Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Different Take on "Doing Things Right the 1st Time"

(Thanks for stopping by this post.  After you read this, please visit my new house:  http://jacobyount.com - I know you're busy and there are zillions of blogs.  I'm very grateful for you taking time out of your day to ready my posts and add your own insights.  See you over at the new house.  ~ Jacob Mar 16, '12)

This is my first blog on China life, business and culture.  My business is in sourcing, manufacturing and export, so I approach topics from this perspective.  

This article will only touch on generalizations and overarching themes.  After writing more articles, I can eventually get more specific and detailed.  I’ve worked and lived in China consecutively (not business trips) for close to 9 years and my head is so full of information, thoughts, observations, it may be tough to organize and clearly state a meaning…but here I go…..

In thinking about what to write about, was speaking with my wife, Leeds, this morning.  I frequently run these topics and ideas along with her to make sure what I’m seeing through my “expat colored glasses” has a hint of truth or if it is just my own prejudices.  Leeds by the way is Chinese; so I deem her a good judge on the matter.  Nothing said is in spite; they are only perplexing observations that I deal with and attempt to adapt to on a daily basis.  My attitude is that my perspective is flawed and I need to work in a way to adapt to the system around me.   

Your business partner in China, whether buyer, supplier or contracted 3rd-party company, has to know you are able to accept their mistakes.  Accept their mistakes?!?!  Yes, accept their mistakes.  To properly do business in China, you have to show a level of being able to accept other’s shortcomings.  Having the attitude of “things must be done right the first time”; is great to have for YOU, but if you force this idea on others, your employees, factories, all they way down to your housekeeper, then you’re doomed to run into obstacles. 

Am I saying that the Chinese don’t like to do things correct and do it correct the first time?  No, I’m not saying that, but what I am saying is doing things correct the first time from their perspective is not taught as an option, is not highly desired and in many cases may not be possible.

Not possible from their perspective:  The Chinese are patient in a sense that there’s the attitude of “well of course I’m not going to get it right the first time”.  The feeling in the air here is that “you should be prepared to accept my inevitable mistakes because surely I’m going to have to accept your inevitable mistakes.”  I think this stems from the fact that they are more group-minded, where the Westerner is more individual-minded.   They do not count on 1 individual to get things correct but the group as a whole. 

I’ve been exporting, manufacturing and controlling factory orders here since 2001.  The idea is, that mistakes are something that will come and they are to be solved, but it is an eventual process that happens over long drawn-out talks, multiple attempts, tea sessions, and meals.  But everyone is optimistic that they will be solved. 

Low desire for initial exactness:  Chinese seem to treat themselves as perpetual students.  They never seem to “arrive” at an area but always hold the attitude of still learning, still training.  This attitude is good in the sense that we all need to be teachable and open to further improvement.  Bad in the sense, that since they view themselves as always learning, that means, the level of responsibility to take is very low and since they are still “learning” then any mistake is not viewed as necessarily their fault but the systems’ and processes’ as a whole.  

A mistake isn’t because one individual did something wrong, but a mistake is because the system is faulty, the process isn’t precise enough, the company has it’s shortcomings, etc….

Sometimes success just isn’t possible:  They level of training, the level of education, the established institutions and systems are all still developing.  This can cause mistakes to be unavoidable.  There is a reason this country is the manufacturer World.  It’s because people work for cheap and when you have such a large population willing to work for cheap it is because they are not highly skilled laborers.  Goods produced here that are sold in Walmart are cheap because the labor is low-level, machines may be lower quality and the worker’s conditions are not what a worker in Europe or USA could tolerate.  Mistakes are inevitable.  Imagine a 22-year-old production line worker making teddy bears for a retailer.  He couldn’t care less what the teddy bear looks like; he’s just working to feed himself, his young family and to keep his head above water.  Mistakes from this type of worker are inevitable, he has very little desire or hope for improvement, thus that takes us back to the reason of mistakes being placed on the “unit” instead of the individual.  You could fire that worker, but to keep the costs of the teddy bear’s cheap; you have to higher the same person again, just different name and face….

In short, I can say it like this: If you approach a factory, a company or your own housekeeper with a project, they will first tell you 10 reasons why they cannot do what you’ve requested.   EVEN THOUGH THERE’S A GOOD CHANCE THEY CAN!  But their goal is to set the level of expectations so low, that you expect little and in case they exceed expectations, then that is considered a victory.  They don’t immediately shoot for the high goal. 

To adapt and not lose my mind in China, I’ve had to face that fact.  And then build around it.  I expect my team to do things right the first time and we work to build systems and strategies that will achieve that.  We build to it subconsciously; bringing it out in the open, is an immediate deterrent to doing it at all. 

(This article was originally composed for John Falchetto of Expat Life Coach.  John graciously asked me to share from time to time on his blog.  In good fun, I call John the “Expat Kingpin”; he is a great at connecting, networking and keeping expat communities tied together.  Here’s to my good friend, John Falchetto-check him on Twitter)

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