CM Article by and for CMS March/April 2009 Japanese and American Management: A Contrast of Styles Japanese management integrates work with their personal lives. Japanese management sees themselves as company representatives at all times. Thus, during introductions, a manager is introduced by the Japanese company first, followed by the manager’s surname. For example, a Japanese manager working at Honda is introduced as “Honda no Kato-san desu,” or Honda’s Mr. Kato. Contrast that with an American introduction, “this is Mr. Green of Boeing.” This conceptual difference is culturally engrained and establishes the tone for contrasting management styles. The Japanese work ethic has its roots in Confucianism, with an emphasis on respect for work, discipline, and the ability to follow orders. Loyalty to the organization or group is imbedded in Japanese promotion policies. Corporate members expect promotion based on seniority, rather than individual merit, as in the United States. On the other hand, American managers value personal accomplishment for recognition and individual identity. American managers are also high in individualism, goal attainment, and future orientation. Core Management Practices The Japanese consider three core management practices as inherent in their system. These include lifetime employment, seniority wages and promotion, and enterprise unionism. Workers are trained at company expense because of the return on investment of having a lifetime employee. The interdependency of the company and worker negates the need for aggressive labor unions to defend worker rights. Furthermore, this interdependency results in workers competing against other companies, and thus, their self-interest is to improve quality, raise productivity, and accept smaller wages, as dictated by the competition. This system came into being after World War II and primarily applied to large companies, especially manufacturing and advanced services. Japan needed to restore the economy, and consequently, there was more cooperation and compromise. The economic boom meant employers wanted a steady labor force and workers wanted job security. Employers were able to hire unskilled recruits and train them for jobs that would be required in the future. Termination was not an issue as employers continually had a need for more workers. Japanese management is called omikoshi management. Omikoshi refers to the young men who carry the portable shrine in festival parades. It is impossible to identify the leader or those who are, or are not, carrying their fair load. Thus, all are anonymous contributors to the group. Institute of Certified Professional Managers James Madison University, MSC 5504, Harrisonburg, Virginia 22807 Phone: 800-568-4120 Web: www.icpm.biz ©2008 Institute of Certified Professional Managers, All Rights Reserved.
Japanese management has the responsibility to create a harmonious environment in which each member of the group effectively contributes to group goals. Japanese feel that the nail that sticks up must be hammered down, while American management believes that the nail that sticks up is most likely to recognized and promoted. Japanese have a term, gambare, which means to persevere, endure, or not give up. Factory walls are covered with banners touting various gambare slogans and managers often use gambare during a pep talk. However, gambare is an emotional tool that clouds rational thought and minimizes risk management. Gambare makes the Japanese push too hard and fast without evaluating the consequences of their actions. Japanese firms also rotate their management staff every two to three years to expose them to various jobs. While managers learn about different parts of the company, they have insufficient time to develop expertise in each position. Furthermore, the rotation process lacks a systematic process. For example, a manager might rotate to a subsidiary in a foreign country, then rotate to a different country, and...
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