7 Chapter 2: Things to be Preserved in Japanese Companies

Keep the Assets

Although this document talked a lot about the need for change in Japanese companies, it is by far not the case that everything is bad or not worth preserving. There are many things we believe that the Japanese corporate leaders should be proud of and preserve for future success. However, although the below-mentioned items are all good things, we added some cautionary remarks* for some of them as they could also turn bad if not handled carefully.

  • Inclusiveness (*Are foreign employees, women also included?)
  • Attention to detail
  • Tenacity
  • Sense of responsibility
  • Customer focus (*How about employee focus and employee experience?)
  • User/Customer Experience
  • Willingness to go extra mile for clients/company (*Aren’t individuals sacrificing too much?)
  • Omotenashi
  • Collaboration (*Is it genuine collaboration? Or is it just driven by peer pressure?)
  • Consideration to others

What to do less of & What to do more of 

Although the things to be preserved give a good foundation to expand towards the Third Way. Then focus areas for investments and resource re-allocation should be identified. In particular, for the New Normal Era, where should a company invest and where to de-invest

What to do more of: 

  • Hire or promote knowledge workers (such as foreign IT engineers & ethical hackers) who can help business owners understand how to integrate digital systems in their company because we are in the “digital economy”.
  • Invest in data security and other remote work infrastructure (by using the above knowledge workers)
  • Arrange practical IT policies and regulations so that people can work remotely without too many limitations.
  • Repurpose the space usage if you keep the space.
  • Do a proper PDCA cycle; Japanese people spend so much time “planning” without “doing”.
  • Clarify the accountability/responsibility of people (who makes the decision/who’s job is what etc)
  • Clean up the attendance list of every meeting (Many people are attending due to historical reason or inertia without contributing) Let them do something more productive instead.
  • Book the evening with something else to do other than work

What to do less of

  • Stop looking only at domestic companies, famous universities or staff for knowledge workers. There are many internationally trained people (freeters and international students) who can help transition companies to adapt better to the digital economy, but the corporate hierarchy of aged based salary vs position and inflexible working hours is not attractive to these “knowledge workers”.
  • Significantly reduce travel cost, commutation allowance cost, accommodation cost and entertainment cost.
  • Significantly cut down the number of meetings
  • Stop spending too much time on perfection in every single task as it is slowing things down

There are much more topics to consider with the new area. For example, high context Japanese communications are more suitable for face-to-face meetings and difficult to be handled by remote work which tends to be content-based. But the above sentiment should not become an excuse for slowing down the necessary digital transformation.
Manufacturing for quality products cannot be handled remotely and their importance should not be ignored. Japan’s productivity is the lowest among developed nations. Habitual thinking such as worries about making mistakes is deeply embedded in many Japanese people since their upbringing and they seem to be slowing down necessary transformation for better productivity. For the Japanese to be more effective in today’s business world, a lot of those deeply rooted traits should be overcome. A new type of Japanese leader should emerge to be role models for the rest.

Resilience

Japanese people show a high level of resilience to cope with natural disaster etc but when it comes to the changing business reality, they seem to show no sign of resilience. Why?

It seems the Japanese people show a high degree of resilience if it is about maintaining status quo. When it comes to changing the status quo, they seem much less interested. Maybe the image of status quo is easy for everyone to understand and so it prevails. But the image of change is difficult to communicate and so people rather go back to the status quo.

Natural disaster is a point in time and it will be over. But COVID-19 is longer and the social change it has brought will continue to stay. So people are kept at high alert for an unknown period of time in the future. Being resilient for a short period of time is possible but to sustain that resilience for a long time is a way more challenging. Even though people work remotely these days, a toxic environment could still exist. (Toxic cyber environment)

Resilience is about how much stress you can absorb and deal with. Maybe people could be more resilient to a certain type of stress while not so resilient for a different type of stress. For instance, Japanese are very resilient when it comes to working long hours, commuting in rush hour trains, being polite all the time etc, are quite non-resilient when it comes to the global environment, English language, diverse workforce and transformation, etc.

Japanese resilience is well summarized in one Japanese word “Gaman”(patience/putting up with). They are very resilient even to a masochistic degree, but many people are burned out because of that. It looks like Westerners are trained for sprint while Japanese are trained for a marathon.

For the Japanese, equality often means being the same, not equal opportunities with different individual results as in today’s global world. This Japanese sense of equality is almost like a psychological prison preventing innovation and creativity from happening in Japan.

In Japan, because of the traditional Mono no aware (sympathizing losers) culture, many people do not support victorious individuals. They would rather support a loyal member of a losing team. They would rather lose together than wining alone. If they win as individuals, they feel guilty. It is almost like the Japanese expect each other to be sad and miserable. Suffering is expected. If you are suffering and miserable as everybody else in Japan, you are well accepted. If you look happy and individualistic, you are frowned upon. It’s almost like a misery competition.

It’s so sad that Japan’s strength is being good at coping with misery because many people are miserable and used to it. This is the real misery of Japan, and it is time to make changes.

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Third Way Forum Insight 2021 by The Third Way Forum is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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