The Japanese management system is (or was) celebrated by many and is presented as the best system that must be followed by the Western countries. Even though it is changing, you can still see this management style in execution in Japanese companies. If you are interested in working in Japan or with Japanese, note that you should learn their ways of doing as many of them don’t know about other countries’ systems or prefer respecting theirs. Let’s get a closer look at what made this system famous (both positively and negatively).
Traditionally, someone is hired for life and trained by the company. Colleagues and bosses are like a family, with after work parties (nomikai or enkai) and the kouhai-senpai system (junior-senior). It is also common to change sectors with internal promotions, depending on skills, experience within the company or on the firm’s needs. Having a degree is less important than being loyal and putting effort into things (this is also why companies don’t look at results when they hire graduate students, but at which university they went to). Lifetime employment, however, represents in reality only one-third of the total work force. Besides, once you are at mid-career, it is difficult to change job if one is dissatisfied. People also frowned upon those who change firm, at least more than once. It is valued to have worked for one company only, unlike in the West.
Lifetime employment reflects discrimination, since not every employee can continue working after the retirement age. Also, the permanent staff has many benefits, but those hired to meet fluctuating demand have few or no benefits at all. Besides, women are expected to quit after they get married or after they give birth to their first child. They earn less than men and only 2% of them are hired for a job in engineering, law and accounting (according to Kazuo Yamaguchi). Few women work as a manager, they usually start working at the bottom of the job hierarchy and don’t reach the top.
The Ringi System: Decisions by Consensus
In Japan, one person does not decide for the whole company. A middle-management employee prepares the document, then gives it to the other employees (upward and horizontally). Read our article about the Japanese business negotiation for further details!
Some companies follow this system, but make sure that nobody disagrees with the executive managers, which results in a lack of innovation and change. It sometimes inhibits growth too, since it slows down decision-making. The result can also be at odds with what international companies were thinking of, causing surprise or disappointment. The main objective of this practice is, however, to involve employees and avoid conflicts between workers and managers.
Harmony and Stability
Harmony and stability are considered essential in Japan, not only in companies. To meet employee welfare, there is a system of enterprise unionism. It aims at security of employment and employee well-being. Besides, conflicts are avoided so that nobody loses face. If something has to be said, it is in private, not in front of everyone. Also, Japanese don’t disagree directly, there are many ways to say ‘no’ without using this word (a silence, saying that ‘it is difficult’ or ‘a bit…’, for example).
This type of management was praised for many years in the West, said to be one of the reasons for Japan’s success. But this system has its limits and is nowadays criticized by some. This system is possible in Japan, but not every country can and should reproduce it. It is very indirect and imbued with Japanese traditions, so it does not correspond with every nation.
Reference hbr.org/1971/03/what-we-can-learn-from-japanese-management www.thepharmaletter.com/article/what-happened-to-japanese-style-management www.businessexpertpress.com/files/pdfs/10409930.pdf www.yourarticlelibrary.com/management/11-most-important-features-of-japanese-management/25822 hbr.org/1984/11/demystifying-japanese-management-practices www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/fandd/2019/03/pdf/gender-equality-in-japan-yamaguchi.pdf