Japanese management methods. Paul Grosjean.
In less than 40 years Japan has risen from the ashes--literally--of defeat to world preeminence in many areas of technology and business. Thiss astonishing success has challenged observers to find an explanation.
One popular explanation gives the credit to the Japanese method of management. Attempts have been made to identify the elements of this method in the hope that American companies could apply the elements and reap similar benefits.
To take these elements as insights into the situation and to use them as goals would probably be beneficial. However, to take them as a methodology without realizing the enormous cultural base on which they rest and which makes them successful in their setting is to risk faillure. The general culture prepares people to participate in its processes through ways they often are not even aware of. As a results, the efforts to apply Japanese managing insights have met with limited success on the American scene.
For example, we Americans have a fixation about voting as a decision making process. We assume that, if people engaged in settling poplitical issues by bullets will just stop using bullets and use ballots (with apologies to Abraham Lincoln), everything will be all right. If they have voted, their problems are solved, and we can turn our attention to other matters.
But we often forget the cultural base that prepares us to trust this process. Through a myriad of ways woven into our culture, we are taught to vote and abide by the results. For example, we let first graders vote, not to make decisions, but to train them to accept the will of the majority. We all participate in groups which make decisions by voting. This voting is real, but it is still practice for Election Day.
If I am not the losing side in a vote, I bow to the majority on the promise written into our culture that, when I am in the majority, the minority will bow to my wishes. Voting requires an enormous trust in that promise. If I cannot trust the winners of a vote when I am on the losing side, putting down my gun may be a form of suicide. If I cannot trust the losers when I am on the winning side, I must always be ready to reach for the gun. We cannot transplant this method of decision making to another culture with a different heritage and expert it to work as it does for us.
Let's look more carefully at the bases of four elements of the Japanese business servant, parent-child, husband-wife, older brother-younger brother. The apparent caonsensus process cannot escape this structure. The employee gives obedience not only to the company hierarchy, but also to the company consensus. The company takes the place of thefeudal lord.
In contrast, obedience is not a quality for which Americans are noted. During the Revolutionary War, European military officers training American troops complained that they would not instantly obey orders, but would always ask why. Then, having understood, the soldiers carried out the orders. We have tried to raise our children democratically, but on one occasion my Japanese wife slipped and told the younger boy that he should let his brother have something. He asked, "Why?" My wife replied, "Because he is older." He replied, "So what?"
The ideal lifetime job security has a strong attraction for many (don't forget that only the larger companies can offer this and that the retirement age in Japan is 55), and this also has an effect on the working relationship. Loyalty is rewarded. It is worth giving your best because in the long run you will profit. It is possible to develop friendships. Personal professional goals can be fulfilled in the company. Consider a contrasting scene. Some years ago a friend of ours got tired of spending three hours a day commuting to New York. So he found a similar job which permitted him to live ten minutes from his office. This astonished my wife. She did not understand why anyone would hire a man who had already proved his disloyalty by asking about another job nor why anyone would give him a better job than the one he had instead of making him start at the bottom.
This involves a difference in life expectations. Japanese society is concerned with relationship; we are concerned with action. The Japanese works for a company; we work at a profession or skill. Here we ask a child, "What do you want to do when you grow up?" In Japan the question would be, "What company do you want to work for?"
@the way we identify ourselves provides an interesting clue. If we ask a Japanese about himself, he will introduce himself by his company name and then his family name. We may never learn his first name. Trying to find out exactly what he does is diffucult. If we ask an American, he will reply with his name, emphasizing in most cases the first name (in our office even the interoffice phone directory is arranged by first names), his profession or skill, and we may not find out where he works unless we press the point.
The Japanese advances himself in one company through a series of jobs or skills. The American advances himself in his profession or skill through a series of companies.
The Japanese employee's circle of friends on and off the job centers on the people he works with to an extent greater than we generally expect. Certainly this undergirds the consensus, the rewards process, and loyalty. It is easier to be loyal to the company when many of the people who comprise it are your friends bot on and off the job.
We must ask why this occurs. Part of the answer lies in the Japanese family. The Japanese Constitution requires that marriage be by the free consent of both parties. Nevertheless the vast majority of marriages are still arranged, though arrangement now serves as a method of bringing together two people who then freely decide whether to marry. During the time that the managerial group which led Japan is its present success got married, arranged marriages were ever more common than they are today.
In the arranged marriage, romantic love is not one of the prerequisites. Marriage is not for the purpose of personal fulfillment in an intimate relationship with ththe spouse. As a result neither husband or wife looks for or expects to find the kind of relationship were regard was fundamental to a successful marriage. If personal relationship (which has been called intimacy by some) is not found in the marriage, then it must be found elsewhere. It is easy to find it on the job with other men who have the same kind of marriages and have the same need for friendship. Traditionally, the wife does not share her husband's social life, especially in the company, nor does he share hers. His friends are not hers and hers are not his. This on-the-job friendship reflects the relational pattern of the old extended family system, not a unique Japanese variation of the nuclear family.
Even though the proportion of love marriages in Japan is increasing, love marriage is primarily an alternative to arranged marriage as a way of getting together. After the ceremony, neither spouse has a role model for married love; they have only the model of their parents' marriage which was arranged. Even in a love marriage the behavior pattern of the spouses may not be all that different from those that were arranged. On the surface, Japan apparently has the modern nuclear family, but the values and practices of the prewar extended family system still have a powerful hold.
Japan is moving toward the nuclear family pattern because of the requirements of modern life, but the worker will have some hard choices to make. If he goes right home from work, he will make his coworkers and boss unhappy. This will undermine the consensus process. If he does not go right home, he will make his wife unhappy. This will undermine his marriage. The problem is even more complicated when women marry and try to continue working.
If the extracted ideas are to be applied, a careful consideration of the personnel who are going to be involved must be done first, and then the appropriate background cultivation must be done. An indepth knowledge of the personnel as well as of group dynamics is required. People must be trained in group processes if they do not already have such skills. American workers have to be assured somewhere in this process that the reasons that led to the confrontation environment are no longer valid.