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Dec. 1 2014 12:46 PM

    Document center and mailing professionals are curious creatures. They toil away in relative obscurity in basements or windowless rooms far away from the executive suites. Their offices are functional and often crowded with print samples and productivity reports. Most of them don't even have carpets. You won't find many lush offices with panoramic city views among document center managers. More than likely, they have a small cubicle from which to operate. How interesting that these corporate employees are perfectly happy with the arrangement!

    In my experience, people who make a living producing documents or handling mail are generally low key. This isn't to say they are not ambitious. They just tend to be satisfied doing their jobs without a need for constant personal recognition. In fact, document professionals are part of a group of workers for whom recognition is generally inverse to the quality of their work. Like basketball referees and airline pilots, document and mailing professionals get more attention when they've made mistakes or performed poorly. If no one acknowledges their existence they are probably doing the right things.

    Document professionals are incredibly self-motivated. They gain tremendous satisfaction from their contribution to the overall success of their companies. They understand the importance of the role they play and every day they come to work, their goal is to do their part so the rest of the organization can do theirs. In short, they are perfect employees.

    In many professions, the key to advancement and success is dependent upon self-promotion. Aspiring workers are coached to copy their boss every time they reach a milestone or achieve an objective. We're told we must blow our own horn; that the only person we can count on to look out for us and our careers is ourselves. Personal branding has become an industry.

    You won't often find such self-serving strategies in place among career mail center employees. This sometimes works against them, turning them into innocent victims of downsizing or outsourcing.

    Reluctance to seek personal accolades for their own contributions is one thing. Failing to communicate the benefits their department provides the organization is quite another. In a time when other forms of communication are cutting into the volume of printed documents, executives and accountants who have little knowledge of how effectively document centers support the mission of the organization have been known to unilaterally pull the plug. Document operations are outsourced, downsized, or phased out altogether in favor of electronic customer communications. A little departmental self-promotion and outreach education can help to forestall catastrophic decisions made by well-meaning but ill-informed officials counting the beans from several floors above.

    I have been advising document center employees for a long time to become strategically engaged with the departments and individuals they serve. Though I know it isn't a natural thing for a lot of the highly skilled and dedicated individuals with whom I have had the pleasure of working over the years, it's still a good idea. You owe it to yourself. And you owe it to your organization to make sure they understand they have a knowledgeable and hard-working resource at their disposal, helping them meet the goals they've made for themselves.

    It may be after Thanksgiving when you read this. If so I hope you had a safe and bountiful holiday. But it's not too late to express thanks. If you are someone who benefits from the efforts of mail center or print operations employees, take a minute this week to say thank you. They may not be looking for public praise, but I guarantee a tiny bit of positive attention will make their day.

    Mike Porter is President of Print/Mail Consultants, a firm that helps document centers operate efficiently today and prepare for the business challenges of tomorrow. Connect with Mike directly at Or visit and sign up for Practical Stuff - a free newsletter featuring tips, trends, and commentary of interest to the customer communication professionals he admires.