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January 07, 2011

Japanese Management practices

Japan the land of the rising sun is a mythical place of customs and practices shrouded in the cloak of intrigue and mystery. The only country in the world where partaking tea would take 2 hours time!

Japan has a hallowed history. The only country in the world never to be colonized. The country that rose like a phoenix from the ashes that it was reduced to at the end of the Second World War. So what makes Japan such a dynamic place? What makes a typical Japanese disciplined and work oriented? The answer lies in the work ethic and work practices that are followed by the Japanese.

Japan gave us many concepts in management including Kanben, Kaizen, Hara-kiri, JIT, flexible manufacturing systems, life time employment etc. So let us discuss some work practices which make Japan a good study in organizational behavior and in Human Relationship Management.

What happens when the workers and the unions are unhappy with the management? In India there would be bad blood and lots of name calling. There would be protests, hartals, and bandhs. This could lead to law and order problems and loss of public property. This could spiral out and factory property could be damaged. Loss of human life can’t also be ruled out. Finally the organization would become sick and the management would be forced to close shop. Who would lose out? Everyone including the workers who would lose their livelihood. This is the stark reality. This is what has happened to many industries in India including the famed National Textile Union bandh that crippled the textile industry in Mumbai which threw many thousands of men out of their job.

In Japan when there is a bone of contention between the union and the management, the union would instruct the workers to work more. Mark my words I said work more not less. Working more would ensure that productivity would increase and the factory would register more output. The automobile factory would see an increase in the availability of the numbers of cars for sale. This would put pressure on the sales people to sell more. If the sale does not come through the inventories would pile up and there would be no room to store the available cars. This way the workers are subtly putting pressure on the system. They are saying “you management people, you said that you are not going to heed to our request. Now go ahead and sell these additional cars”.

There is always a point of discontent or a point of disagreement between the boss and the subordinate. There is no boss in the world who is liked by all his subordinates. When a boss makes a point to his subordinate, the subordinate has no choice but to listen to it. But the subordinate is upset.

The subordinate would go back to the work station and take it out on his poor computer. He would nastily fiddle his air conditioner. He might accidentally drop hot coffee on very important papers. Or he would type “snakes would be served at 1600 hours instead of snacks would be served at 1600 hours”. This to a show of discontent.

In Japan most of the organizations would have a cellar or an area that is only accessible to worker grade personnel. A worker who is unhappy with his boss can go to this garage. There he would find clay pots. He can take a stick and smash as many pots as he wants. He could also go to the punching bag and draw the face of his boss on it and punch it an many times as he likes. Twenty minutes into the exercise the worker would let off enough steam and he/she would cool down. This way his/her destructive frustration is channeled into inanimate objects and he does no harm to himself or to his organization. The beauty of this system is the understanding that all peoples are not equal and that there is always a chance of discontentment. Taking care of that discontentment in the most practical way is the only way out.

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