Tags: Change management

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

by Anna
Published on: March 8, 2014
Categories: Japan
Comments: No Comments

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

“The pictures on radio are better”: why co-creation matters for successful organizational change

by Anna
Published on: March 11, 2013
Categories: Uncategorized
Comments: No Comments

I happened to catch the program “Something Understood” on BBC Radio 4 today and was impressed by a quote from the radio producer, Simon Elmes, that “the pictures on radio are better.”

I keep on top of what’s happening in the UK via BBC radio news and sometimes listen to the radio dramas not just because of ease of access on the internet, but because I often find the programs are better structured than those on TV. However, it wasn’t until today that I also realized that I like listening to the radio drama programs because I am able to be more “involved” and that the images can be more vivid precisely because I am a co-creator in the experience.

Here we can also find a lesson on successful organizational change: research demonstrates that allowing people to be involved in co-creating or shaping the change – even if in just a small way – increases the engagement and commitment of the person, thereby increasing the likely success of the change.

Employee involvement from an early stage is now part of the change mantra but change programs in business still often end up as top-down instruction because it seems the easier option when time and resources are limited.  Asking people for opinions and advice as part of a change program may feel like it takes up more time, but ultimately it increases commitment, increases the likelihood of success and saves you more time in the long term.

The “pictures on radio are better” because as a listener we can be involved in creating the vision of the story – how could you instill successful change and involve your team in creating the vision of your organization’s story?

Ambiguous Communication leading to low retention rates: Dissatisfied employees in overseas branches of Japanese companies

Another example of how the traditional style of ambiguous communication is not helping Japanese companies retain staff in their overseas offices.

Mr Toshimasa Akisato from Global Jinzai Ikusei Juku reveals the low scores that Japanese managers receive fromd locally hire staff in overseas offices in terms of gaining trust and providing support.

The original post in Japanese from Toshimasa Akisato copied below:

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【グローバル人材育成塾】よりメルマガ配信のお知らせ(2012年11月号)
このメールはメールマガジンにご登録頂いている皆様にお届けしております。
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今月のテーマ「アジア人部下から見た日本人マネジメントの評価は?」
==========================▽▲▽▲▽▲▽▲
アジア諸国の拠点に出向している日本人社員は現地社員からどのように思われ
ているか、その調査結果の一部を紹介します。
この調査は2008~9年にかけ中国、アセアン6カ国、インドで2192人
を対象とした非常に大がかりな調査を早稲田大学政治経済学術院 白木三秀教
授のグループが行ったものです。
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
アジア人部下から日本人ミドルマネジメントが高く評価される項目
・高く評価される項目は無し。比較的高く評価されている項目として;
A.自分が犯したミスは素直に認める
B.規則を尊重し、適切に行動をする
C.顧客を大事にしている
D.他部門の悪口を言わない
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
アジア人部下から日本人ミドルマネジメントが低く評価される項目
1.部下を信頼している
2.部下に対する気配りや関心を示している
3.部下の成果を客観的に評価している
4.部下の経験や能力を考慮し、権限を委譲している
5.部下を効果的に褒めている
6.部下が問題に遭遇した際に、適切な手助けをする
7.部下に対する評価を具体的にフィードバックしている
8.部下に自律的に学べる環境・時間を与えている
9.叱るべき時は部下を適切に叱っている
10.部下の育成のためのチャンスを与えている
(以下抜粋)
13.目標実現のため各人の役割を部下に自覚させている
15.部下に明確な業務目標を示している
19.業務上の時間管理が効率的である
21.仕事の優先順位が明確である
25.指示や説明が分りやすい
32.上から高く評価されている
39.将来部門の進むべき方向をはっきり示す
42.人脈(社内・社外)が広い
45.上の人が間違っていたら、はっきり指摘する
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
結論として、アジア拠点の日本人マネジメント層に対する現地社員の評価は、非常に厳しいものがあります。
その根本原因は何でしょうか?
日本の職場が正にこれと同じ現象(問題)を伝統的に抱えている事に加え、日本と同様のマネジメントを海外拠点で行っている事が根本原因ではないでしょうか。
つまり、日本では長年一緒に仕事をしている上司、部下、同僚が阿吽の呼吸で人間関係を大切にしながら、評価に不満があっても、役割分担が不明確でも、部門のミッションが曖昧でも、皆それなりに一生懸命仕事をしています。
この曖昧且つ不透明なマネジメントシステムが職場の協力関係を築き、一体感のある企業文化の醸成に繋がっている長所でもあります。
しかし問題は日本特有のマネジメントをそのまま海外拠点に引きずって、人や組織をマネージしようとすれば、当然ながら上記の様な現地社員の低い評価、不満を招きます。
アジア諸国でも一般的に日本企業より欧米企業の方が人気があります。
欧米企業は報酬が高いだけでなく、上記項目の評価が高いからです。
日本人にとって国民性も価値観も異なる海外でのマネジメントは決して易しい事ではありません。
それだけに日本人海外派遣者は日本流では通用しないことをもっと自覚する事が大切ではないでしょうか。
その上で上記項目の評価を上げるにはどのようにすれば良いかを真剣に対応する事が現地社員のモチベーションアップ、定着率の向上、優秀人材のリテンションに繋がると思います。
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グローバル人材育成塾
塾長 秋里 寿正
 〒542-0083 大阪市中央区東心斎橋1-15-25
リッツビル 4F
電話/FAX: 06-6271-4060
e-mail: akisato@global-jinzaiikusei.com
URL:http://www.global-jinzaiikusei.com/
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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

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