Tags: High context cultures

The power of being a “Gaikokujin” in Japan [Part 2]

by Anna
Published on: January 23, 2021
Categories: Uncategorized
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[ Written by Anna Pinsky and David Wagner ]

How “Gaikokujin” can make it safe to bring all of your “selves” to work

Due to the limited number of non-Japanese working in Japan, it is probably safe to say that most Japanese organizations have limited experience harnessing non-Japanese as work partners.  While some Japanese organizations are very experienced and skilled at multicultural collaboration, many still do not know how to attain the full benefit of the diversity that comes from being from a different country or culture.

Even so, over time inclusion and diversity have become more prominent for businesses in Japan.  Recent corporate governance reforms being considered by the Japanese government to increase women and non-Japanese in executive positions in Japan is just one example of this ( Will Japan follow recent global trends to create more ethnically diverse corporate boards?  ). 

However, while gender and nationality are regularly highlighted aspects of diversity, diversity of thought is often overlooked. Whereas the nail that sticks up in Japan gets hammered down, there is little room for the squeaky wheel to get the grease.  Herein lies the challenge for working in Japan in a multicultural setting.  How to maximize and synergize global teams in Japan?

It is clear that each individual in an organization brings a unique perspective based on life experience and skills. However, often in Japan, the organization can place too much emphasis on common experience or shared mental models in order to get quicker alignment with group norms.  Furthermore, in high context cultures such as Japan which focuses on implicit understanding through “reading the air”, the pressure to conform means there can be considerable risk in expressing diverse opinions or aspects of one’s own identity. This tends to reduce overall risk taking within the organization. And it is non-Japanese employees who are often uniquely positioned to be catalysts in cultivating a safe environment for diverse teams to work optimally, effectively and efficiently.

Making it safe to express more diverse views 

In the same way that our “gaikokujin menkyo” – or “foreigner license” – allows us to sidestep many social expectations, being non-Japanese means we can also be seen as providing a safe place to exchange views. Precisely because we have not been brought up in the same cultural context that dictates more narrowly what is OK or not OK to say or do, non-Japanese employees can provide a place in which Japanese employees can more freely express opinions or ideas, or even parts of their identity, that might otherwise produce risky outcomes in certain circumstances.

For example, we have both been in situations in which experienced Japanese employees have sought us out (informally or formally) to share views and sense-check ideas first before taking them to their colleagues.  This may also be thought of as a form of “nemawashii” or “consensus formation” before a formal decision is made, but It is not uncommon to observe quite a different level of animation and energy as individuals feel less inhibited to “think out loud” knowing that they will not be judged on general social expectations.

English language as tool to cut through hierarchy

English language also acts as a kind of freeing mechanism for idea exchange because it does not come with the “cultural baggage” that Japanese business language does, such as the relationship in hierarchy that dictates which verb form or conjugation to choose or the word selection that is influenced by one’s gender.  Unlike Japanese business language, English language does not require that a person change how one speaks depending on whether the person is senior or junior in the hierarchy chain.

For this reason we always encourage non-native English speakers who are not confident outside of their mother tongue of Japanese not to worry about speaking perfect English but rather focus on using English as a tool for communication.

The focus on perfect English grammar, instilled from a very young age by the education system in Japan, may prevent many Japanese from using English openly for fear of making mistakes, but those who overcome this mindset necessarily permit themselves to enhance risk-taking as communicators.  This leads to increased confidence, enhanced assertion and enables Japanese employees to play a more active role in increasing the impact within their own team. Furthermore, this becomes especially useful for organizations in which employees need flexible communication styles in varying cultural contexts, moving from external Japanese clients to international conference calls.

All of this is not to say we feel Japanese should use English any more than non-Japanese should speak in Japanese.  It is always contextual, based on the situation, the players and the goals at hand.  Even so, it is clear that in the change journey, non-Japanese can collaborate to empower Japanese business partners to realize the full benefits of team diversity by creating conditions that make it safe to express the multiple facets of diversity that each individual brings to an organization.

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.

Mt Fuji seen from Mt Jinba in the winter

Delivering Successful Training and Development Initiatives in High-Context Cultures (ASTD Blog)

by Anna
Published on: February 22, 2014
Categories: Uncategorized
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Originally Published: February 18, 2014 – by Anna Pinsky

Source: http://www.astd.org/Publications/Blogs/Management-Blog/2014/02/Delivering-Successful-Training-and-Development-Initiatives-in-High-Context-Cultures

In my previous blog, I talked in general about the challenges and opportunities of working in new or unfamiliar international cultural contexts. Now, I would like to focus on the area of training and development in high-context cultures.

Make training safe through careful design of exercises

Effective adult learning requires the provision of a space in which it is safe to try out new skills, where it is acceptable to make mistakes, and where individuals can be given support to learn from those mistakes.

However, in some high-context cultures training can be challenging due to the fact that training participants are going to be less willing to try something new for fear of making mistakes. One reason for this, in Japan, is the traditional education system which focuses on rote learning rather than learning through inquiry. Mistakes are seen as something to avoid at all cost rather than as a part of the learning process itself. Consequently, it is said that the education system does not encourage learning from mistakes and creates an environment of fear.

For example, Japanese students are generally known to be much quieter and less willing to ask questions in classroom situations than their western counterparts. B.J. McVeigh writes inJapanese Higher Education as Myth that it is fear rather than shyness that leads to the lack of a response or questions in a classroom setting.

So, what are the implications for us when we are delivering training in such contexts?

What it means is that we have to be more creative with exercises so that individuals can take the risk to try new things without fear of being seen to “be wrong” in front of others. In practice this might mean focusing on replacing large group exercises with more small group or pair exercises and letting individuals prepare answers or exercises with others before presenting to the wider group.

Take time to check needs with participants—not just the training sponsor

Prior to delivering any training in high-context situations, it is also well worth your time to conduct interviews with several training participants—and not just the training project sponsor.

Doing so will not only enable you to get a better grasp of the participants needs, but also help you start to develop a relationship of trust with individual participants so that they can help act as your supporters to demonstrate various exercises and make other participants more willing to take the risk of trying out new roles and activities during the training itself. Keep in mind that individual interviews can be conducted over the telephone, if necessary. 

Check for insight and awareness first

The Development Pipeline, outlined by D.B. Petersen in The Evidence-Based Coaching Handbook, is one model used by many coaches to gauge where the greatest need for development is required for an individual client. In other words, the Development Pipeline is a useful model to identify which aspect of learning might be preventing the individual from making progress with their own development.

Here is a simple summary of the five parts of the Development Pipeline:

  1. Insight: Extent to which the person understands what areas he or she needs to develop in order to be more effective.
  2.  Motivation: The degree to which the person is willing to invest the time and energy it takes to develop oneself.
  3. Capabilities: The extent to which the person has the necessary skills and knowledge.
  4. Real-world practice: The extent to which the person has opportunities to try out new skills at work.
  5. Accountability: The extent to which there are internal and external mechanisms for paying attention to change and providing meaningful consequences. 

Precisely because of potentially different cultural norms and expectations, when delivering training or development initiatives in high-context cultures one should set aside extra time to ensure that “Insight” is addressed. That means making sure you have checked that training participants understand why the training is taking place, what issues the training is intended to address, and what different behaviors and tasks participants will be expected to demonstrate as a result of the training.

What have you learned that you would add to the above list to help others prepare for training in unfamiliar or different cultural contexts? 

Opportunities and Challenges of Working in Multicultural Contexts (ASTD Blog)

by Anna
Published on: January 26, 2014
Categories: Uncategorized
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Originally Published: January 13, 2014 – by Anna Pinsky

I am originally from the United Kingdom, and have been living in Japan for 15 years. Even after all this time in Japan, I still find myself coming across unfamiliar territory and having interactions that challenge my views and assumptions.

Working in multicultural contexts and teams are an excellent opportunity for development. Exposure to diverse people and experiences can uncover that you might be making incorrect assumptions or missing out alternative perspectives due to overreliance on your own cultural background.

Common mistakes

A common mistake in multicultural training or development is making generalizations and assuming that national cultural norms are the same as the organizational norms.

I’ve worked with various companies in Japan, both domestic and international, and in every case, the company culture has been different. More important, the internal culture has challenged my preconceptions on “western” or “eastern” working practices.  In fact, over time I find it increasingly difficult to make general statements about organizations in Japan, the United States, or the United Kingdom.

Indeed, one of the first Japanese organizations I worked for seemed to fit what I had read about in books on Japanese culture. Everyone was very polite, individuals rarely shared their honest opinions in a formal context, and the relationships were very hierarchical.  It was an organization with a long history and an industry in which change was notoriously slow.

However, later on I had the opportunity to work in a Japanese organization in which communication was quite direct. The communication was so direct, in fact, that individuals could come across as quite rude at times. In addition, tasks were carried out by individuals with little reference to their official title or history within the organization. This was a “younger” organization, with a more entrepreneurial, individualist management style.

 Check mutual expectations

When delivering training or development projects for an organization, especially in a different international cultural context, it is always best to check that you understand your counterparts’ expectations. This includes not just the expectations of your role, but also their understanding of the purpose of different tasks and activities.

For example, in some Japanese organizations, formal meetings are primarily spaces for sharing information and decisions are often made outside of the formal meeting. However, in other organizations, the meeting is the place for decisions to be made and information sharing is seen to take place prior to the meeting.

It is always best to check mutual expectations and the perceived purpose of different channels and contexts for communication when joining a new organization or team—and even more so when working in new and unfamiliar international contexts.

Foster multiple methods of inquiry

I had the opportunity to talk to a successful managing director in a western subsidiary of a Japanese-owned company recently. Her advice on working with colleagues from different cultures, such as Japan, was to ask the same question in several different ways to check that you have really grasped the core issues.

In high context cultures, such as Japan, sometimes an individual’s first reaction is to answer questions in line with what they think you want to hear, rather than what they really think. In this respect, the ability to inquire about the same point but using a wide variety of questions is a useful skill to develop when working in international contexts.

Find a trusted informal adviser or mentor

When working in new and unfamiliar cultural contexts, it is very worthwhile trying to find individuals who you can provide you with another perspective or “interpretation” of specific behaviors that you come across in the new working environment.  This doesn’t have to be someone in the same organization, but it should be someone who can help you view the behavior through a different lens and understand what unconscious assumptions you may be making based on your own cultural background.

If you know that you are going to be working on an international assignment for more than a few weeks, it is worth taking time to find out about possible networking opportunities, either within your own industry (such as international ASTD networking groups) or on cross-industry topics, so that you increase your chances of coming across someone who could be a potential informal adviser.

These tips are just starting points. What additional advice would you give people on working in new or unfamiliar cultural environments?

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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