Over the years he became the main operator of a really complicated folding machine, and he is currently the second pressman in a four-color press. He is intelligent, diligent, and has a lot of pride in a job well done.
When there is a mistake, a quality error, there is no blame, we all discuss the situation and find a way not to do it again. Documentation is kept very simple, just enough to make a good job.
This year alone three of them will retire. Doña Leda, our accountant, has already retired, but decided to return because she misses her job too much; Don Hermes, our cutting expert, who is so smart he completes the newspaper crossword puzzle every single day, has health issues but he says he wouldn’t know what to do without us, and doña Myriam, a former beauty queen in town, whose smile I’m going to miss very much. Notice the “doña”, “don” and “doña” here, something very Costa Rican that shows our respect for older people.
Jorge Fernández (left) partner, Carlos Chinchilla (center) long time friend and former sales agent, and me (right) at Ludovico
In our “social experiment” we are all equal, Jorge currently runs the operation, while I go only once a week due to my training and consulting commitments at PXS, one of my other companies (but that is another story). Along with Rocío from sales and doña Leda from accounting they are what we call “management”, but they are more like coaches or guides or even traffic cops, just showing everybody the way.
Nothing of what I’m telling here would be of any value if it wasn’t for the fact that it actually works, it does make a difference. Not only do we have a great reputation for quality and service, but also we are faster than print shops many times our size.
We have indeed created a high performance culture that seeks out poor performance, embraces it and fixes it, and very certainly does not punish it. Let this blog from a small print shop in Costa Rica be a testimony of Mr. Lawther, a middle-aged-middle-manager (his words) from the U.K., enlightened blog.