Stronger teams build stronger businesses

Jez Abbott
Monday, July 18, 2016

Lindsey Halewood was scared of heights until she went on a staff engagement exercise for Prinovis, where she works in the press room.

It’s not the first time the multinational magazine and brochure gravure printer had put its 400 or so staff at its Liverpool base through similar exercises. As a business that buys into the concept of lean manufacturing, improvement is not good enough.

Continuous improvement is a must, says human resources director Vicci Tatton: “It can’t be a one-off window-dressing exercise including a few training buzzwords and flavour-of-the-month activities. It really has to be ingrained into your company culture and to do this you have to keep revisiting, building on what you’ve already done and keep improving.”

The challenge

Continuous is just that and Prinovis saw the need to create, if not unstoppable momentum for staff engagement, at least a steady onward curve a few years ago as the print market took its fair share of knocks and “torrid times” from economic ups and downs and the digital revolution.

Tatton explains: “Like many companies in the sector we have been through some tough times. We have seen lots of changes in our business and saw both a need and an opportunity in building on staff engagement to help us meet the evolving sector.”

One shock was the decision of client News International to close down the News of the World in 2011. More recently came events at Polestar that resulted in an influx of work to Prinovis. The company was formed a decade ago when Bertelsmann divisions Arvato and Gruner & Jahr amalgamated their gravure printing operations with those of Axel Springer, forming the largest gravure printer in Europe in the process. At the end of last year it became wholly-owned by Bertelsmann and is now part of the Bertelsmann Printing Group.

“We knew from previous exercises – such as a ‘chocks away’ initiative in 2013 where staff built a mock-up biplane to foster better health and safety values – that high levels of employee engagement had a direct link to superior business performance including increased productivity, employee retention and safety levels. We all want employees to be engaged at work, but how can we actually get there and then ensure continuous improvement?”

One way was for Prinovis to sign a ‘vision for literacy’ business pledge late last year underlining a commitment of the UK business community to raise literacy levels including those of their own workforces. And at the start of this year Prinovis opened a new learning facility, called the Think Tank, to allow the the company’s staff to tackle a range of courses.

Tatton and her fellow directors were resolved to keep up momentum, which gave rise to the kernel of an idea. The ‘Changing Gear’ initiative came about after talks with staff and training experts and was anchored to the idea of small, marginal changes.

“We made a decision at the start of this year for the next stage of continuous improvement in staff engagement. We had seen big changes for previous engagement activities and the concept of making small, marginal gains from everybody was proving invaluable for the business. Continuous improvement is being the difference that makes the difference,” she says.

The method

The idea behind Changing Gear was to split the entire workforce of 400 people into teams and put them through several day-long workshops.

Prinovis went out to tender and eventually settled on The Success Factory, a leadership development company based in Chester, which won the bid because it “grasped the concept of continuous improvement”.

Workshops were run in conjunction with The Success Factory and hosted at Prinovis’ charity of choice. The Reader Organisation, a local social enterprise that works to connect people with great literature through shared reading.

Across 10 days in March, the 400 Prinovis UK employees were divided into teams of eight people and trooped into the workshops as part of the initiative. Each team included a “diagonal slice” from the staff roll call, operators, engineers, sales, finance and human resources people.

Highlights included shows of teamwork as teams took on a ‘pit-stop challenge’, changing the wheels of a full-sized replica F1 racing car. A construction challenge saw employees use their ingenuity to assemble a version of Leonardo Da Vinci’s self-supporting bridge and teams tested their communication skills as they battled against the clock to decipher a series of puzzles.

A competitive element saw the teams pitched against each other, which resulted in a ‘finale’ in June when the winning team of employees spent a day at The Success Factory’s headquarters performing team activities, which included navigating a rope course and scaling a 10m-high beam, all followed by a well-deserved meal.

“In developing our plans for Changing Gear, I wanted the focus to be ‘the Prinovis team’ and how if we continue to work together making small ongoing improvements to our business and processes we will remain a strong player in the gravure print market,” says Tatton.

“The whole concept is based around small marginal gains; if everyone gives 1% extra that amounts to a sizeable improvement across 400 staff. Throughout the 10 days we saw lots of examples of sharing ideas, building on successes and embodying continual improvement processes, together with a little element of competition”.

The result

Total investment in the Changing Gear project was £40,000 to pay Success Factory fees, refreshments and use the Reader Organisation’s white stuccoed Mansion House in Calderstones Park. And as this is all about continuous improvements, the investment neither started nor ended with that. 

Tatton’s department has spent £400,000 over six years on leadership development training and in 2017 is looking to host four leadership excellence programmes, working closely with fully supportive trade unions, the Institute of Leadership & Management, and the Employers Engineering Federation. And Tatton, who worked closely with the company’s operation director on Changing Gear, aims to offer staff time every month to engage in continuous improvement activities to keep on message.

“Every month – where practicable – we will give teams the opportunity to look at their areas of focus, such as communication or problem solving, to see where the can make further improvement. Our business world has changed in the last few months and staff must be adaptable and ready to take in those changes.

“We are the last remaining gravure printer in the UK and have seen an extra 60,000 tonnes of volume come in to us on a annual basis, leading to around 70 extra jobs. We have overhauled equipment and taken on more kit such as a fifth Muller Martini trimming line and additional pallet-strapping line.”

And even before Changing Gear, the company’s productivity and safety records had improved on the back of staff engagement and continuous improvement principles. Improvements to health and safety, for example, have resulted in a 63% decrease in lost-time accidents from 2013 to June 2016.

“Much of the improvement is due to a heavy focus on four ‘key metrics’ of safety, quality, throughput and budgets. We want to improve on these year on year and can only do that if we are aligned as a workforce, for which we put in a lot of effort and attention,” says Tatton.

Back in the press room Lindsey Halewood recalls: “The day couldn’t have gone any better, everyone in the team worked well together and we were able to achieve so much. With the support and encouragement of the team I overcame my fear of heights and managed to complete every challenge including the high beam and the leap of faith.”


Communicate clear goals so staff know what is most important at work and can see how targets link to larger organisational ambitions.

Get core values right; continuous improvement principals must sit with the “core business values” of your print company, says Tatton.

Encourage open communication such as using surveys, suggestion boxes and team meetings and by encouraging staff to express their ideas and perspectives without criticism.

Be consistent and don’t make targets, goals and exercises too complicated; you want to achieve “small, marginal gains”.

Don’t stand still but emphasise that continuous improvement is an ongoing requirement and that management cannot do this alone, everyone is part of the process.

Improving ongoing employee engagement depends on how well employees get along, interact with each other and participate in a team environment.


Location Liverpool

Inspection host HR director Vicci Tatton

Size Turnover: £63.6m; staff: 400-plus

Established 2005

Products Magazines, brochures and catalogues, inserts, onserts and polywrapping for clients including major newspaper groups, Argos, Ikea, Morrisons, Boots and B&Q

Kit Four KBA gravure presses with a max web width of 4.3m, five Muller Martini stitching and binding lines, Kolbus perfect binder, Ferag Unidrum inserting line, six Sitma polywrappers

Inspection focus Boosting staff engagement in continuous improvement


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