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THE Leadership Japan Series by Dale Carnegie Training Tokyo Japan

Dec 13, 2017

How To Get Change In Japan


Japan doesn’t have a monopoly on resisting change. Having said that, it will probably rank fairly high in terms of business environments where it is hard to introduce change. There is a very dogged, well established risk averse culture here which works against change. The Tokugawa family froze change in Japan for 400 years and this allowed them to keep control. It is hard to come up with a local opposite example where massive change was a real winner. Kaizen is more acceptable because it is small increments of change spread out over long periods of time.


To engender change in Japan we have to work through the team members. They have fairly consistent attitudes toward change. Fear of change is a strong driver to resist it. Will the change be a positive or a negative for us? The glass is always half empty in Japan, so the prospect of change being a positive is not a widespread idea. The communication piece around the change becomes very important to negating the negative impression change represents. Involving the team in absorbing the change and directing the change is critical to getting engagement anywhere, but is particularly important here.


The Comfort Zone in Japan is an important location. Making mistakes is definitely frowned upon. Doing new things has a higher likelihood of generating mistakes so better to not get involved in anything risky like that. Growing professionally by taking on risky assignments isn’t greeted with any enthusiasm in japan. In fact everyone wants to have the most narrow band of duties in their job description as possible, to limit the chances of mistakes arising.


Change means letting go of old thinking and procedures. It requires a measure of mental flexibility to make that shift. Rules and procedures are risk buffers in Japan and protect people from errors. Asking teams to change - that is not attractive to those being required to change.


Change can introduce some imbalance and motivation can be the first casualty. Change unleashes stress. We are all trained to avoid stress as much as possible. Japan has a constant stress of high density living, social obligations and tricky hierarchical relations already without bringing in any new changes.


To overcome all of these difficulties we need simple structures that will involve the team, so they they can become captains of their fate rather than galley slaves. The Why of the change is crucial. Unless this is well documented, communicated and explained nothing will happen. Setting the direction is fine but let’s have the team own the execution piece. We need to next analyse where we are now in relation to the change we want to see implemented.


Having done that we need to do a proper job of planning the detail of how this will roll out. The first initiatives are begun and we constantly monitor the progress, expecting to make adjustments. We need to keep a close watch on the direction to ensure we are not moving off on a tangent. When we turn over the implementation to the team, they may develop their own ideas about what is required, which will change the direction of the project and move it away from the goal. This is why with delegation we have strike a balance between freedom to execute but with the need to monitor progress without allowing it to morph into micro-management.


Checking milestones is key to keeping things on track. Accountability may be in place, but that doesn’t necessitate that the requisite commitment is also there. We need to keep a close watch out for drift or non-compliance. This can be a form of passive or silent resistance and we have to nip that in the bud early.


This process is simple but complex at the same time and it requires that one key resource which is in most short supply – boss time. We need to open up our diaries and schedule in the monitoring to check to make sure what we think is happening is actually occurring.


Creating ownership of the execution, paired with boss checking it is being done and is traveling in the right direction, is critical in creating change in Japan.   Unless the leader time purse is opened up, it will not get done under its own steam.   Constant encouragement and auditing of progress have to run in parallel, like a railroad track. If we can be excellent time managers ourselves, we can pull it off. If you want change in Japan be very, very well organized individually or a million winds will blow you off course.

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About The Author

Dr. Greg Story: President, Dale Carnegie Training Japan

In the course of his career Dr. Greg Story has moved from the academic world, to consulting, investments, trade representation, international diplomacy, retail banking and people development. Growing up in Brisbane, Australia he never imagined he would have a Ph.D. in Japanese decision-making and become a 30 year veteran of Japan.


A committed lifelong learner, through his published articles in the American, British and European Chamber journals, his videos and podcasts “THE Leadership Japan Series”, "THE Sales Japan series", THE Presentations Japan Series", he is a thought leader in the four critical areas for business people: leadership, communication, sales and presentations. Dr. Story is a popular keynote speaker, executive coach and trainer.


Since 1971, he has been a disciple of traditional Shitoryu Karate and is currently a 6th Dan. Bunbu Ryodo (文武両道-both pen & sword) is his mantra and he applies martial art philosophies and strategies to business.