Factories are like people; they come in all shapes and looks—some more attractive than others. There is no doubt that a good looking factory is nice for workers and visitors, but does it also have a significant impact on the plant’s operational and financial performances? How much should management care about factory beauty?
Over the last years, I’ve seen close to 100 factories on five continents. A candidate for the “prettiest” among all these is a factory that I visited a few days ago in my own hometown Trondheim, Norway. It belongs to Sandvik Teeness AS, a producer of anti-vibration tools and a fully-owned subsidiary of Sandvik—the Swedish tooling giant with almost 50K employees and 40 factories worldwide. About 120 employees moved into a brand new Teeness factory in 2008. Its architecture was designed to fit perfectly in the hills just above the Trondheim fjord. The first thing you see is the all-glass facade. Teeness is proud to show what they do—and they should be.
There are a few other interesting things about this factory. Teeness has been known a long time for its strong socio-technical approach, where empowered blue-collars have a strong voice in any management issues. The management offices are almost on the factory floor; only thin and soundproof windows separate them. The idea is transparency—both ways from blue-collars (all dresses in casual black Teeness-labeled clothes) to white-collars. Furthermore, everyone eat together in the high-standard cantina or meet for a break at the cozy café on the factory floor. All this symbolises: Teeness is a good place to work.
I see three core arguments why factory beauty matters a lot to financial performance:
- Attractive work places attract attractive workers.
- Pretty factories have leaner operations.
- Pretty factories sell more products.
#1 Better workers
Some workers are more attractive to a company than others: They are positive, intelligent, hard-working, future-oriented and team players. Workers with such traits can choose between employers, and they choose employers who are attractive to them. When Teeness opened their new factory they experienced a rush of job seekers from other factories in the Trondheim area. What is the value of having an above-average competent and motivated work force?
#2 Leaner operations
Contrary to what I argue in this post, there is nothing in the literature on Toyota Production System or Lean that claims factory beauty to be an important principle. It does not add value to the customer, hence it is “waste”. Visitors to Toyota in Japan often report back that that “it did not look nice there, but it was super efficient”. Therefore, many lean consultants argue that Western managers misunderstands “5S” and “lean” as cleaning exercises and that investing money for prettiness is waste. I disagree.
First, if you want to sustain high levels of 5S, than give your employees spotless, shiny and beautiful premises. Second, there are few better ways to showcase Toyota’s principle “respect for humans”, than to provide attractive and healthy work places. Third—if not overdone—beauty increases visualisation because distractions are removed, which will lead to more streamlined and efficient operations. My hypothesis will be that there is a strong positive correlation between prettiness and effectiveness in manufacturing factories. If it looks good, it probably is good!
#3 Increased sales
On the day of my visit to Teeness there was also a Russian delegation of tool purchasers. Would they buy more or less tools if the factory looked like a shack? Bringing customers into your factory is a great opportunity to sell more products, and to build lasting emotional links with your buyers (as BMW, Guinness, Harley Davidson, Hershey’s and many others do). In a Volvo factory I’ve heard that “nobody sells a truck better than our shop-floor workers”; the dealers loved talking to passionate and knowledgeable truck assemblers whose intention was not to sell trucks.
Going the extra mile and having something spectacular in your factory is a certain way to be remembered. Beautiful factories sell more products. What’s the value of that?
Who else got the looks?
Sandvik Teeness AS is indeed a nice one. But there are many other beauties out there as well. I’ve read that the following factories should be considered among the nicest in the world (they’re all on my 50-factories-to-see-before-I-die-list): Volkswagen’s transparent factory in Dresden (Germany), Bang Olufsen’s design palace in Struer (Denmark), Boeing’s mega plant in Washington (USA), and Aarbakke’s fun factory in Jæren (Norway), to mention a few.
What factories do you find attractive? Who else got the looks?