First impressions count. I’m not just talking about whether your shirt is clean or you’ve got spinach between your teeth. Your company makes a first impression, too.

Rightly or wrongly, when I walk into a factory or offices I have not visited before, the physical state of the place makes a big impression. If the facility is a mess, I imagine that the books might also be a mess.  If staff can’t keep things organized and clean, I imagine that the policies, procedures and quality may not be up to snuff, either.

I judge on the other end of the spectrum as well.  If there are gold-plated faucets in the rest room, I am not impressed. I expect overpriced products and services.

I know there are those who will insist that a messy desk is a sign of a brilliant mind. Maybe. But in my experience, a messy factory or office is definitely not a sign of brilliance. My first job out of college was as a manufacturing engineer at a small factory. From my first interview, I was impressed with how clean and organized the entire facility was. Bright yellow lines were painted on the production area floor, delineating the areas that needed to be kept clear. Tools were put away at the end of the day. Inventory was in its proper location. Both the shop and the office were clean. It certainly wasn’t a Mercedes dealership – the furnishings were not high end, just functional, clean and good condition. The employees had everything we needed to get our jobs done. There was a place for everything, and everything was in its place. Common sense stuff, right?

What I learned as time wore on was that not only was the facility well organized and in good shape, but so was the business.  It was efficient, well-run, and extremely profitable.  Quality was exceptional, orders were shipped out quickly, quarterly accounting was closed out within days, and appropriate information was shared with the employees clearly and in a timely manner.  I loved my job, and I loved the plant.  Unfortunately, the entire division was bought out, and our plant was absorbed by a huge, inefficient, aging facility in a different state.

Contrast that with my next place of employment.  Once again, I loved my job – the work was extremely interesting.  And the production floor had yellow lines on it as well.  But these yellow lines didn’t really do anything. Inventory and pieces of equipment were spread out all over the place, and often tools were not put away. None of the office furniture matched, and the office carpet was in tatters.

Not surprisingly, the business was in disarray as well.  Ownership cycled through several different presidents during my short tenure. The engineering group had difficulty purchasing parts to prototype new designs because vendors had put our company on credit hold. The business was not profitable.  This was many years ago.  Thankfully, they have turned things around and currently are extremely successful.

Now, I make sure my own offices, and shop, take the middle ground. It’s in good shape, clean, and organized. It’s not over-the-top. First impressions do make a difference.