Japanese management culture
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The culture of Japanese management that is often portrayed in Western media is generally limited to Japan's large corporations. These flagships of the Japanese economy provide their workers with excellent salaries, secure employment, and working conditions. These companies and their employees are the business elite of Japan. Though not as much for the new generation still a career with such a company is the dream of many young people in Japan, but only a select few attain these jobs. Qualification for employment is limited to the few men and women who graduate from the top thirty colleges and universities in Japan.
The Japanese term "hourensou" refers to important attributes that are said to characterize collaboration and information flow within effective Japanese corporate culture. "Genchi genbutsu" refers to "getting your hands dirty", to identify or solve immediate problems and leaders are not exempt from this. Aspects of these principles are often mistaken by western managers for the type of micromanagement that is constant and unprincipled and interferes with processes. In contrast, these principles are used as tools to shepherd processes.
Mohammed Ala and William Cordeiro (1999) describe the Japanese “decision-making” process of “ringiseido.” “Ringiseido” provides the opportunity for equal ranking managers or employees of a group within a company to partake in an individual’s idea. The process adheres to the Japanese cultural desire of “harmony” among people. The physical action of “ringiseido” is referred to as the “ringi decision-making process.” The “ringi decision-making process” fosters an environment of support and agreement for a decision once a higher ranking manager has reviewed and accepted the recommended decision.
The term of “ringi” has two meanings. The first meaning being of “rin, ‘submitting a proposal to one’s supervisors and receiving their approval,’ and gi meaning ‘deliberations and decisions.’” Corporate “policy” is not clearly defined by the executive leadership of a Japanese company, rather, the managers at all levels below executives must raise decisions to the next level except for “routine decisions.” The process of “ringi decision-making” is conducted through a document called a “ringisho.” The “ringisho” is created and circulated by the individual who created the idea. As the “ringisho” reaches a peer for review, the peer places his or her “personal seal(hanko) rights side up” to agree, “upside down” to disagree, and side ways to indicate being undecided. Once all peers have reviewed the “ringisho” the peers’ manager reviews the “ringisho” and places his or her “hanko” on it. The upper level manager’s “decision is final” and the “ringisho” is sent back to the originator who either initiates the idea or re-evaluates, based on the “hanko” of the upper level manager (p. 22-23).
Tony Kippenberger (2002) elaborates on the leadership values that are deeply rooted in the Japanese business culture. These values were created by Konosuke Matsushita, the prominent deceased entrepreneur of Matsushita’s Electric Company, who cared deeply for the employees of his company as if the employees were family. Matsushita firmly believed that a business as large as his was responsible to help all of society prosper, and not simply for those that owned and ran the company to prosper. In 1933 Matsushita, during the great depression, created seven “guiding principles":
- Service to the public – by providing high-quality goods and services at reasonable prices, we contribute to the public’s well-being;
- Fairness and honesty – we will be fair and honest in all our business dealings and personal conduct;
- Teamwork for the common cause – we will pool abilities, based on manual trust and respect;
- Uniting effort for improvement – we will constantly strive to improve our corporate and personal performances;
- Courtesy and humility – we will always be cordial and modest and respect the rights and needs of others;
- Accordance with natural laws – we will abide by the laws of nature and adjust to the ever-changing conditions around us; and
- Gratitude for blessings – we will always be grateful for all the blessings and kindness we have received.”
The “guiding principles” were “remarkable for their time.” The seven principles are used by Matsushita’s company today and serve as principles for other Japanese companies. Because the “guiding principles” are such powerful statements and an extension of the Japanese cultural into business, the principles have been renamed to the “’Seven Spirits of Matsushita’” to honor Matsushita (p.71-72).
In smaller companies, an entirely different corporate culture developed. Similar to the Meister system of Germany, new recruits are placed under skilled senior specialists and spend years learning every technique that they have. They are trained to develop deeper understanding of specific areas of skills instead of the broader and less deep training that those in a larger corporation receive. They learn to produce work of higher quality using few simple tools and few or no advanced industrial tools.
Japanese women in management
As the modern cultures of the world continue to advance, cultural concepts of their past either lose presence or evolve with the modern concepts of the culture. Japan is experiencing such an evolution in regards to women in the workplace and in management roles. While a main reason for this evolution is the adoption of western influence on Japanese society, Japan is being forced to support this evolution because it is grappling with a declining population and lower birth rate which will lead to a smaller workforce. According to “Cloud, or Silver Linings? . . .” published in the Economist (2007), it was reported that in 2006 Japan’s birth rate was 1.32 and has been below 2.1 since the 1970s. A birthrate of 2.1 is necessary to successfully maintain current population numbers of a society. The article described that the OECD has proven there is a “positive correlation between fertility and female employment.” Thus, if an effort is made to support females work ambitions and family desires, then females will be more willing and likely to want to have children and families and not have to sacrifice their career in the process. Japanese officials are not taking this information lightly. During his last year in office, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi (2002-2007), began legislation to foster “financial support for families with young children and an expansion of child-care facilities (p.27).
- This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Library of Congress Country Studies. - Japan
- Ala, M., Cordeiro, W.P. (1999). Can we learn management techniques form the Japanese ringi process?.
Business Forum, 24 (½), p.22-24.
- Cloud or silver linings? – Japan’s changing demography. (2007, July 28). The Economist 384(8539) p.27.
- Keeley, T. D. (2001). International human resource management in Japanese firms: the
greatest challenge. Hampshire, New York: Houndmills Basingstoke Palgrave Macmillan. retrieved from http://www.palgrave.com/home
- Kippenberger, T. (2002). Leadership styles. Oxford, United Kingdom: Capstone Publishing.
Retrieved from http://www.capstonepub.com/default.aspx
- Woods, G.P. (2005, Oct. 24). Japan’s diversity problem: women are 41% of the work force but command
Few top posts: ‘a waste,’ says Carlos Ghosn. The Wall Street Journal, p.B1. retrieved from www.wsj.com.