Categories: Japan

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

Working From Home as the “new normal”: how “emotional granularity” could help with self management. [Today’s Kizuki 1*]

Emotional granularity had caught my attention from before we had even heard of COVID19 having recently read  “How emotions are made” by Lisa Feldman Barrett and it seems particularly pertinent and timely as so many people adjust to working from home on a daily basis.  Reflecting on her Theory of Constructed Emotion and the concept of “emotional granularity”, emotional granularity “isn’t just about having a rich vocabulary. It’s about experiencing the world, and yourself, more precisely” as Feldman writes in her 2016 article from The New York Times 

Decreasing emotional granularity and a diminishing connection with self

Feldman stresses the benefits of emotional granularity on psychological and physical health. Specifically, how email and the short interactions that social media channels, such as Twitter, encourage and nudge us into using a more restricted and limited list of vocabulary over time.  Also, the extent to which there is a tendency to use more words that inflate meaning. This resonates with my thinking and seems a skill that is more important than ever as “Working From Home” demands us to develop a more highly attuned ability to self-manage.

How often have you sent a response to someone in email and, instead of responding “thank you, that response was (useful/helpful/informative/interesting), you simply wrote “perfect” or “awesome”? Really? Can a simple response to a question truly be said to be “awesome” or “perfect”?

Reading Dr Feldman’s work leads me to consider what the unintended consequences could be of this more limited and repeatedly used set of phrases. Yes, one could argue that by using similar terms or vocabulary, we are creating some connection with the reader, some way to signal we are in the same group or kinship. However, Feldman’s argument also helped me understand that we are also diminished along the way.  For instance, if our granularity in expression declines then so does our ability to be more attuned to our emotions with a finer degree of clarity (e.g. awesome/great/good/fine).  Aren’t we then also losing a connection with ourselves? Isn’t our ability to understand and translate in finer distinctions about how we are really feeling or responding to a situation also affected?

Emotional granularity in high-context cultures

Such questions may also be asked in multicultural work environments.  When, for example, the only common language is Japanese, the concept of emotional granularity and the difference between working in languages and communication in a low context culture or high context culture is stark: Japanese is a high context culture – hence in many situations what we say is not actually about how we are interpreting our feelings or thoughts about a situation, but what the situation dictates. For example, when you visit someone’s home for the first time, the expected response as you walk in the door is “ojamashimasu”** not, “hey, I like your shoes” or “wow, that’s a lot of umbrellas you’ve collected”.

Does this high-context aspect of the culture disconnect me momentarily from what I really think or feel and could this be a good thing – in the same way that being on autopilot can help us conserve energy so that we can use our thinking energy on low context situations?  Or could it be detrimental because we skim through interactions and become less aware of ourselves and others and less able to pick up on indicators. 

A few years ago I was visiting a Japanese friend with small children. I hadn’t seen my friend for almost a year and so when I visited my mind was on making sure I brought an appropriate gift for her children, and that I followed the usual protocol on arriving – especially on spending the time to say “ojamashimasu” and the usual pleasantries although I really wanted to get to the bit where i could just sit down with her and hear her news.

However, in my effort to follow the “process” dictated by the culture I barely looked at her on entering her home and it was not until several minutes later that I realized there were tears in her eyes and that something upsetting had happened that morning. Thankfully we were able to find some quiet time before the end of the visit so that she was able to share what was really going on for her.
It made me wonder if not only am I missing these important opportunities to see and sense what is really going on, but also if in some way, the more I am in these interactions, that I am dulling my senses and losing emotional granularity.

At the same time, I think about if the opposite could be true: maybe the high-context process of following the expectations felt like an extra mental load to me and depleted my energy and focus because Japanese culture and language are not my “native” culture: If I been been raised in a high context environment from a young age would the process have taken up less mental load and freed up my energy to focus on what was not being said in the ritual interaction of entering someone’s home?

There is added irony to this as I think of the Japanese phrase “reading the air” (kuuki wo yomu which refers to the finely tuned skill of being able to perceive what is not said).  Is ‘reading the air’ simply a result of the high context culture in which so many situations dictate what can or cannot be said, or is it the other way around?  Or is the focus perhaps on being able to “read the air” that allows the high context formal interactions to persist in the first place?

  • What is your experience? Do you think certain cultural contexts make it easier or more difficult to connect with what you and others are feeling?
  • And, more importantly,  whether you’re working in a high-context or low-context culture, what strategies are you experimenting with to stay attuned to your own emotional state while working from home as the “new normal”?

Sources & Endnotes
Feldman Barrett, L (2016)  : The theory of constructed emotion: an active inference account of interoception and categorization.Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, Volume 12, Issue 1, January 2017, Pages 1–23. https://academic.oup.com/scan/article/12/1/1/2823712?inf_contact_key=50e37481c31399c8dfafa5200768fca0680f8914173f9191b1c0223e68310bb1
Feldman Barrett, L (3 June 2016) The New York Times https://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/05/opinion/sunday/are-you-in-despair-thats-good.html
Feldman Barrett, L (2018). How emotions are made: the secret life of the brain.London: Pan Books 
Feldman Barrett, L (2020). Interview with Ezra Klein: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/vox/the-ezra-klein-show/e/64657463

* “kizuki” (気付き) is a noun in Japanese which means something you notice or become aware of.
**a formal greeting which has a literal meaning of excuse me for being a bother, or getting in the way

Bunkyo-ku in April
A calm and quiet spring morning perfect for new “Kizuki” or “noticings”

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/

Why being “global” in Japan is not just about English language skills

by Anna
Published on: March 8, 2014
Categories: Japan
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Why being “global” in Japan is not just about English language skills

I had the opportunity to attend a symposium on global talent development two years ago in Tokyo.  “Global Talent Development” or “Guro-baru Jinzai Ikusei” (グローバル人材育成) has been the business buzzword for the last couple of years among Japanese companies struggling to find a way to help their businesses successfully expand globally against the background of a dropping birth rate and a Japanese economy slipping behind its Asian neighbours.

“Global personnel” or “globally-minded personnel” tend to be defined in Japan as individuals who, (a) are able to communicate effectively in an environment of diverse views, (b) can demonstrate effective leadership in order to achieve a mission as part of a global strategy and, (c) have the knowledge and ability to manage overseas offices outside of Japan. (*1)

There is a tendency in some Japanese businesses to interpret “global personnel” simply as individuals skilled in English language and with experience working in different cultures.  This has resulted in most Japanese companies being quick to set up English language training and increased international assignments for Japanese staff.

In addition, Japanese companies are also hiring more non-Japanese staff but are struggling to understand how to successfully bring non-Japanese employees onboard.  Although Japanese companies are shy about revealing figures on retention rates, my informal chats with HR managers at Japanese companies and some publicly available information indicate that high turnover rates are becoming more of a concern.(*2)

My belief is that Japanese businesses are struggling not simply because of employees with lack of English language skills, but rather because traditional Japanese culture works against the characteristics that are required for a company to adapt in a global environment. That is, in order to adapt to a more rapidly changing international environment, Japanese organizations need to be able to develop a workforce that is better at learning and adapting to new circumstances quickly.  This means that organizations need to be better at becoming “learning organizations”(*3)

So what does being a learning organization mean? In short it means,

(a) Creating a supportive learning environment that allows for appreciation of differences and openness to ideas.
(b) Development of processes that support learning and experimentation,
(c) Demonstration of leadership that supports learning (*4)

However, traditional Japanese culture can make it difficult for some organizations to put in place these fundamental aspects of a learning organization.

I’ll be writing further on this topic and expanding on the specific aspects of Japanese culture that are obstacles to creating a learning organization and practical steps to take to overcome these obstacles.  I look forward to sharing ideas and hearing how your organization is addressing the challenge of global talent development in Japan.

References
In case you are interested in reading into exploring this topic in more detail, I have summarized the main resources I used for this article below.

(*1) Akisato (2008) Kyuumu no kadai: Nihon kigyou wa guro-baru jinzai wo donoyouni ikusei subeki ka. [An urgent task: how to help Japanese businesses develop global personnel] Kigyou to Jinzai, December 2008. 4-9. Link to original document in Japanese here: http://www.global-jinzaiikusei.com/img/0406.pdf
(*2) Japan Society for the Promotion of Machine Industry – Economic Research Institute. (2010). Monozukuri kigyou ni okeru gaikokujin kenkyuukiahatsusha no senryakuteki katsuyou [The strategic application of foreign researchers in the manufacturing sector]. Kikai Kougyou Keizai Kenkyuusho H21-32A. Link to summary of paper in Japanese can be found here: http://111.68.148.178/HP/H21_houkokusyo/jspmi_21-3-2A.pdf
(*3) Senge, P. M. (2006). The fifth discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization. (rev. ed.) New York: Doubleday
(*4) Garvin, D. A., Edmondson, A. C. & Gino, F. (2008c). Is yours a learning organization? (Interview with David A. Garvin & Amy C. Edmondson) Harvard Business Review Magazine March 2008. Link to original article can be found here:http://hbr.org/2008/03/is-yours-a-learning-organization/ar/1

How Japanese organizations have overcome ambiguity in traditional Japanese culture – Toyota

by Anna
Published on: October 21, 2012
Categories: Japan
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The previous post outlined the problems of ambiguity in traditional Japanese culture and how it can work against the conditions necessary to create a learning organization that can adapt quickly to change. This post provides an example of one Japanese company in which a psychologically safe environment is fostered through a disciplined approach to a process that facilitates clear communication.

How Toyota has overcome ambiguity in traditional Japanese culture
Toyota is the Japanese company on which there is probably the most literature relevant to the learning organization question and is also a Japanese company that non-Japanese companies have tried to emulate.  While perhaps seen as an exception to the usual Japanese approach to learning and innovation, they serve as an interesting, large-scale example of learning within a Japanese cultural context.

Making it safe to bring bad news or concerns to the boss
Toyota is seen as having successfully created a learning organization culture that fosters a supportive learning environment within teams.  Specific examples that demonstrate that Toyota has developed a culture that reflects that of the supportive learning environment is the emphasis on open communication regardless of status or rank: “Employees feel safe, even empowered, to voice contrary opinions and contradict superiors…Confronting your boss is acceptable; bringing bad news to the boss is encouraged” (*1)

“Mieruka” (見える化) : Making tacit knowledge available to everyone
Another aspect that addresses the problems created by a culture of ambiguous communication is the way in which Toyota has made tacit knowledge explicit by documenting knowledge.  Toyota was able to improve communication by making a conscious effort to embed the “practice of converting experiential or tacit knowledge into an explicit form to be shared through out the organization” (*1)

Making tacit knowledge explicit through documentation is one way to overcome ambiguous communication and increase clarity of thought.  “Mieruka” (見える化) has become a  buzzword in Japan for various concepts and one definition of “mieruka” is this process of changing tacit information into explicit knowledge so that can be more easily communicated and shared.

Taking a disciplined approach to problem solving: Five Whys and A3 Reports
I had the opportunity to talk with a Japanese manager at Toyota in 2011 – when asked how he thought Toyota had managed to be so successful at creating the culture of a learning organization and fostering psychological safety to support clear communication, he mentioned the thorough embedding of Toyota’s problem solving process of the Five Whys and the eight step A3 Reports, also known as A3 Thinking (*2).

The considerable work that the founders of Toyota had done in ensuring that the company’s method of problem-solving was documented enabled the company to set up a training and development approach that ensures all staff are thoroughly trained in this approach and that all managers reinforce this training with their direct reports on the job on an ongoing basis.

One could say that, in this case, the process-driven approach of documenting and embedding a fact-based problem-solving approach has helped foster a supportive learning environment and increase psychological safety.

What examples have you seen where a simple process is employed to make easier to share knowledge or overcome ineffective cultural communication styles?


The next post on this topic of ambiguity in Japanese communication will be about a small Japanese company with only eighteen employees that has managed to achieve
eighty percent global market share with some of its products.  This company also has some simple approaches to address the problems of ambiguity in a traditional Japanese cultural context.

References
(*1) (Quotes from page 103 of) Takeuchi, H. Osono, E. & Shimizu, N. (2008). The contradictions that drive Toyota’s success. Harvard Business Review 86 (6), 96-104.
(*2) A thorough explanation of these methods with examples can be found in the following book: Liker, J. K. & Meier, D. (2006). The Toyota Way Fieldbook: A practical guide for implementing Toyota’s 4Ps. New York: McGraw-Hill.

 

Ambiguity in traditional Japanese culture and why it can be an obstacle for companies trying to internationalize

by Anna
Published on: September 30, 2012
Categories: Japan
Comments: No Comments

Following on from my previous post, I’ll be highlighting here one aspect of Japanese culture that can work against the conditions necessary to become a learning organization.

Learning organizations and psychological safety
As outlined in last week’s post, learning organizations comprise three basic components, one of which is a Supportive Learning Environment.  A supportive learning environment can be described as an environment with the characteristics of psychological safety, appreciation of differences, openness to new ideas and time for reflection (*1).

The first element, psychological safety, as described by Professor Amy Edmondson, is an environment in which team members “feel free to express relevant thoughts and feelings”; individuals feel that it is safe to ask questions, request help and share ideas without fear of humiliation (*2).  This, in turn, means that for psychological safety to exist, there must be the conditions to support mutual clarity and clear communication.  In other words, in such an environment it is safe to ask direct questions and exchange opinions in order to check assumptions or expectations and reduce the occurrence of misunderstandings.
However, in contrast, if we look at traditional Japanese culture, we see that ambiguous communication is often encouraged, making it difficult to take a directly inquiring approach to gain clarity.

“Reading the Air” and ambiguity in traditional Japanese culture
On a visit to a city such as Tokyo, Japanese culture superficially appears to be have become westernized but in reality it has adapted certain western concepts while still retaining aspects of the traditional culture.  In a similar vein, Japanese organizations may appear western on the surface, but are said to have comparatively less-developed mechanisms in place to encourage diversity as a result of the historical company structures based on guaranteed lifetime employment, intra-company unions and age-based remuneration.

Japan is commonly known as having a high-context culture. This means that there is an emphasis on implicit, indirect and ambiguous communication. The Japanese language itself points to the emphasis on ambiguous communication with expressions such as “kuuki wo yomu” which literally means “to read the air” and refers to the ability to understand a situation from the atmosphere without access to explicit information.  Another expression “ichi wo kiite, juu wo shiru” literally means “know one from hearing ten” and refers to the ability to infer details when only given part of the story.

A further Japanese concept, “sasshi” also reflects the emphasis on developing knowledge without inquiring to gain further detail: One academic, Haru Yamada, interprets the concept of sasshi as “The process of anticipatory guesswork required to fill out each other’s communication … a strategy where players try to understand as much as possible from the little that is said”. (*3)

Psychological safety, clear communication and globalization
For Japanese organizations trying to expand globally in order to survive, a culture based on “reading the air” is no longer an efficient way to help employees work together to respond to the increasingly frequent and unpredictable changes in the international marketplace.

In particular, for Japanese organizations hiring more non-Japanese people in their main offices in Japan, conditions supporting psychological safety and clear communication make new employees feel that it is safe to inquire in order to better understand the company culture and ways of working. It also facilitates the open discussion of mutual expectations and, hence, reduces inefficiency arising from misunderstandings.

Psychological safety as an approach to reduce high turnover rates
Given that some Japanese organizations are reporting concerns about the low retention rate of non-Japanese employees, one solution may be to start from the point of increasing psychological safety and encouraging open and clear communication.

If you are interested in finding out how well your team scores in terms of psychological safety and other characteristics of a learning organization, why not try the free and anonymous Learning Organization Survey developed by Harvard Business School?  You can access it here: http://los.hbs.edu

The next post will provide some examples of Japanese companies that have come up with some simple ways to overcome the problems of ambiguity in traditional Japanese culture.

 

References
(*1) Garvin, D. A., Edmondson, A. C. & Gino, F. (2008). Is yours a learning organization? (Interview with David A. Garvin & Amy C. Edmondson) Harvard Business Review Magazine March 2008. Link to original article can be found here: http://hbr.org/2008/03/is-yours-a-learning-organization/ar/1
(*2) Edmondson, A. C. (2012). Teaming: How organizations learn, innovate and compete in the knowledge economy. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Link to this book on Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/Teaming-Organizations-Innovate-Compete-Knowledge/dp/078797093X
(*3) Yamada, H. (1997). Different games, different rules: Why Americans and Japanese misunderstand each other. Cary, NC: Oxford University Press.  Link to this book on Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/Different-Games-Rules-Americans-Misunderstand/dp/0195154851/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1348388582&sr=1-1&keywords=Yamada+why+americans+and+japanese+misunderstand

Why being “global” in Japan is not just about English language skills

I had the opportunity to attend a symposium on global talent development last week in Tokyo.  “Global Talent Development” or “Guro-baru Jinzai Ikusei” (グローバル人材育成) has been the business buzzword for the last couple of years among Japanese companies struggling to find a way to help their businesses successfully expand globally against the background of a dropping birth rate and a Japanese economy slipping behind its Asian neighbours.

“Global personnel” or “globally-minded personnel” tend to be defined in Japan as individuals who, (a) are able to communicate effectively in an environment of diverse views, (b) can demonstrate effective leadership in order to achieve a mission as part of a global strategy and, (c) have the knowledge and ability to manage overseas offices outside of Japan. (*1)

There is a tendency in some Japanese businesses to interpret “global personnel” simply as individuals skilled in English language and with experience working in different cultures.  This has resulted in most Japanese companies being quick to set up English language training and increased international assignments for Japanese staff. 

In addition, Japanese companies are also hiring more non-Japanese staff but are struggling to understand how to successfully bring non-Japanese employees onboard.  Although Japanese companies are shy about revealing figures on retention rates, my informal chats with HR managers at Japanese companies and some publicly available information indicate that high turnover rates are becoming more of a concern.(*2)

My belief is that Japanese businesses are struggling not simply because of employees with lack of English language skills, but rather because traditional Japanese culture works against the characteristics that are required for a company to adapt in a global environment. That is, in order to adapt to a more rapidly changing international environment, Japanese organizations need to be able to develop a workforce that is better at learning and adapting to new circumstances quickly.  This means that organizations need to be better at becoming “learning organizations”(*3)

So what does being a learning organization mean? In short it means,

(a) Creating a supportive learning environment that allows for appreciation of differences and openness to ideas.
(b) Development of processes that support learning and experimentation,
(c) Demonstration of leadership that supports learning (*4)

However, traditional Japanese culture can make it difficult for some organizations to put in place these fundamental aspects of a learning organization.

I’ll be writing further on this topic and expanding on the specific aspects of Japanese culture that are obstacles to creating a learning organization and practical steps to take to overcome these obstacles.  I look forward to sharing ideas and hearing how your organization is addressing the challenge of global talent development in Japan.

References
In case you are interested in reading into exploring this topic in more detail, I have summarized the main resources I used for this article below.

(*1) Akisato (2008) Kyuumu no kadai: Nihon kigyou wa guro-baru jinzai wo donoyouni ikusei subeki ka. [An urgent task: how to help Japanese businesses develop global personnel] Kigyou to Jinzai, December 2008. 4-9. Link to original document in Japanese here: http://www.global-jinzaiikusei.com/img/0406.pdf
(*2) Japan Society for the Promotion of Machine Industry – Economic Research Institute. (2010). Monozukuri kigyou ni okeru gaikokujin kenkyuukiahatsusha no senryakuteki katsuyou [The strategic application of foreign researchers in the manufacturing sector]. Kikai Kougyou Keizai Kenkyuusho H21-32A. Link to summary of paper in Japanese can be found here: http://111.68.148.178/HP/H21_houkokusyo/jspmi_21-3-2A.pdf
(*3) Senge, P. M. (2006). The fifth discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization. (rev. ed.) New York: Doubleday
(*4) Garvin, D. A., Edmondson, A. C. & Gino, F. (2008c). Is yours a learning organization? (Interview with David A. Garvin & Amy C. Edmondson) Harvard Business Review Magazine March 2008. Link to original article can be found here:http://hbr.org/2008/03/is-yours-a-learning-organization/ar/1

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