【Column】"What will Japanese management be?"


Characteristics of Japanese management have historically been described by words like lifetime commitment, seniority based wages, main bank system, cross ownership by stocks. Japanese management with these characteristics is facing industrial change by foreign buy-out fund and business globalization in recent years.

Then, what is Japanese management? Definition of Japanese management in comparison with that of Anglo Saxon management allows us to understand its position clearly.

In a nutshell, it is not a command & control type management from short-term perspective but participative management from long-term perspective. Three main features of Japanese management such as Lifetime commitment, Seniority-based wages, and Enterprise union, which Mr. James Abegglen pointed out in the past, are still alive in Japan. What is interesting is some change in Japanese and Western in term os decision-making style.

On the one hand, some of American management admires consensus decision making to bring out commitment from middle management and staff as Japanese management has done so far. For example, Google management prioritizes more teamwork and team based decision making with top 3 executives, as opposed to Western top management that one powerful top executive generally decides everything. (Google; Ten Golden Rules) According to these Ten Golden Rules, managers at Google are not decision maker but aggregator. ”The role of the manager is that of an aggregator of viewpoints, not the dictator of decisions.”

As another example is "strategic planning session" for middle management at Western company, which top management mainly expects middle management to verify feasibility of strategic planning and raise obstacles for plan execution. This type of session represents limitation of top-down decision making style that decision making by powerful top management is not enough to acquire commitment from middle management and staff.

On the other hand, Japanese management these days seems to shift its focus on individual leadership and decision making skill from traditional participative management style according to recent trends of studying MBA program and learning critical thinking skill in order for them to boost individual management skill. Regardless of Japanese and Western style of management, commitment and motivation of middle managements are critical factor to corporate performance after all.

What will Japanese management be?


From Japanese perspective, it is the regretting fact that management practices and activities done in Japan were often conceptualized in US instead of in Japan, and that these spread all over the world. Examples are QC activity, Kaizen (Improvement in English), and 5S. Also facilitation skill which has used as communication method to bring out commitment from middle management and staff in US, can be a part of participative Japanese management in a sense that Japanese management had traditionally played a role of facilitating strategic planning with middle management and staff.

As opposed to Western management requiring teamwork and organizational harmony from middle management and staff, Japanese management just started to quest for individual independence from employee. Both seek different factor in a basis of their society, culture and management background.

Given convergence of decision making style between Japanese and Western, Japanese management might be positionized close to that of Western in the near future.