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THE Leadership Japan Series by Dale Carnegie Training Tokyo Japan

Apr 5, 2023

Actually, we don’t want to lead imperfect people – we want the winners, A Players, the motivated and the capable.  Fine and they cost a bomb, so I hope you have deep pockets.  If you work for a major corporation then that is exactly what you can command, because you have the bucks to sustain that type of ecosystem.  They are also attracted to work for your brand name firm, so it is a happy exchange.  If you work for a small to medium enterprise then life is quite different.  There is a constant trade off of financial resources to be tied up in someone who probably won’t make much money in the first year, against the cost of hiring, onboarding and training them.  The outlays go out in a flood and the return ebbs back in a trickle.

Japan, like many other economies is witnessing a population decline.  There will be roughly a million people less in Japan, every year, for the next ten years at least.  That translates into a smaller number of potential staff available to hire and that means compromises have to be made.  We are all getting closer and closer to being happy to get anyone, no matter how imperfect, because we need someone.  We will wind up hiring idiots too and then have to work out how to deal with them. 

I was reminded of this the other day. It was a chilly, windy evening in Tokyo when we decided to go for a pizza at the Ebisu branch of a famous Italian pizzeria from Napoli.  Our usual format is to drive there, my wife reconnoitres the table vacancy situation and it there is a table, then I turn the car around and head for the nearby carpark.  This evening I got the thumbs up and started to head for the carpark.  While I was doing this, I noticed in the rear view mirror that my wife was left waiting outside in the cold, which I thought was a bit odd.  When I got to the table, I asked her about it and she told me the waiter made her wait outside in the cold, while he served some other people before he organised the table.  When paying the bill I remonstrated with him about why he made my wife stand out in the cold.  He looked in his early forties, so he was no kid.  He offered an apology and I asked if he was the manager.  He pointed to the manager and I remonstrated with him too.

What I recognised was the manager had made one of those compromises we will all be making – hiring anyone, because you need staff and not being able to be selective about the process.  Being busy the training process was probably focused on systems and procedures rather than service standards.  There is also the issue of common sense is a given except when it isn’t.  I am sure the manager would never have imagined this staff member would be so stupid as to make a client wait out in the wind and cold, when they could gave waited inside.  How would you predict and train for that level of imbecilic behaviour?  We have been going to that restaurant for over a decade since it opened, but here we have an idiot member of staff jeopardising the lifetime value of a customer, in a street lined with competitors.

What this means for most of us is we have to change our way of thinking about leading staff.  We have to especially prepare for imperfect people entering our world and representing our brand.  The onboarding process really needs a re-think.  We cannot just be satisfied with teaching them our systems and procedures and then turning them loose on the clients.  I am not a great fan of micromanagement but in this new world that is going to be a greater requirement.  We will need to be monitoring what people are doing and how they are doing it in greater detail than ever before.  Because you cannot predict idiocy, you have to capture it early and eradicate it. 

Previously, in an earlier episode, I mentioned the issue of what is actually happening against what you think is happening.  As I noted, I tell the new people what I want them to do and then their peers tell them don’t bother doing that.  Who do they follow? To my amazement they follow their peers advice rather than mine.  How would I even know this deviation was happening?  Only because I am following up and checking – the micromanagement I hate having to do, but which becomes more important when hiring imperfect people.

Years ago, a boss told me the person has to fit the job, not the other way around.  That age has passed in Japan.  Today, we have to find ways for the job to fit the person, because they won’t be a perfect fit and we won’t have too many options to just pitch them overboard and hire a better replacement.  That requires a degree of flexibility most of us have probably never grown up with in work as leaders, but we have to change.  The external market situation is not in our favour.  If we can be more flexible than our competitors, then that is a bigbusiness advantage.