It’ll Be Remembered Longer On Paper

Paper lasts the test of time. We have printed documents dating back over two millennial that can still be read and enjoyed today. No system upgrades or hard drive crashes can prevent us from going to a museum and seeing the original Dead Sea Scrolls or Vitruvian Man.   But the timelessness of paper is not reserved for the world’s great masterpieces.  It can be just as important – and practical – for management tools, instruction manuals and employee communications.

Lessons they won’t forget

Let’s face it, you can provide the best training in the world, but if your team doesn’t understand and retain the core concepts or policies, you’ve wasted your time and your investment.

Online programs are one effective training method and can be rolled out to a large workforce simultaneously.  In-person sessions, aided by PowerPoint or other electronic presentation tools are also good ways of getting a message across.  But once your people walk out the door, how sure can you be that they’ve really absorbed your key messages or that they’ll remember them when they need them?

As handy as it can be to have a website with your programs and policies, it’s not always easy to stop what you’re doing, boot up the computer and start searching for an online reference.  This is especially true for managers and employees in retail contexts or for sales forces that are regularly on the road and may not always have easy web access.

Providing after-training materials in a print format is one way to ensure that your team always has important information on hand.  Personally, I often find it easier to flip open a manual, run my finger down the table of contents and find the info I need or quickly refer to a “cheat sheet”.  Many experts will also tell you that it’s not only easier to navigate a printed document but that we actually learn better from print than we do from something on-screen.

Some of these experts argue that it’s because print carries a certain “authority” compared to online information, which makes our brain take it more seriously.  Others attribute it to the ease of navigation of a paper report compared to scrolling (as per my point above).  And yet others say there is a cognitive link between understanding and the physical nature of the printed word.  Whatever the case, the effectiveness of print is something to keep in mind when considering the best method to deliver your important messaging.

Keeping track of your day

When you’re a busy manager, you have a lot to remember.  Every day, we juggle meetings with our staff, bosses, consultants or new customers, not to mention retain a slew of family and private commitments.  The arrival of the electronic scheduler has been a boon in many ways, but it’s also given other people access to our calendars.  How many of us get up in the morning believing we have a relatively free day, only to get to the office and find out we’ve been booked with wall to wall meetings?

A lot of people, myself included, end up printing out their schedule and carrying it around with them to ensure they can keep track of where they need to be, when and with whom.  We often don’t have the opportunity to get back to our desk for hours to check our calendar.  And as much as I love the convenience of my handheld, it’s a lot more subtle sneaking a glance at my printed schedule in a folder than scrolling down its mini-screen to figure out where I have to be next.  Plus, I can just recycle my printed sheet at the end of the day!

A few things worth remembering

So despite my appreciation for the wonders of digital communication, paper continues to play a very important and practical part in my daily role as a manager – whether I’m at a training session, at the office or on the road.  Interestingly, I’ve learned that there may be some science behind my faith in the power of print.

Here are some examples of the thought-provoking conclusions surrounding the power of print to facilitate understanding and information recall.

  • Paper is a better tool for fully assimilating information because you read “more deeply” in print.  This has been attributed to factors such as the ease and speed of visually/spatially locating content on a printed page compared to a screen and the distractions of reading online.
  • Paper matters.  The feeling of literally being in touch with the text is lost when your actions – clicking with the mouse, pointing on touch screens, or scrolling with keys or on touch pads – takes place at a distance from the digital text, which is somehow, somewhere inside the computer, the e-book or the mobile phone.  Less focus speaks to a lack of full understanding and compromises long-term retention of information.
  • Paper is friendly. In a survey of MBA students, 75-80% said that they would not recommend an e-reader for in-class learning because it was too rigid for use in the fast-paced classroom environment.  They noted that you can’t move between pages, documents, charts and graphs easily enough compared to the paper alternatives.  They also pointed out that it’s harder to go back and refer to e-materials later in case you forget a detail.
  • Paper is permanent and portable.  In a very literal and physical sense, paper lasts.  While technology evolves at a dizzying rate, you can keep a printed manual or fact sheet as long as you want and carry it with you just about anywhere.  Plus, it can be easily recycled once it’s served its purpose, which isn’t the case with a lot of electronics.

Based on this work of researchers from around the world – not to mention my own personal experience – I like to draw a parallel between the relative permanence of paper and the longevity of the memories we keep.  While the screen is by nature more temporary, paper can leave a truly lasting impression on your team.

By guest blogger Kathy Wholley | Director of Advertising & Communications at Domtar. In this role, she is responsible for the marketing communications and advertising functions of Domtar’s pulp & paper business.  Additionally, she manages environmental communications on behalf of the business, which includes the Domtar EarthChoice® brand.  Kathy is also responsible for Domtar’s paper advocacy campaign known as “Paper Because”, which was launched in 2010 and was meant to demonstrate paper’s value to businesses and people that use paper every day. Kathy has 21 years of experience in the paper industry in a variety of sales and marketing positions with Willamette Industries, Weyerhaeuser and Domtar. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in Marketing from Clemson University.

Kathy is an experienced manager who also heads Domtar’s Paper Because initiative which highlights the key role paper plays in our lives and the reasons why it’s an environmentally sound choice.


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