Japan’s work culture is well-known and widely publicized. A January 2021 article, COVID is keeping us in our homes, but what makes working there a success or failure? talks about the struggles with a work-from-home policy as well as the benefits.
All of the options provided through armchair management consulting (pretending to be a CEO from the comfort of your home) have now been exhausted. The domestic situation is ripe for incremental innovation, implementation, and evaluation. The inertia generated by current circumstances could provide Japan with a once-in-a-century (hopefully) opportunity to re-re-invent its work culture. The glory days of Japan’s productivity need not be mere relics. The highlights include providing some of the foundations for Lean Manufacturing, Agile methods, and the Kaizen approach. By re-adopting one of the fundamental elements of the Kaizen approach, Japan can re-emerge as the well-oiled productivity juggernaut it was internationally known as in the ’80s and ’90s.
A two-pronged strategy can help to gradually infuse tangible, practical, and sustainable methods within the professional landscape. 2020’s treacherous beginnings have reinforced two narratives in Japan. First, Japan remains famous for the conservative nature of its decision-making and the diluted nature of employee autonomy. Second, and possibly more surprising, Japan has a LOT of latent technological infrastructure. The challenge with the latency of the technological infrastructure is that it has taken a global catastrophe to highlight and awaken the potential energy. As this is written, Japanese universities are providing remote classes via the internet and companies are inducting new employees using internal and third-party online meeting technologies. Though the article COVID is keeping us in our homes, but what makes working there a success or failure?, rightly points out the pain-points embedded in suddenly moving online, there are industries in which the switch is taking place effectively on a massive scale.
Historical trends still point to Japanese corporate culture not suddenly becoming malleable and/or open to suggestions from others. A cease and desist order has thus been ordered. Rather than expecting or trying to enforce a sea change within the corporate culture, here are some practical tips which can be implemented at a very small scale, whereby allowing individuals and organizations to evaluate and harness or remove the products of the changes.
The two-pronged approach (known in tech as A/B testing) requires at least one alternative to the current style of company conduct. Using current circumstances as an example: If your company is currently demanding all employees work from the office, because that’s the way it has always been done, consider choosing a small cohort of employees to work from home. Ensure they have what they need to work efficiently and gauge those employees’ work after a week.
Some of these actions are needed to improve work conditions for teleworking:
With this combination of experience and evaluation, companies will be more well-prepared and confident about future interventions (e.g., allowing more employees to work remotely and/or providing necessary hardware to improve working from home conditions).
This approach is simple, cost-effective, and can be evaluated at frequent intervals. Microsoft Japan famously implemented a massive 2nd prong in August 2018 and the results were extremely positive. We at the Third Way Forum are passionate about providing management solutions to assist your organization with considering and implementing interventions such as the two-pronged approach. The results may surprise you and your employees. We welcome your ideas. Send them along to us here.