I am always touting Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink. Reduced to two sentences, its thesis is that we humans overly worship logic to the detriment of our gut instincts, which are actually based on our lifetime of experience. In other words, your initial feeling about something is far more accurate than you think.
Quality Wars has a Gladwellian post up on China factories, and I like it. The post is entitled, How to Feel a Good Factory – 5 Non-Traditional Indicators [link no longer exists] with the thesis that you know one when you feel one.
I have a Polish client in the fishing industry who is known industry-wide as a bit of a savant when it comes to fish processing plants. He claims he can by doing a five minute walk around a fish processing facility tell within five minutes how good it is. He says he bases this on the smell, the machinery and the faces of the workers. I claim that same “savant-ness” when it comes to sushi restaurants.
More specifically the post calls on considering the following five non-traditional indicators:
1. Does the factory staff/management take home the leftover food if there is any after a restaurant meal? If you have traveled to China on business then you most likely have had a nice meal with a factory owner or other staff. Those that take home the leftovers get big kudos in my book. This is a behavior which represents frugality and good sense over losing face.
2. How do the factory workers’ bathrooms look? China factory floor bathrooms are notorious (as are other country’s). Is there a decent effort by management to keep them sanitary and minimize the stink? This represents placing value on hygiene which will most likely translate into production practices.
3. How easy is it to get to a desired person by phone when you call the factory? For any size business, being able to connect with the right person, quickly by phone, represents good organization and management. Test this by calling the factory reception.
4. At meetings and meals do more junior staff speak up and seem knowledgeable? Promising young talent at the factory is a sign of a healthy working environment. So is management that respects junior staff and encourages them to be heard.
5. How do you feel when you walk in the factory? When you visit the factory, how do you feel in that first 5 minutes when you arrive? Do you feel comfortable and like you’re working with people you can trust? There’s no substitute for gut feeling.
I am going to quibble a tiny bit with number 1, however, because in this period of super-tough times, my fear is the factory owner who scoops up leftovers is doing so out of economic desperation, which may lead him or her not to deliver you your next order.