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THE Leadership Japan Series by Dale Carnegie Training Tokyo Japan

Sep 30, 2020

Japan has some set pieces around leadership.  The Middle Manager boss sits at the head of an array of desks arranged in rows, so that everyone in the team can be seen.  This is important because this is how the boss knows who is working well in the team and who isn’t.  They can be observed every day, all day long.  What time they arrive and what time they leave, who is late back from lunch – it is all there in front of the boss.  Meetings are easily arranged and follow up is a shout away – “Suzuki, what is happening with that report?”.  Now the team are at home, away from the constant surveillance of the boss.  The boss has little idea how they spend their days and our clients tell us many Middle Managers  are struggling to supervise the diaspora.


In many cases, the day would start with the chorei, the morning huddle, getting the team together to go through what is on for that day.  These meetups can continue even when everyone is at home. We have just moved it online. Everyone needs to be on camera at 9.00am, dressed for business, rather than in a T-shirt.  If you don’t come on camera that is a red flag.  There may be some depression issues bubbling away in the background, as the isolation starts to get to people. They begin to withdraw. 


One of my team didn’t come on camera for three days in a row, saying there was an issue with the laptop webcam.  Was there an issue?  How would I know that was the case, sitting in my study, at my home?  I immediately started organising another laptop to be sent out. I need to see everyone’s face every day, to check how they are doing.  In the end, it was a technical issue around the privacy settings in Teams.  The point though is, I didn’t really know what was going on.  I have to be continuously keeping an eye out for the emergence of any stress or depression in my team.


At the chorei we go through good news reports, the vision, mission, values, the Dale Carnegie Principle for that day, who we are visiting virtually or otherwise and who is visiting us, each person’s top three priorities for the day and a motivational quote.  The whole thing takes about ten minutes.  I usually spend another ten minutes talking about things like taking care of your health, standing up regularly because we tend to sit for too long, issues around coordination which have arisen, the latest news in our business, the cash flow situation and recognising good work.  We also have Coffee Time With Dale at 3.00pm every day for anyone who wants to just shoOt the breeze and catch up with colleagues, they don’t physically meet anymore.


The meeting cadence with direct reports continues online but it is easy for this to fade or drift.  People’s new work from home schedules seem to make it harder to connect.  Back in February, when we started working from home it had a temporary feel about it.  On reflection, I didn’t immediately embed some processes I should have.  It is now many months since our migration to working from home and we will many more months like this. These direct report meetings are a discipline I found I have to really enforce, because many of my staff seem to possess ninja level skills at avoiding talking with boss. I want stuff from them, I want it yesterday and I am very demanding. Talking with me is probably a pain, so some are quite creative in escaping the supervision. 


The biggest issue has been coordination across the whole business, as we all descend into our little pockets of responsibility and start losing sight of the big picture.  I have to spend a lot more time now making sure that key information is being shared and that I am also sharing key information, rather than hogging it to myself.  This is a time consuming activity, but we have dropped the ball a couple of times because it wasn’t done properly.  Before you know it, timelines start to drift, activities drop out of completion sequence and confusion is not far behind.


This is when you discover just how detail challenged some people in the team actually are.  In the office it got covered off somehow.  Being subterranean, it wasn’t noticeable. In isolation from each other however, wrong data inputs have a horrendous impact.  They spark a lot of effort to clean up the mess created. It draws people away from what they should be doing, dragging them into the morass of re-work.


We tried to get around these coordination and communication issues by creating one truth. There is a live document in Teams that everyone can access and all changes are noted there.  As a training company, we have training events scheduled LIVE On Line or in the Super Safe Classroom, so we can see which ones are being executed, which are postponed, who is involved, etc.  A limited number of people are allowed to feed into this document to enforce accountability and control.  You may need a similar live document that tells everyone what is going on, which is being updated continuously as things change. GIGO (garbage in garbage out) is an issue for any document, so the details have to be monitored carefully.


To overcome the isolation, one on one meetings are being held more frequently than when we were in the office.  However, I find it is even harder than normal to get hold of people because they are often holding online meetings or are on the phone.  In the office, I could just walk over to their desk and signal to them to see me after they finished their call or grab them when they came back from their meeting.  I just have to invest the time now to make the communication channels work properly.


I find our younger people are not phone savvy.  They don’t check their phones for incoming calls they have missed. This wastes a lot of time trying to get hold of people, so I have to be pretty bolshie with them, about checking their phones for missed messages and to check their voice mail regularly.  It is a real pain, but sending emails or text messages as well seems to be the way to get their attention.


People are now working from home and are liberated from the daily grind of commuting in Tokyo which is good.  They are not necessarily pouring this extra time into their work though. As the boss, I have had to become a much more “supervising” leader than before, which I actually hate.  There are many more moving pieces now due to Covid-19, so whether I like it or not, I have become more interventionist to make sure it all hangs together.  How about you?  Has this been your experience too?