Find the superhero to make your company soar


Creating a new job role can be just as stressful as applying for one. But your business could seriously boost its ROI by focusing on people investment rather than equipment investment

In the early 1990s, a design consultant at what was then a computer company in trouble, impressed his temporary employers so much that they created a role and employed him permanently. Nearly 20 years later, that employee, Jonathan Ive, had transformed Apple into one of the world’s biggest multifaceted technology companies as its head of design, designing everything from the iPhone to the Macbook. In doing so, he demonstrated the value in a company taking a risk and creating a role for someone. It proved that people investment could give just as good an ROI as kit investment.

This is a lesson that some in print have already learned, but many more still fail to see the glow of a good CV beyond the glare of a shiny new press investment. People are seen as unwanted overheads, a gamble too far, and even a decadence in constrained times. And yet the evidence suggests that to move into new areas, to gain new contacts or to transform an existing business, it is people, not kit, that really make the difference. Admittedly, however, creating a role for a new recruit is a difficult business.

The first hurdle
The first hurdle for some would be to start recruiting again at all. Recession and its aftermath prompted recruitment freezes across most businesses so that far from creating a new role, most companies weren’t even replacing existing roles when people left. Mercury Search & Selection managing director Dani Novick says this is a highly damaging policy for firms to adopt.

“What happens is that you cannot replace those who leave, so their jobs get redistributed to other staff and they get frustrated and ultimately leave and then you get this circle of damage to the company occurring,” she explains. “The company becomes undesirable as an employer.”

This haemorrhaging of headcounts is arguably even more damaging than the equivalent stagnation of press investments. While the old press is still doing the same job effectively, be it slower, staff stretched across multiple roles end up doing more than ever and generally managing none of them very well as they are so stretched.

So before any additional roles are recruited, companies must ensure current staff levels are appropriate and that every employee has a manageable workload. Only then can you explore the benefits of creating roles and creating new roles within a business is a good idea for a number of reasons: to expand into new markets; to get fresh thinking into the business; to look at different approaches to existing processes – essentially, to take the business forward. Printers already think in these terms for hardware investments and the key is to transfer this thinking to people investments. Some already have.

“We want new thinking to come into the business, so we are actively looking to bring that on board through recruitment. We believe that the benefit to the business of this appointment will be as significant as buying new equipment,” says Cambrian Printers managing director Doug Gray.

“We see investing in highly skilled, experienced staff as the same as investing in kit. It is as important for us,” agrees Pureprint chief executive Mark Handford.

The benefits obviously differ depending on the role created. If you are looking to get into a new area of print – say, shifting from litho to digital – Pureprint ensured success in this endeavour by appointing someone with experience in that area to head up the move – someone with the right mindset and knowledge. At Cambrian, meanwhile, a recent appointment was made to the pressroom of a person with no background in print but with a strong track record of lean manufacturing, in the hope of a fresh pair of eyes creating greater productivity. It worked wonders. Another area that benefits from role creation, says Harrison Scott joint managing director George Thompson, is sales.

“Clients don’t do business with a company – they do business with a person,” he explains. “So if you are recruiting for a move into a new area, the creation of a new sales role for a salesperson from that sector is invaluable, as with them will come the contacts and the connections essential to the success of your move.”

“All your competitors have access to the same equipment and so it is the people that make the difference in the end,” agrees Novick.

While in theory this all sounds sensible, practically going out to find people to fill these roles is arguably more difficult than ever. Print is, after all, suffering something of a skills crisis.

Quality control
“There is not as much quality out there as there used to be. The industry has contracted, some of the skilled people have moved out and we have a real issue with the lack of young people coming through,” says Handford. “Where you used to be able to pick up people quite easily, it really is very difficult now. Seven years ago, we did not use recruitment people at all, as you knew it was easy to get hold of someone. It is not so easy now and it is very time consuming.”

Pureprint now deals with one recruitment company only, in the main. Handford says this is because that company can get to really know the Pureprint business and therefore seek out or recommend staff that the recruitment firms know would fit in. Gray also uses a single recruitment company for similar reasons.

“We use a recruitment consultant for access and time. If we advertised we would get 60 or so applications, but none would be of the calibre we could get through a recruitment agent. They have people on their books that are not necessarily seeking employment and browsing the job ads,” he says. “Also, if you advertise, you are flagging up your business plan to your nearest rivals, where as with a recruitment consultant you have confidentiality.”

That said, Gray reveals that the aforementioned press room appointment arose from the “guy just knocking on the door asking for work”. Gray took him on as a casual and quickly saw the potential.

Handford, likewise, says that not all recruitment consultants are as good as the one he uses. “Sometimes they will ring you and say that have this person for you and you will pursue it and find said person did not exist – they wanted to get you on board before even looking for that candidate. It can be very frustrating,” he says.

Novick explains that the best recruitment companies will have regular meetings with you, working in a partnership to know your business inside out in order to create a ‘talent pipeline’ bespoke to your company.

That talent pipeline does not have to just be from print, either. Recruitment consultants arguably have better access to these people. Gray says his financial director, for example, has no print knowledge, but a good understanding of bad debt. Handford agrees that for most areas of print, a knowledge of manufacturing is generally enough – aside from sales roles.

“A knowledge of print helps, but for the actual manufacturing process, a bright manufacturing director can be taught the print side,” he says. “Managing a factory is a skill in itself. It does not matter if it is cars or print. So employing from outside the industry is not something that would worry me. That said, I am not sure if I would employ a salesman from outside the industry, unless in a junior role.”

Yet finding that person is only the very start of the process. Once you have decided to create a role and decided who you want to fill it, you have to firstly persuade them to join your company and secondly decide whether you can afford their services. The first part of this quandary is easier to tackle.

As mentioned earlier, the skills shortage in print means that the pickings for employers are not as rich as they were. Hence, when someone good comes along, it is likely there will be a few companies chasing them.

“You have to make yourself attractive,” says Novick. “The individuals you will be looking at will have their pick of opportunities. There is a skills shortage in this industry and so these people are in demand. You have to handle the first meeting very well, and sell what you can do for them, where you want to go and how that person can facilitate that.”

One way of doing this is to offer them a career path, according to Gray. He says that for every role they create, they are looking at that new person as a potential future owner. “They need to excel in their area but have the skills to push on and become a shareholder. This is a necessity for the business, but it is also a headturner for the candidates. It is a very attractive proposition you are putting in front of them.”

The other way is money, of course, and this is where we come to the tricky bit: quantifying a recruitment investment. With a new press, you obviously have a million statistics to plug into a business case and get a neat ROI plan out the other side. With people, it is more difficult: people power is much less quantifiable.

“Very few employers sit down and work out how that staff member will pay for itself and over what period of time it would achieve that,” says Novick. “It is a very difficult thing to quantify – especially if you are going into a new market where there will be plenty of unknowns. A salary alone is a poor representation of the investment – you will get monetary benefits from new markets, or fine tuned systems, or new clients but you will also get a knock on effect on the rest of the staff. It makes them think they are working for a progressive company that is going places. As a result, they do not leave.”

Quantifying return
As difficult as it is, companies who create roles have managed to quantify return. For sales staff, you can clearly have a decent guess at the number of clients they will bring in and their expected turnover. For operational staff, efficiency drives can be estimated and costs attached to that. As to whether that person is capable of achieving figures that pay for their salary – Thompson says you should have enough information to make a decent judgement.

“It is all about a person’s track record. That should make it less of a gamble because in that CV you should be able to see the worth of that person,” he says.

That does not really answer the question of how much you are gambling, however. Handford says that at Pureprint, there is a yearly budget for new roles and so he knows how much he is able to spend. For Gray, it is a little more reactive. He recently interviewed four candidates for a new role and found that money was a key issue.

“The employer has to decide what the job is worth,” says Gray. “We sat down with candidates and realised they would be a significant cost due to the offering they could bring. Do you break the wage structure to bring someone in? We had to decide whether we could afford this person, but after just five minutes we were asking, “Can we afford not to?”. The investment was high but so were the potential returns. Of course, it is ‘speculate to accumulate’, but past experience has been positive.”

Such is the shortage of decent candidates out there, however, that with no set structure, it is easy to get caught into a bidding war. Novick recommends a top limit you would not surpass, but stresses that this limit has to be realistic –that you should be prepared to pay a premium for the very best talent.

Yet there are some who say the recruitment side of role creation is not always necessary. While AJS Labels managing director Andrew Scrimgeour is a fan of creating roles to progress the firm, he says that seeking outside candidates can be damaging.

“There is a temptation in business to buy in the expertise – and I realise if you need to upskill quickly, then buying in can be essential – but printers should not overlook what they have got in their ranks already,” he explains. “There is hidden potential within your own staff and you should give them the opportunity to explore that. The return from investing in your own staff can be better than going outside. Rather than recruitment costs and high salaries, the investment comes in mentoring, training, giving them confidence and giving them the ability to explore new things. If they make a mistake, don’t kill them off straight away.

“There is always the temptation to recruit high-profile, high-salaried people, but these people are often not there two years down the line. The success rate is sometimes poor. Of course they can be great for a company, but it is important to realise there is an in-house option.”

Even when there is not an in-house option, that does not mean everyone is still going to welcome a recruit with open arms. If there have been cut backs or redundancies in the recent past in other areas, then new appointments can be resented. Novick says as a result, every appointment has to be explained and well communicated to staff and then followed through.

“It can be the case that an appointment will be made then the skills of that person are never used as those running the business get sidetracked and all those plans of expansion are lost in the day to day running of the business. You have to make sure you use that staff member,” she explains.

Creating a new role is not something to be taken lightly, then, and clearly no matter how much research you do, there will always be an element of risk to it. However, the risk of doing nothing is even more pronounced, with stagnation in employment just as detrimental to a company as stagnation in hardware. The danger for printers that do not realise this is that as presses become more and more standardised, people really will be the differentiator. Having the procedures and willingness in place to get the best of the best will play a big part in future success for any company.


  • Ensure that current staff levels are optimum and that no staff are over-stretched
  • Think clearly about why you need a new person and what they would be expected to do. Targets and in-depth planning of day to day activities are essential
  • Be careful – untargeted advertising can lead to a deluge of CVs and you letting your competitors know what you are up to
  • Consider the cost of the staff member carefully. You will probably end up paying more than the average but have a ceiling price you won’t go past as a bidding war may be likely
  • Be prepared to sell your company to the candidate as you would to a client – talent is highly in-demand
  • Communicate the recruitment to all staff members clearly
  • Consider internal candidates alongside external candidates – you could have a hidden gem within your ranks

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