Great expectations

Every morning, a caravan of cars roll into the parking lot behind the Great Lakes Companies. By design, all office staff and plant personnel must walk through the production department to reach their respective work areas. That minor detail helps create a feeling of management accessibility and promote an informal atmosphere with open communication.

“If someone has a question, they know what time I come in and they’ll grab me on the way to the office,” explains Tony Sanson, vice president of finance and human resources.

That is just one reason why Great Lakes was named “The Best Workplace in America” by the Printing Industries Association. Judges evaluated six key areas in human resources: organizational culture; training and development; financial security; personal/work–life balance; recognition and rewards; and health and well-being programs.

This is the second consecutive year Cleveland-based Great Lakes came out on top.

“We have always considered our employees our most important asset,” says James Schultz, chairman, president and CEO of the family-owned printing company.

With many of the 117 employees celebrating 20 or more years with the company, that attitude is more than lip service. Keeping employees happy is a two-way street that offers back a measurable advantage in the print industry. When the Great Lakes needed to raise the bar on its technological expertise, its employees stepped up to the plate.

“When we went to computerize the pre-press department, I would say about 75 percent of our employees went to Cuyahoga Community College for additional courses and to get them up to the electronic age,” Sanson says.

On a voluntary basis, employees attended classes after putting in a full day’s work. The non-union staff willingly accepted the challenge because they wanted to keep the company strong, Sanson explains.

Employee ownership in success and failure continues to be nurtured by now the fourth generation of the Schultz family management. Many of the management principles established 70 years ago at the once small print shop are still relevant today.

So how does Great Lakes Companies’ management raise the bar for the workplace? Here are six of the company’s tips:

* Monthly operations meetings centered on human resource issues, sales levels, staffing issues and losses due to spoilage.

* A family-oriented culture with an unequivocal open door policy.

* Elimination of hierarchy between the white collar and blue-collar mentality by putting everyone on a first name basis.

* Dedication to training and development to give employees the upper hand in technology advancements.

* Higher than typical industry standards in vacation levels and paid time off.

* Investment in client training to promote a strong customer/supplier partnership.