A few years ago, I suggested 6 tips to avoid bribery in a QC team. And two of them are particularly important when managing a quality control team in China:
- Rotate inspectors among factories, as professional relationships very quickly become personal, too. And there is a strong, very strong expectation of reciprocity — “I gave you a nice lunch, you should overlook this tiny imperfection”.
- Have a manager, or a regional supervisor, who does a good job of being a leader — technically competent, professionally irreproachable, and mindful of what needs to be done to defend his team’s interests.
The truth is, a few tips are not enough. Someone coming, for example, from the USA to China will need to un-learn some of the management wisdom acquired previously.
The foremost priority, of course, is to ensure the QC team does a good job of catching issues, giving feedback from suppliers, and resist all types of temptations/pressure that could distort their reporting.
Let’s look at a few examples:
1. The difficulty in getting straight up facts from the factories
You visit a supplier. You ask if all is OK. They hint that they have some trouble with one of your inspectors. They don’t want to give details. It seems like someone in your team extracted some bribes.
Why are you given no detail?
The supplier is probably afraid of retaliation from that inspector or his/her colleagues – they could block their shipments, incur a lot of extra costs, and totally detail the business relationship.
On the other hand, I have seen cases where a supplier gives a very detailed account of what happened, how much money exactly was handed over, and so on, and it makes accusations much stronger… but it doesn’t make them more true.
The sad truth is, you may not be able to reach 100% certainty.
2. The difficulty in getting your quality control team to denounce a factory trying to bribe them
I remember visiting a factory in Fujian province. One of my inspectors was working in the meeting room. The boss came in with a large amount of cash and put it all in the safe, which was also in the meeting room. I asked my employee if this was convenient for offering bribes, and he hinted that I was onto something.
In that situation, I think the factory tried to give cash to him (and perhaps they succeeded). But his reports were regularly failed, so they didn’t buy his loyalty.
Why didn’t he tell us about that situation?
The image of the honest professional in China is that of one who doesn’t do any wrongdoing. There are more and more professionals who see themselves as honest in that way, and that’s a nice development for China. However, “ratting” someone else is NOT included in that definition.
I remember that my US university had an “honor code” that forces each student to inform the administration if he/she sees another student cheating in some way. And I don’t think an average Chinese student would do it.
Similarly, if a pickpocket is grabbing your wallet on a bus in Guangzhou, in most cases nobody around you will speak up. That’s just a byproduct of the way the Chinese have gotten to live together, and I am trying not to judge it.
What does it mean when it comes to managing quality? You need to take more preventive measures, as you might only become aware of certain bad tendencies when a lot of damage has already been done.
3. The difficult case of the “discerning, but a bit dirty” QC inspector
A couple of suppliers complain about the same member of your team. She asked them to employ her family members, or she suggests they purchase some equipment from her… At the same time, that’s really annoying because that inspector is actually good at enforcing your company’s standards. You don’t want to lose him/her!
What to do?
- If you have not made it very clear, in writing and if possible in an appendix to the labor contract, that this type of conflict of interest is not acceptable, make it clear now.
- Unless you have already decided to fire him/her quickly, you absolutely have to show trust in your team. Do not start the conversation with strong suspicions. At the same time, examine the facts and don’t trust your team blindly. And, if you see evidence of wrongdoing, issue a formal warning.
- If that’s practical, you may rotate that employee so he/she works with other suppliers, and keep monitoring things closely.
- Above all, communicate well. That’s where the manager / regional supervisor I mentioned before has a large role to play.
Does that make sense? Have you faced such situations, and have you found ways to get to your objectives when managing a quality control team in China? I’d love to hear your experiences, so please share a comment.
P.S. You may like my series of posts on managing QC inspectors if you want to go even deeper into this topic…
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