The Cop28 Climate Change Conference currently underway in Dubai seems to have hit a couple of speed bumps on the way to banning fossil fuels.
There are a group of Mennonites in southern Ohio I love dearly. I try to go visit them a couple of times a year for a few days. My next visit is planned for the weekend of 16 - 17 Dec 2023. When I get there, my phone goes off and into my bag. There is no electricity. Heat is wood. Farming and local transportation is done with horses. They do use the bus system for long-distance traveling, and they do this quite often. Sounds inconvenient? It is the price of freedom.
The question for you, dear reader and marketer, is what are we missing? Our typical product cycle is to try out a feature or a concept and gauge the reaction. Then it lives or dies. But let's turn this around. You may know better than we do what the next innovation in digital marketing to the pulp and paper industry should be. Sometimes one can be so close to something that they miss the obvious. We want to make sure that is not happening to us. Hence we want to hear from you.
Often, the barriers to innovation boil down to an unwillingness to take risks. If those risks involve technological changes, that just adds to the resistance. In the last thirty years, communications, for instance, have gone through startling changes, more changes than had been seen by humankind from the first written and spoken words up until then. These changes profoundly affected the pulp and paper industry and have blown by as if we were sitting still.
One of the major barriers to process innovation is knowing too much about the subject. Knowledge of a subject sets up unconscious barriers to innovation. Think of learning to drive an automobile. I have taught three teenagers how to drive. In all three cases, their first time behind the wheel experience resulted in eyes darting about rapidly. As they became familiar with driving, the eye darting subsided because they learned what was important and dismissed everything else. Same is true of a process or procedure. If you know it with your eyes closed, so to speak, you are dismissing a great deal of information that might be helpful in innovation. It's the "we've never done it that way syndrome." There are a couple of ways to shortcut this.
A couple of seemingly disparate items strike me as we start to think about innovation and strategy this month. The first is the press release a couple of months ago announcing the coming departure of the chairman of a major pulp and paper company. Reading between the lines, one could infer that this chairman and the board are out of ideas as to how to take the company forward. The other is the current popular human resource acronym, DEI, which stands for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. As with most such acronyms, this one is too simplistic and is itself too inclusive, likely being applied where it is not appropriate.
At their best, all the sensors, software and specifications you have pertaining to quality are merely aids to your personnel as they produced quality services and goods at your company. This is true for even the most sophisticated (buzz word alert!) AI systems. If your people and culture are not tuned in and dedicated to producing quality, it will not happen. In the pulp and paper industry, we have not done such a good job of starting where quality starts--with our people and our culture.
Everything that comes onto your mill site must meet established standards before it gets to your mill site. Multiple suppliers must be in place to provide quick backup if a primary supplier fails. I would dare say the plan for the quality of the product you will make in a month or two must be already established now. When it comes to the quality actions needed from the human component of your operation, that must be planned six months to a year before you need it.
Little did I know when I wrote the column last week, "Quality is Attitude" that there would be a sequel, but here it is. We usually think of quality, and concomitant attitudes about quality, as we think of suppliers serving customers. So, what would you say about customers providing outstanding, unheard-of quality to their suppliers? Would you infer from this that such a company, if it existed, would have quality service so ingrained that their customers could rest assured the quality they receive in service and products is top notch? I have found such a company and unabashedly want to tell you about them and their president.
As we continue to think about quality in a different way this month, I have to say quality is attitude. I have seldom seen an angry person produce quality services or products. Likewise, I have never seen a glib, happy-go-lucky person produce quality either. Let's face it, quality is serious business. It can be a complicated business, too.
Many of us recognize quality and we love to acquire it. Few of us love to create it. We'll explore the love of quality and how to create it this month.
It has been widely reported recently that companies are "quietly cutting" employees. If you are not familiar with this term, it means your job has been eliminated, but you haven't. You'll be put on the sidelines until a place can be found for you. Likely your department has been eliminated, but to avoid paying you a severance package, you are "being placed in inventory" until a position can be found that matches your perceived skill set.
Extremely touchy subject, but I have never let that stop me before. DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) is at least on the lips of every human resource professional today. What should be your posture and response?
It is being reported that Smurfit, of Dublin, Ireland, and WestRock, of Atlanta, Georgia, are in merger talks. These are interesting times indeed. I recall in 1986 when Smurfit bought Container Corporation of America (CCA) with the help of Morgan Stanley. In fact, the combined company name included Morgan Stanley. Long term, that merger did not end well.
There is a new norm for work attendance. It was caused by the Covid lockdown, and if you are not aware of it, you must have been under a rock for the last three years. In the hourly ranks in our mills, it seems to be working itself out. Mills are adopting the twelve-hour day and hourly workers in many cases are working fourteen twelve-hour days out of each twenty-eight days, on various schedules of day and night shift. Maybe this will work and be widely adopted. That is a few hours more than a straight forty hour per week job, but who works forty hours per week. Salaried staff schedules have been more of a problem.
Fos the Rat says, "Every August, I look forward to taking over Mr. Jim's column and providing the insights of the Pulp Rats. This year we've done things a little differently, but here we are, already, at the end of the month. I hope you have enjoyed these interviews as much as I have enjoyed doing them. Let's see what Mr. Jim has to tell us today."
Fos the Rat says, "We've been talking to Mr. Jim this month and he has told us some amazing stories. Let's see what he has for us this week."
As we discussed last week, this year we are using a different format. Fos the Rat is interviewing Mr. Jim in a side room at the Pulp Rat Convention. Last week's story relayed matters that can happen within one's company. This week, we'll move outside the walls and see what can go wrong when an outside company has an evil intent.
Fos, the Rat, says, "I am going to use a slightly different format this year. Yes, the rat convention is going on as usual, but I have reserved a private room off the main convention floor and Mr. Jim has agreed to being interviewed concerning some of the situations he has seen over his fifty plus year career in this industry."
How clean is clean? What are we willing to pay for things to be incrementally cleaner?
Let's not forget what business we are in. Simply, that is to manufacture, convert, and/or print paper. There are many other activities in which mills must engage but these must be our focus--this is how we spin our invoice printer. I have lived through nearly the entire environmental era to date. Perhaps it is time for a new third party to rise up and help us with the entire environmental equation.
By and large, we all want the same thing for ourselves, our families and our friends. Clean air, clean water, and a pleasant view of nature. In most places governments have disincentivized (read: one can go to jail) managers from disobeying when it come to environmental regulations, so regular and repeated excursions from what is expected are matters of reasonably respecting compliance requirements. So why do your mill's neighbors have an adversarial relationship with your mill? There can be several reasons for this.
Conditions should not be us and them, but that is what they have become. My solution? At this point, you have no choice but to be absolutely transparent to your local neighbors and be cautious of the traveling rabble-rousers. This situation is no fault but our own.
This is environmental/regulations month here at Nip Impressions. I must ask, what has changed in the past year? It appears the rhetoric has become shriller, the regulations more onerous and the government has become more invasive.
Last week we talked about the missing doctor blades and how the solution cost the mill serious money through their own inability to manage their needs. I have a story from the other side of this issue as well.