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.
Written and Produced by Keith Warburton
This country profile has been produced to give a short overview of some of the key concepts to bear in mind when doing business with contacts in Japan. It is intended to be an aid to business people who have commercial dealings with counterparties in the country but should not be seen as an exhaustive guide to this topic or as a substitute for more substantial research should there be a need.
With this in mind, we have covered the areas which are key to a better understanding of the cultural mindset underpinning business dealings in Japan and which are, quite often, extremely different from the approach and thought processes associated with business in other parts of the world.
Therefore this briefing note is broken into short, bite-sized sections on the following topics: