Lane Hickey-Wiggins | Crain's Orlando

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Lane Hickey-Wiggins

Background:  

Lakeland, Florida-based Dprint is a family-owned screen printing company that incorporated in 1964 as Douglass Screen Printers. The company was the first screen printing contractor to NASA and was Florida’s first green-certified digital and screen printing facility. Dprint’s capabilities now include giving clients more access, control and opportunities for collaboration when creating their custom products online.

The Mistake:

We didn’t consider employees’ perspectives when announcing a major new service.

In the past, as Douglass Screen Printers, we’ve done large-scale printing. We do screen-printing runs that are anywhere from 500 to a quarter million pieces of a product for a customer. So that’s been kind of our bread and butter. We still to this day maintain a large stock catalog where we screen print all our products that we ship out within the next business day. But DPrint is doing one-off printing in conjunction with what we were doing before, and I think that’s the crucial thing that I missed in conveying the change to my employees – that [Dprint] is an addition.

Most of us [in the industry] are looking for quantity. But at Dprint.com we’ve designed this new platform where you can design your own decal, vehicle wrap, whatever it may be, and that one item comes in to us, then we print it and ship it out the door.

To announce this, I thought I had this great communications spiel laid out, and that I was thorough and prepared. But I didn’t have all the bases covered. I think I really missed a fundamental concern of my employees, which was, “This is totally different than what we’ve been doing, and you’re telling us that we’re gonna do it now?”

I think I improperly conveyed the message. In going from Douglass to DPrint, we weren’t changing who we are, but [rather] fighting to sustain ourselves. In the digital and screen printing industry, you have to continually evolve if you want to stay afloat. But our employees were really hesitant and didn’t understand what that looked like.

Having been a family business for so long, we just didn’t know how to undergo the [rebranding] process. We were novices. We didn’t know how to do it or what it would do to our employees. All our employees have been there a really long time. So I thought that approaching it in a methodical way and walking them through a presentation step by step was really the way to go. But [to them] there were a lot of unknowns there. It just brought a lot of tension into our office.

All these different questions that I thought were logically answered by my presentation were not.

The Lesson:

I think it’s important to realize that you have to be an effective communicator. I thought when I communicated with employees that I had covered all the bases – but I hadn’t. I [needed to] talk to my employees beforehand and gather their opinions, and also see what their thoughts are on going forward in the new direction. Because I think their opinions are valuable. I needed to get their feedback prior to trying to introduce a brand new direction.

I think I went into it saying, “I’m going to get through this presentation and I already know everything. I’ve been [dealing with] this for months now, and they’re going to know exactly what I’m talking about.”

But [instead] they had questions. “What does this mean for us? How are we going to do this? Is this going to affect our status of employment?” All these different questions that I thought were logically answered by my presentation were not.

The lesson is that, to effectively communicate, you have to step back from the situation and try to view things from their perspective. It takes both sides to effectively communicate. [It’s not] just you being a leader and knowing where you are going. Obviously, as the leader you make decisions, but I think the perspective of the employee is always going to add value to whatever you’re trying to do.

Follow Lane on Twitter at @lanekathryn.

Photo courtesy of Lane Hickey-Wiggins

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