Preview Mode Links will not work in preview mode

THE Leadership Japan Series by Dale Carnegie Training Tokyo Japan

Jan 24, 2024

The S-Curve is a very simple concept.  Over time, a newly promoted employee goes through distinct stages in their performance achievement.  Initially, their performance declines as they grapple with the new set of responsibilities.  Gradually they get the swing of things and start to do well at their new accountabilities.  After a period of becoming comfortable with their role, they start to stagnate as they stop growing.

Within these stages are many nuances.  We select people for promotion based on their history and our hope for their future.  We expect that good work and result production in the current role is an important indicator of talent and ability and that these attributes can be transferred into their leadership role.   

One of the astounding things about modern business in Japan is that firms abandon these individuals at this point. Puzzlingly, they do not provide their newly promoted leaders with any great assistance to succeed.  The newly promoted are given the baton of command and left to themselves to use trial and error or copying what their previous bosses did, to work out how to lead.  Sounds like a plan except what if their previous boss role models were totally mediocre leaders.  This is how to create generational decline in a business and nobody would be voting for that.

You really have to wonder how we could still be using such a failed model in this modern day and age, in such a sophisticated country like Japan?  This country has a constant, savage battle for market share, going on across all industries.  The struggle for survival is real and yet the development of the people in middle management who can make a difference is being hamstrung by inertia.  Companies just keep doing what they have always done.  That is not very smart if your competitor is making the changes to succeed and you are not.

Part of the issue is that promoting one person doesn’t fit into any comfortable time frame for the machine. If ten people get promoted at the same time, then perhaps some group training can be arranged.  The green eye shade types hunkered down in the accounting department run the numbers, calculate the per head cost, the per hour numbers and conclude that this is doable. However, if it is just one person, then the calculations blow up and the required training gets the thumbs down as too expensive.

Consequently, there is no mechanism for developing these new leaders to play the role they have been handpicked for.  Individual coaching is ruled out as too expensive for such a low-level position.  For the senior Directors of course, an Executive Coach is deemed an acceptable expense, but not so for the newly minted section head. It is a case of “congratulations, work hard and good luck” and that is the full extent of the training programme.  Here is a hint for everyone - look for training companies like us, who offer public classes on leadership, where you can ship the newly promoted person off to a class with others in similar situations, assembled together from other industries and companies.  This is not hard and it is not expensive.

In the meantime, the new leader is struggling to work out what they should be doing in this unfamiliar leadership role.  Of course, the section targets haven’t been adjusted down to account for their struggle or lack of experience in this new role.  Initially, they work much harder than before as a player/manager to get to the required numbers.  This works for this first year and then what happens?  The next year the targets are higher again, and they are doing even more individual work. Not much leading is underway to get to the target for which they have responsibility because they don’t have any time.  They are not leveraging the team to produce a team result. Heroically they are trying to do it all by themselves. By year three, they blow-up and can’t match the increase in targets. Then the machine concludes they are a dud as a leader. They are replaced with the next victim; no lessons have been learnt and the cycle kicks off again.

It doesn’t have to be this way.  Get some new leader training and support for them. Then they will start to produce results from the whole team.  The initial struggle with the unfamiliar starts to sort itself out. Through the training they discover the leverage points around having access to people, to get to the numbers, as a team.  They are still doing some trial and error, but it is off a base of knowledge and ideas, rather than desperate guess work.  They are executing on what they have been trained to do and they are now fine tuning it for their own idiosyncratic reality. 

There is a pivot point which must be cleared though.  This is to move from working in the business to working on the business.  A newly promoted leader, after three years of experience, has now worked out what to do and they are doing it well.  But this is where stagnation can set in.  They slip effortlessly into their Comfort Zone.  The machine is well oiled and working and they are just repeating the same steps over and over.  It would be good if business was left frozen at this point and not continually evolving or if their rivals were dormant and not innovating and pushing hard. Obviously that is not the case and there is no margin for cruising in modern commerce.

If there is a culture of learning established in the organisation, then the new leader is constantly encouraged to educate themselves and look for kaizen style improvement as well as possible innovation leaps to grow the operation.  They are also pushing to get further trained as an experienced leader.  If they are smart enough, they cannot just be satisfied with what they were provided with as a new leader.  The leadership training content is quite different, because now they are operating at a more complex stage and need more complete solutions. 

In Japan, very few leaders get this advanced leadership training because of the over-reliance on OJT – On The Job training.  In fact, in Japan, most leaders are not leaders at all because they are stuck as being simple managers.  They get the work done on time, on budget, at the required quality – all great and necessary.  However, they are not competent enough around bringing everyone together and persuading them on the direction for the business or developing the abilities of their staff, which are the additional tasks for the leader beyond running the machine well.

Leadership is a journey, there is nothing particularly new and you would think we would have all worked this out pretty well by now.  In Japan, that is not the case and there is a big opportunity to improve the productivity of firms through further developing the ability of their leaders.  If your leaders are relying on trial and error, then you have a big problem which needs fixing and fixing right now.