Japanese Management Style

Japanese management emphasises the need for information to flow from the bottom of the company to the top.

This results in senior management having a largely supervisory rather than hands-on approach. As a result, it has been noted that policy is often originated at the middle-levels of a company before being passed upwards for ratification. The strength of this approach is obviously that those tasked with the implementation of decisions have been actively involved in the shaping of policy.

The higher a Japanese manager rises within an organisation, the more important it is that he appears unassuming and lacking ambition. Individual personality and forcefulness are not seen as the prerequisites for effective leadership.

The key task for a Japanese manager is to provide the environment in which the group can flourish. In order to achieve this he must be accessible at all times and willing to share knowledge within the group. In return for this open approach, he expects team members to keep him fully informed of developments. This reciprocity of relationship forms the basis of good management and teamwork.

Instructions from managers can seem extremely vague to western ears and this often causes confusion and frustration. This difficulty is caused, in no short measure, by problems around styles of communication. As users of coded-speech (where what one says does not necessarily correspond to what one actually means), direct, clear instructions are not needed. The Japanese subordinate will second-guess what the boss wishes to happen and react accordingly. It is, therefore, often necessary to ask for clarification if tasks seem vague or unclear. It is better to seek clear understanding at the outset that to allow misunderstandings to produce poor results or tensions in the relationship.

A brief overview of some key concepts to consider when doing business in Japan

Written and Produced by Keith Warburton

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Overview

Japan – a decades old paradox. Ultimately modern; completely traditional.

It has perplexed observers for decades as to how Japan can be so advanced in terms of technology and infrastructure whilst at the same time being wedded to traditional cultural approaches to all things corporate. Japanese companies are at the same time innovative and disruptive whilst retaining strong alignment to traditional hierarchical structures, risk aversion and detail obsession. How does Japan retain its position in the global economic league tables when it seems to stubbornly refuses to move with the latest corporate thinking?

The question continues to be asked as to whether it is really possible to do business in Japan as a foreign entity or are things so weighted against foreign entrants that it really isn’t worth the effort. The answer has to be a resounding ‘yes’ as many companies have entered the Japanese market and had great success. However, many companies have also failed to crack the Japanese market.

So what is the key to doing business in Japan in a successful and sustainable manner? At Global Business Culture we strongly believe that understanding Japanese business culture is the key to success. How can Japan be innovative and traditional? The answer is ‘culture’. How can Japanese companies retain strong alignment to hierarchy and remain efficient? The answer is ‘culture’.

Looking at Japanese business culture is not a ‘nice to do’ it’s a definite ‘need to do’. Take the time to really understand the key drivers of your Japanese colleagues, clients and other stakeholder and you will find the benefits obvious and immediate.

This country profile provides an overview of some of the key aspects of Japanese business culture in a concise, easy to follow-format. The document includes information on:

  • Background to business
  • Business Structures
  • Management style
  • Meetings
  • Teamwork
  • Communication
  • Women in business
  • Entertaining
  • Top tips