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THE Leadership Japan Series by Dale Carnegie Training Tokyo Japan

Dec 21, 2016

One Of the Biggest Leadership Challenges


How do you run your business.  Sharp on the cost control, right on top of the quality, working hard on building the brand, watchful of competitors, full throttle on appealing to shareholders and stakeholders?  There is one area that is going to become a bigger headache. That is people.


I am not talking about just training them. I am hearing from leaders in Japan that they are growing more concerned about getting staff and keeping them.  In the “good old days”, there were tonnes of staff to hire and fire as needed by Japanese companies, but that is changing big time. The lack of qualified staff is hitting across more and more industries. 


There are multiple job openings for new hires from which to choose.  Why would they pick your company and even more importantly, why should they stay?   We know people don't leave companies, they leave bosses.  Today there is so much information about your shop available on-line, they can check you out thoroughly before they even contemplate joining. There are battalions of diligent recruiters out there, busily contributing to Japan's labor mobility by moving people into jobs and around jobs.


The idea that we can have an unattractive workplace where people are ill treated by the system or their bosses or both, is clearly out of date.  Position aspirants will read about how the organisation really treats people behind the velvet curtain.


Once inside, they will be engaged in direct relation to how they are managed.  The results of the engagement surveys, we have conducted world wide hold up true for Japan as well.  The feeling of being "valued" is the critical piece of the puzzle to get our staff engaged. 


 The only trouble with this construct is that the presidential suite of offices is not where too much mass staff engaging takes place. This is more the wheelhouse, scouring the horizon for opportunities and trouble.  This is where the organisation’s direction and preferred culture are determined.  


The actuality of the delivery is done by people much further down the food chain.  Supervisors and middle level managers are the dispensers of justice and travesties of justice, that either keep people or enrage them to leave.


One quick contemplation of this current reality tells you that the leadership of organisations is only going to become more complicated and more important.  How well do your middle managers treat your team?  Are they ensuring the increasingly finite human resources under their stead are being properly taken care?


Do the troops feel valued?  Engaged staff don't move shops, they spurn the recruiter’s siren calls to jump ship.  They see a future for themselves right where they are, they feel valued and that their contribution is both recognized and making a difference.


How do they know this?  Because their boss is communicating this to them.  These bosses really know about their team members.  They know their fears, frustrations, concerns, hopes, aims and aspirations.  When I was growing up in business, there was a solid wall between work and private.  The boss going into the non-work zone was a taboo.  This is no longer applicable today, as so many face issues with aging parents and the younger employees want a more holistic approach from the company.


To date the pressure on bosses to produce numbers, have mainly been concentrated on revenues. Now, in addition to that, the pressure to retain staff and maintain low turnover numbers has become more critical.


Flexibility is bending the previously rigid HR rules in companies.  In fact, it is changing HR.  The classic Japanese model of HR focus is that of enforcers. Meeting out penalties for breaking the rules, punishing them by dispatch to remote provinces or mentally torturing miscreants until they crack and quit.  


The idea of the HR partner in the business is still catching on in Japan and the “rule police” role is still the default mode.  Reality has collided with demographic trends. More wives are working, staff need to take time off to take their parents to hospital, to stay at home when their kids have a fever or break their toe or get a cold or refuse to got to school.


They need to have their request to work from home granted and not to be judged slackers and doubtful future management material.  They may need to come in late or go home early – disloyal travesties in the current regime thinking in most Japanese companies.


Bosses need to be handing out more praise and it has to be quality praise.  Quality praise - what does that mean?  Comments like “well done” are low quality praise and pointless.  Exactly what was well done?  The praise has to capture the concise detail of the thing done well and this has to be fed back to the staff.  The credibility of the praise is directly linked to the specificity of the praise.  


It also has to be timely.  Saving praise up for the annual review, like a Christmas present to be delivered on just one day of the year is an antiquated idea.  The impact of the credible praise is directly linked to its proximity to the event that deserves the praise.


The boss as super coach is also a new idea, that will only grow in importance in Japan.  The “can't delegate” boss is an anachronism in this era.  Delegation is how we train people to take over our jobs and not some happy dumping ground for our workload.  The time devoted to helping staff step out of their comfort zone is correlated to the number of innovative ideas which will arise from conversations with staff. Senior management in Japan complain to us that they hardly hear of any innovative ideas from the front line. The reason is simple. The middle managers are doing a poor job engaging and encouraging their people.


Having ideas picked up and implemented by the organisation and being praised for their work will engage staff to stay.  It also results in the social media jungle tom toms broadcasting this is a great place to work, where people are valued, ideas are implemented, bosses care and do coach their staff.


Do your middle managers get it yet?  If they don't, then some remedial training on the new reality is in order.  The possibility of running out of people to maintain your current business is possibly here right now. If it isn’t, just around the corner is the future challenge of not being able to get enough new people to drive the business forward. Being a Leader is fun isn't it!


Engaged employees are self-motivated. The self-motivated are inspired. Inspired staff grow your business but are you inspiring them? We teach leaders and organisations how to inspire their people. Want to know how we do that? Contact me at


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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 podcast “THE Leadership 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.