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THE Leadership Japan Series by Dale Carnegie Training Tokyo Japan

Feb 18, 2015

Mysterious Millennials


Japan is entering a scary world of work.  The tried and true assimilation methods of the past, for injecting youth talent into firms, are starting to falter.  Every generation feels a gap with its successor, but the size of the impending chasm in Japan is generating fresh challenges. 


The bankruptcy of Yamaichi Securities in 1997 put loyal staff on the street.  This was a postwar watershed in the company-staff contract.  Shocking at the time, it was followed by something much worse - the Lehman Shock starting in 2008.  The expected compact of lifetime employment security, in return for total devotion, was now revealed to be a mirage. 


Millennials, defined as those becoming adults around 2000, are the first generation to collide with two major trends: being fired when your company “right sizes” and a youth population decline.  The end of the old order has created skepticism among young people about the relevancy of their parent’s experiences to their own employment reality.  The Dai-ni Shinsotsu” or “second graduates” is a relatively new phenomenon, where three or four years into their first job, forty percent are “graduating” from their employer and heading off to find another workplace more to their liking.  Unthinkable in their parent’s time, this is “free agentism” Japanese style and a big cost to companies who have invested in training these new entrants, only to see them vote with their feet and depart. 


At different times, it has been poor pickings for Varsity graduates in Japan to find a full time job.  That era is drawing to a close.  There are now half the number of 14-24 years olds in Japan, than there were 20 years ago.  The Tandai or two year colleges are no more, because today’s youth can much more easily enter four year Universities.  These Millennial kids have choices.  You don’t have to be a genius to see what is coming around the corner – the war for recruiting and keeping youth is going to hot up.


A smaller pool of available hires and a new found freedom to jump out, without any social stigma, is empowering this Millennial generation in new ways.  Abenomics may be a conjurer’s trick, but it is boosting share prices, improving profits for exporters and many companies are now cashed up to the point of making bankers wail and weep.  My own unscientific survey of job resume numbers for salespeople over the last four years, has seen a drying up of supply for those under forty.  Market demand for the young seems to be getting stronger and stronger. 


The issue is going to be how to attract these Millennials to your company and how to keep them happy enough to stay with you?  By the way, how good are your supervisors at mollycoddling the young?  Given most current managers were raised on being yelled at by their bosses and being worked like dogs, the answer is probably not very promising.  Middle management’s expectations are to hand out what they got, but this undoubtedly won’t be a very successful Millennial training formula.


There are thirty human relations principles outlined in the book, “How To Win Friends and Influence People” and they seem tailor made for dealing with Millennials.  Sage advice like “Don’t Criticise, Condemn or Complain” will perfectly address delicate youth sensitivities.  Remember we don’t leave companies, we leave bosses.  Whining, harping bosses will be seeing a rush for the door by their new company entrants.


Principles such as “Talk in Terms of the Other Person’s Interests”;  “Be a Good Listener - Encourage Others to Talk About Themselves”; “By Sympathetic With The Other Person’s Ideas and Desires” will be a challenge for supervisors who like to do all the talking and directing.  Communication skills in general will be big issue for bosses dealing with the young.  The penalties for not “getting it” will be severe.


Companies are well advised to re-train their leaders to deal with this hotly contested youth worker supply problem.  Otherwise, they may find they cannot engage or keep this next generation, so vital to fulfilling their firm’s succession planning.  Long-term planning is a Japanese forte, but it will all become fodder for MBA case studies if company leaders mess it up and lose their successor generation.  OJT – On The Job Training - will not deliver anything worthwhile in this regard.  Mediocre managers passing on a diluted version of what they learnt from their own mediocre seniors was always a dubious Japanese training construct.  The juice (?) has well and truly been fully squeezed from the Japanese OJT stone.


Organisations will also be more attractive in recruiting and keeping Millennials, if they have more relevant training on offer for them.  The same tired Induction Training Courses or the functional position rotation progression throughout the firm, are not satisfying Millennials.  They lack experience, so they want practical information, not lecture or theory.  They want concrete skills to make them more successful and they want them now. 


Prepare your organisation for this brave new world of Japanese Millennials or brace yourself for the unfolding nightmare.  


Action Items


·      Recognise the demographic trend is not in your favour

·      Educate your leaders to become better communicators

·      Embed Dale Carnegie’s Thirty Principles of human relations into your company culture

·      Provide practical skill training for the Millennials