Thursday, January 6, 2011

Inspiration and Motivation is the Key…More so in China?

This morning, Leeds (wife and head honcho at JLmade) took a boot that had a buckle to pop off, to the shoe-repair shop.  When she first took it inside and presented it to the “Master” 师傅, he told her they couldn’t fix it. 
With such a large labor force in China, you interact
with many more people on a daily basis .
 She then explained to him that it only requires a small such-and-such type tool and if he’ll just look at it, then perhaps he can see what the job takes.  The guy then looked at it, spent about 5 to 7 minutes repairing it, now it’s as good as new.  Not only did he fix it, but when she went to pay, she only had 100 bank notes, so he waived the fee and graciously said “next time”. 

This further proves a point that I’ve been thinking on for a while…for years…and that is folks here require motivation and inspiration to do their jobs and once they do it, after aforementioned motivation/inspiring, they then do it well and willingly.  This is something that is constantly dealt with throughout the day in dealing with factories here in China.  Many overseas customers don’t realize this and it can lead to much frustration, obstacles in purchasing and even possible quality issues. 

Folks don’t make a lot of money:  The majority of folks here at their respective jobs don’t make enough money to care.  So there needs to be further incentive for them to perform the tasks of their jobs.   Largely in the West (and perhaps it’s changed since I’ve been in China) the attitude is “if you take the job, you’re agreeing to do the best job possible, to the best of your ability”. 

Here the attitude is, “I took the job, I will do the bare minimum requirements, anything above and beyond that is going to require motivation, incentives, bonuses, etc…”. 

That is why corruption is so rife in business and other…ahem…. “levels of public service”.. because aside from “under-the-table-dealings” how and why could someone possibly care? 

So in factories, blue-collar services, everyday encounters, folks aren’t making enough money to care and you as a customer have to establish a relational point that gives them a reason to justify doing more…. Complicated I know…I hope you’re still with me and I haven’t bored you. 

How can you apply this to working with factory?  Show you’re a customer that is interested in long-term growth.  Show that by working with you, it can be relationship where both sides learn from the other.  Learn what?  Anything from professionalism, advancement on product range, learn how to better function in the market, in the “buy and supply realms”. 

Folks want to see if you’re human:  They want to see if you’re worth doing it for.  This place operates on a system of judgments from first time encounter.

Chinese also try to see how far they can push you.  Lots of weird mind games going on over here.  In the States, the shoe-repair guy, for the most part would have fixed the shoe, or not fixed the shoe.  A customer normally cannot talk someone in to something they cannot or are not willing to do.  But the person you’re facing here for some reason builds up these fences in their mind:

“How bad does this person want it,” they think to themselves?

“Is this person worth me doing this for?” 

If Leeds would have raised her voice or shown the slightest bit of frustration at the guy’s initial “No”, 1 of 2 things could have happened:

Scenario 1:  He’d stand firm on his “no” the shoe would remain unfixed.

Abundance of People: Imperative to Learn to Play Nice with Others
Scenario 2:  Out of nervousness (nothing makes people more nervous in China than a fiery woman), the guy may have fixed the boot, done a poor job and done it against his will.  We would have had to pay and we can possibly forget any favor from this guy for future business.

How can you apply this to working with a factory or your supplier?

Don’t accept the first answer, whether it is a “no” or a “yes”. 

If it is a “no”:  have the supplier show you why they cannot or will not do it.  Remember to professionally motivate them to “why” it’s beneficial for them and also make sure you’ve professionally analyzed the situation to see if they are indeed capable.  Just like the shoe-repair guy, their “no” wasn’t because they were not or are not capable…they just need you to fan the flame, so to speak. 

If it is a “yes”:  Don’t get excited, happy, don’t get your hopes up.  Have them show you “how” they plan on achieving the goal.  Many factories will answer first, confirm second.  If they told you something is possible, make out a step by step by on how it can be reached and have them confirm their steps to achieving success (whether in the production, sampling, achieving the delivery time, etc..). 

And above all, remain professional and don’t lose your cool.  Sometimes from the Chinese point of view in regards to the Western buyer;  everything seems “life or death”.  The Chinese don’t put that much stock in a “no” or a “yes”…to them all things are something that will be hashed out or revealed overtime, after much discussion or checking.  This doesn’t only include “no’s and yes’s but can also include price quotes. 

If the factories don’t put so much stock in their initial confirmations, perhaps neither should you?  


  1. Great post Jacob. Yes most folks don't do stuff for money, and even more so in developing countries. If you can show some humanity and not treat them like a robot doing a task, they will reward you.
    Unfortunately not everyone has Leeds brain's and coming from the West many of us will stomp out thinking 'why doesn't this guy want my money!'

    Relationships are valued well beyond money.

  2. Appreciate the comment John. They definitely want to see how human you are here. Once seeing someone has respect and common courtesy, it makes all the difference in the World! Having such a mega-population it's easy for folks to treat each other like a number.

    I'll give Leeds your regards...have a rockin' week there. Folks for those of you reading this, check out John's website at: This guy knows his stuff.