Categories: Global Talent Management

The power of being a “Gaikokujin” in Japan [Part 3]

by Anna
Published on: January 25, 2021
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How Gaikokujin can help balance tradition and innovation

[ Written by Anna Pinsky and David Wagner ]

In this segment, we feel it is worth calling out an often overlooked benefit of having gaikokujin work alongside Japanese in organizations:  balancing tradition with innovation.

It is precisely because of the “outside” perspective that “gaikokujin” bring that means they can find a way forward by challenging long-held traditional organizational assumptions while unearthing what aspects of the past stories and rituals have untapped potential to help the organization grow and adapt in the future.

Readers who have lived in Japan already know how different the “real Japan” is compared to the image portrayed in the media with segments on sumo wrestlers or geisha.  Indeed, typical Japanese employees these days are more likely to have an interest in football or baseball than sumo wrestling or karate.  

This may seem like a glib point but there is a more serious angle for organizations – for anyone wanting to create a workplace that takes advantage of both tradition and innovation, it may well be the non-Japanese employees who can speak with equal credibility about observed customs.   

Take the sphere of sports or well-being as one example. You will find that it is non-Japanese who are increasingly likely to dedicate themselves and espouse the values of traditional Japanese martial arts.  Then there are individuals, like Alex Kerr with his initiatives to restore traditional Japanese housing, who have played a significant role in revitalizing interest around different aspects of traditional Japanese culture. (In addition, Kerr’s decades of longevity in Japan garner deep respect by many Japanese for his willingness to learn, accept and integrate Japanese tradition. )

Translating this to aspects of tradition in organizations, there is the example of the ritual of the “chorei” or “morning corporate recitation” still practiced by many traditional Japanese firms.  Starting at 9:00 a.m. sharp, it is done not only to remind everyone of the organization’s values but also an opportunity to work together as a team as purpose and meaning are confirmed.  It is an important aspect of unison and commitment and an opportunity to see and be seen.  

It is easy to discount practices such as the “chorei” (reciting the organization’s values together at the start of the day) as outdated or an inefficient use of resources, but the value of rituals has increasingly been recognized as a way to help individuals and organizations handle the challenges of the pandemic – “The Power of Ritual” published this year by Casper Ter Kuile is just one example.  Another is George Kohlrieser who specifically highlights the benefits of ritual in Japanese organizations in his article “The Hidden Perils of Unresolved Grief” (published in the McKinsey Quarterly in September 2020): “Japanese organizations are known for rituals when there are senior-leadership transitions, giving space & time for the organization to recognize the past & move into the future.” 

Patience with change through internal promotion leads to predictable leadership shifts:  As is the norm in many long-standing Japanese organizations, gradual promotion of long-time devotees who know the company deeply is the safe way to go.  Decades of experience among trusted relationships is a safe recipe for continuity.  As a result, “outsiders” are often not the first preference of choice when it comes to top positions of leadership.  This becomes another challenge for non-Japanese in their quest to integrate and become accepted over time.  But this, too, is gradually changing particularly in non-traditional organizations and Japanese companies seeking global growth.

In short, it’s all about adopting and adapting.  This is in line with the cross-cultural communication theory of “style shifting” in order to accommodate cultural norms and also lies at the heart of managing tradition with innovation.  How does a non-Japanese “fit in” to a traditional environment where innovation needs to thrive?  How can non-Japanese integrate tradition and rituals to adapt to different ways of getting things done?   It is precisely because of the “outside” perspective that “gaikokujin” bring that means they can find a way forward by challenging long-held traditional organizational assumptions while unearthing what aspects of the past stories and rituals have untapped potential to help the organization grow and adapt in the future.

Anna Pinsky specializes in organizational development and transformation with 15+ years experience advising global organizations in Japan and across Asia. 

David Wagner is a 35 year veteran of achieving behavioral adaptation inside 550+ organizations across Japan, Asia, Europe, North America and the Middle East.

View from Yamadera (山寺) in Yamagata Prefecture in the autumn

On More Meaning and Less Passion [Today’s Kizuki 2]

In my last blog post, I wrote on the topic of my first “Kizuki” around emotional granularity and how some organizational cultures could run the risk of causing us to disconnect from ourselves and diminish our own skills in self-management through the social pressure to use certain words to express our feelings.

The other day I happened to come across a discussion on a related theme when listening to one of  Adam Grants new episodes of Work Life* which was a very rich and engaging interview with Esther Perel . The topic was on relationships but, by its very nature, delved deep into the topic of emotions. 
At about 50 minutes into the podcast the topic of “passion” and its more recent usage in relation to work contexts.

Emotions and mismatched perceptions
It reminded me of one time when I was interviewing for a role at an international company. I’d received feedback that the initial interview had gone well but there was just one thing: I was told that I wasn’t being perceived as passionate enough about the role and opportunity.

Wow! This was a shock for me because I WAS very excited about the role and in line with the cultures that have influenced me the most – Scotland and Japan – I thought I was showing up as keen and enthusiastic.  However, in this organization’s culture, apparently i needed to show up in a different way for them to interpret my body language and words as meeting their definition of looking like someone who feels “passionate” about a topic.

Is too much “passion” getting in the way of you hiring the best people?
Adam Grant and Esther Perel continue their discussion into the topic of  work and motivation for work, reaching an interesting conclusion around the difference between meaning and passion (starting at about 53 minutes into the interview/discussion).

I have  often heard the word “passion” used to describe the degree of interest in a role or project when it seems like the terms “meaningful” or “engaged” would be a better fit.

Furthermore, taking into account the fact that “passion” could alienate individuals from cultures that are less extroverted, it makes me wonder how many organizations may be missing out on hiring individuals who would bring value to a team: Because over-reliance on a word like “passion”, which is not only an emotive and subjective term,  gets in the way of the interviewers trying to understand what “meaning” and “high engagement” would look like, or be defined by, from the perspective of the person being interviewed.

I feel this is particularly relevant for less extroverted cultures or cultures which are lower on the self-promotion, assertiveness or enthusiasm spectrums**.  If interviewers and hiring managers are using their own organizational culture as the main reference point and using difficult-to-define words like “passion” as a shortcut to rate suitable individuals, then, not only could they be missing out on hiring individuals who could make a significant contribution to the organization, but they could also be unintentionally reducing the diversity of their organization over time.

What other terms do you see being used in cultures that might unintentionally be short-circuiting a deeper conversation to better understand how another person feels or thinks about a topic?
Where else might we be unintentionally excluding others because we are relying on only one cultural context as our measure of fit or suitability?

Sources & Endnotes:
Molinsky, A. (2013). Global dexterity: How to adapt your behavior across cultures without losing yourself in the process. Boston: Harvard Business Review Press
Molinsky, A. (5 September 2017). Want to Boost Your Cultural Intelligence? Do This 1 Thing First. Inc.com. https://www.inc.com/andy-molinsky/want-to-boost-your-cultural-intelligence-do-this-1.html

*Worklife with Adam Grant: A TED original podcast: https://feeds.feedburner.com/WorklifeWithAdamGrant
** Professor Molinsky in his book “Global Dexterity: How to Adapt Your Behavior Across Cultures” set outs six dimensions of cultural difference – 1. Directness, 2. Enthusiasm 3. Formality, 4. Assertiveness, 5.Self-Promotion, 6. Personal Disclosure

Spring flowers found in the city

Building a Successful Team (BCCJ Acumen)

(Originally Published in BCCJ Acumen Magazine September 2014 Edition)

Building A Successful Team

by Anna Pinsky, BCCJ Vice President

As part of our plans to increase the accessibility and transparency of the work of the BCCJ executive committee (excom), you will see more articles over the coming months from different members of our 2014–15 excom. In this issue I am taking the opportunity to share some insights from my own 15 years of experience working and living in Japan.

I am an organisational development specialist. My first experience of Japan was at the age of 17, when I worked as a volunteer in two Leonard Cheshire Disability’s homes for the handicapped, located in the Kansai region.

A scholarship from Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology provided an opportunity for me to return to complete a Masters degree.

I have spent most of my professional career working with British organisations, often during their start-up stage in Japan. This has given me the opportunity to observe some of the common pitfalls experienced by new market entrants.

It is well known that Japan is one of the most difficult countries in which to recruit the necessary quality of talent. In fact, ManpowerGroup’s 2014 Talent Shortage Survey of over 37,000 employers in 42 countries cited Japan as the most challenging market for filling job vacancies.

Securing quality bilingual staff is usually one of the first priorities in setting up an office in Japan, but the limited availability of experienced bilingual talent means that finding the right candidate can be fraught with difficulties.

The eigoya problem
Part of this challenge relates to eigoya, a term used in the local HR community to describe candidates possessing excellent English skills but lacking basic business knowledge.

An eigoya-type candidate could be an individual who has spent most of his or her career focusing on developing close-to-perfect English language skills to the detriment of gaining business knowledge and expertise.

He/she may come across as eloquent and persuasive in an interview context but, once hired, struggles to build rapport with others and fails to develop the working relationships necessary to carry out the role.

The accidental hiring of an eigoya candidate is not uncommon. This type of poor hiring decision usually is made when the interviewer does not speak Japanese and is lulled into a false sense of security by the candidate’s high level of English, forgetting to thoroughly check their experience and track record.

Richard Boggis-Rolfe, chairman of recruitment firm Odgers Berndtson, emphasised the danger of hiring based on one’s gut feeling, at one of our BCCJ events earlier this year. He mentioned the importance of preparing a clear and prioritised list of requirements for the role and using this list in a disciplined way.

This helps ensure that candidates are compared and selected based on objective criteria, and that the final hiring decision is not overly influenced by other subjective or emotional factors.

For particularly crucial positions, one way to better grasp candidates’ people skills is to arrange for them to take part in a simulated work project.

This could entail a short role play, in which the candidate has to address an issue relating to a subordinate’s poor performance, and would offer a more precise indication of the candidate’s communication skills and ability to develop rapport.

Look for potential
Another way that some firms have overcome the hiring challenge is expanding the list of acceptable candidates to include individuals who have 80–90% of the English language skills required for the role.

I have seen some firms successfully build a strong team by identifying individuals who may not have the necessary standard of English at the time of the interview, but who have the right attitude and level of motivation to improve their fluency in a comparatively short time upon entering the organisation.

There is no one right solution to finding and developing the best talent for your business in Japan, but I hope these hints and tips will help your business avoid one of the common difficulties.

Source: http://bccjacumen.com/features/excom/2014/08/building-a-successful-team/

Networking as a part of Employee Development (BCCJ Acumen Article)

by Anna
Published on: February 1, 2014
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Benefits of Networking as part of Employee Development – on behalf of the Executive Committee of the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan

(Originally Published in BCCJ Acumen Magazine January 2014 Edition)

Making the Most of Membership

by Anna Pinsky

• Alternative form of staff development
• Free seats available at most functions
• Chance to apply skills with diverse crowds

As a member of the BCCJ Executive Committee with a focus on organisational efficiency and development, I believe many of our member companies and individuals may not be reaping the full benefits of their membership in the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan.

Many BCCJ partners may already know that free seats are available at BCCJ events for Entrepreneur, Corporate, Corporate Plus and Platinum members. Are you and your company taking advantage of this?

I would like to take this opportunity to discuss the additional advantages of this membership benefit. In particular, having staff attend chamber events is a great way to offer and promote employee development.

Exposure to many cultures
Global talent development, or gurobaru jinzai, continues to be a hot topic in Japan. The concept has been recognised by government, business and higher education leaders as one of the key challenges facing Japanese businesses, whether it applies to plans for expanding abroad or for building international partnerships on a domestic level.

The announcement of Tokyo’s selection as the host of the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games has also put the issue in focus. There is now a great deal of pressure on firms to speed up workforce development to enable staff to work more effectively in multicultural situations.

With this increased need for staff who can effectively function in multicultural teams, it is more important than ever to expose staff to situations in which they can mix with people of different nationalities and backgrounds.

Participation in multicultural networking events, such as those provided by the BCCJ, is one way to provide this type of exposure opportunity.

Often overlooked training tool
Talent development is not just about teaching new skills or imparting knowledge. It’s about developing a workforce that is better able to adapt to a future that promises increasingly rapid and unpredictable changes.

Classroom training has traditionally been seen as the standard for developing staff. However, more firms are now expanding their menu of growth opportunities to include coaching, mentoring, on-the-job-training, action learning and online learning, among other methods.

Among the training tools employed, peer networking or networking with other organisations are often overlooked.

Providing opportunities for staff to network and meet other individuals in either the same or different industries can expose them to new perspectives and ideas, which they can take back to the workplace to approach problem-solving in a more innovative manner.

A break from the normal working environment can also enable people to view business issues with fresh eyes and explore ways to address issues that might not have been apparent before.

Perhaps most importantly, networking is worthwhile because it allows staff to interact with, and learn from, a diverse group of individuals.

Such interaction helps people develop the skills to more readily adapt to an unpredictable future, thereby better positioning your business for long-term growth and success.

Applying skills in real time
The field of personnel development used to rely heavily on teaching new technical knowledge or soft skills.

However, personnel development goes beyond such traditional measures; it is also about providing opportunities for real-world practice of newly acquired skills or knowledge.

In addition, a core function of individual development relates to increasing self-awareness, or insight into one’s own strengths and weaknesses.

A healthy level of self-awareness enables people to take control of their own development and be more proactive about finding new learning avenues, rather than simply waiting for direction from their bosses or human resources.

Networking is valuable in that it allows staff to apply new competencies, such as communication strategies, with different types of people. It also is an opportunity to refine self-awareness, because individuals can observe how people from a wide variety of backgrounds respond to their personal communication style.

Last but not least, networking can lead to higher motivation among staff who attend events such as those organised by the BCCJ, as attendees feel more valued when their company provides opportunities for new experiences above and beyond the daily tasks at the office.

Next steps
BCCJ members receive regular updates on upcoming events through various communication mediums, including our Weekly Round Up (WRU) sent via e-mail and notices on social media channels.

Try forwarding the WRU to your human resources or training and development department, and encourage them to consider BCCJ free seats as a new type of development opportunity that can complement the current training offerings for high-potential staff.

 

Source: http://bccjacumen.com/issues/january-2014/2014/01/making-the-most-of-membership/

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