The Japanese Management Practices

Introduction

Japanese management practices are unique and associated with companies only in Japan (Vaszkun and Tsutsui, 2012, pp.368 – 385). These practices emerged when modern industries began to develop in Japan. Japanese corporations place a lot of significance to human resource management (HRM) practices. Companies in Japan have been known for their tendency to employ people for a lifetime and their focus on seniority.

They are also known for business unions (Firkola, 2006, pp. 115-130; Jacoby, 2005). These three components have been incorporated into many companies’ overall HR practices. However, experts have observed that the Japanese management will need to change because of globalization (Evans et al., 2002) and the ever-changing culture (Dalton and Benson, 2002, pp. 345-362).

The critical importance of HRM practices to the success of the Japanese firms

The Japanese corporation’s tailor makes its HR practices suit the dynamic economic conditions and different cultures (Hofstede, 2001). Many Japanese corporations appreciate that HR management plays an instrumental role in developing their international businesses. Of all the critical divisions in their businesses, managers agree that the HR department is the most important (Klein, 1992, pp. 30-38).

HR management is regarded as a vital ingredient of globalization and is considered a managerial skill which every business leader should have. The Japanese corporations have always been known to embrace the following critical HR practices:

Lifetime employment

Japanese employers recruit employees for a lifetime. According to Klein (1992, pp. 30-38), Japanese employers have traditionally practiced this as an incentive to curb turnover. The history of lifetime employment dates back to the Edo period when employees had no mobility outside their places of birth.

For the communities to prosper, people needed to commit their lives to the activities of the communities. This gave rise to lifetime employment and the provision of social support (Firkola, 2006, pp. 115-130). Since employees are known for their high mobility, the promise of lifelong employment tends to act as an incentive to reduce turnover (Khanka, 2005).

Age-based responsibilities and seniority

During the Edo period, an individual’s responsibilities and social standing were determined by their age and experience. Depending on their ages and experiences, people assumed higher responsibilities (Firkola, 2006, pp. 115-130).

This philosophy was borrowed by Japanese corporations and has been embedded in their management practices since (Ballon, 2002, pp. 5-20). Seniority is an important practice in modern-day administration of the Japanese corporations. Japanese corporations assign higher responsibility to senior employees. Job changes such as promotions and transfers are effected jointly to all employees based on seniority (Klein, 1992, pp. 30-38).

Collective behavior

Japanese management focuses on groups and communal behavior (Firkola, 2006, pp. 115-130). Japanese corporations are known to develop organizational structures that discourage employee alienation. Instead, companies strive for employee cooperation (Dessler, 2008). Collective behavior is encouraged for harmonious reasons and the avoidance of direct conflicts with others.

Businesses seek to achieve this through teamwork, decision making, union representation, and labor and relations. Klein (1992, pp. 30-38) has argued that Japanese management focuses on organizational as opposed to individual performance. Hence decisions are made communally through consensus.

Hiring for attitude

Contrary to the U.S., the Japanese recruiters seek a wider background on the potential employee. In Japan, many vacancies require less specialization (Klein, 1992, pp. 30-38). Many employers in Japan do not develop formal job descriptions when recruiting. Rather, employers seek the right attitude.

An employee who has demonstrated team skills can be hired instead of an experienced employee. Since the Japanese managers look for loyalty, they will tend to focus on the employee’s personality, character, and attitude (Snell and Bohlander, 2007). The aim is to gauge if the employee can fit into the organization’s culture.

Loyalty based compensation plan

The Japanese compensation plan is based on loyalty (Klein, 1992, pp. 30-38) unlike in the U.S. where an employee is paid based on the nature of the job. Loyalty based compensation has seen a narrow gap created between the highest paid and the lowest paid business executive in Japan (Ballon, 2002, pp. 5-20). In Japan, it is not automatic that business executives will enjoy such perks as company vehicles and employee stock option plans (ESOP). This implies that Japanese managers are conservative with employee benefits.

Broadening employee skills

Japanese corporations invest heavily in training their employees. Potential employees are enrolled in training programs even before they have been recruited (Klein, 1992, pp. 30-38). This is to ensure that the employees are well equipped with the skills necessary for handling general industrial roles.

By undergoing and completing this exercise, the prospective employee shows that they are committed to their prospective organization. Upon selection, successful employees are placed on job rotations in various spheres of operations. This is done not only to build the employees up but also to reduce their chances of burnout (Khanka, 2005).

Teamwork

In Japanese organizations, performance is measured on the basis of teams and not individual accomplishments (Firkola, 2006, pp. 115-130). The Japanese managers encourage participative decision making and demonstrate team spirit through their open-door policy which makes them generally accessible to employees (Ballon, 2002, pp. 5-20).

The concept of teams gained importance in the 1970s. Its objective then was to improve the working environment. According to Niels-Erik (2003, pp. 152-190), teamwork was revitalized during a study of the Japanese automobiles’ concept of lean manufacturing. Lean manufacturing aimed at efficiency gains through immense utilization of organizational human resources.

To achieve this feat, it was integral to embrace teamwork. Teams have been described as employees interacting with one another in a manner such that their actions are counter- influential (Niels-Erik, 2003, pp. 152-190). Through tears, the Japanese managers seek to improve organizational performance and the quality of work life for individual employees (Firkola, 2006, pp. 115-130).

Conclusion

Japanese corporations operate in an environment characterized by change and different cultures (Ballon, 2002, pp. 5-20). HR management is a critical component of organizational success (Dessler, 2008). There are many critical HR management practices responsible for the success of Japanese firms. One such practice is lifetime employment.

To retain them in their jobs, employees are offered employment and given social security. The Japanese managers believe in age-based responsibilities and seniority where senior members of staff become the first beneficiaries of job changes such as promotions. Japanese managers advocate for communal behavior, teamwork, and group activities such as participative decision making.

Employers hire for attitude, administer compensation based on loyalty, and place a strong emphasis on training (Klein, 1992, pp. 30-38). Finally, Japanese management is reputed for the strong emphasis it lays on teamwork. Through highly effective teams, corporations can improve business productivity and achieve individual employee success (Niels-Erik, 2003, pp. 152-190).

References

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Dalton, N., & Benson, J. (2002). Innovation and change in Japanese human resource management. Asia Pacific Journal of Human Resources, 40(3), 345-362.

Dessler, G. (2008). Human resource management (11th ed.). New Delhi: Prentice Hall India.

Evans, P., Pucik, V., & Barsoux, J-L. (2002). The global challenge – frameworks for international human resource management. Boston: McGraw Hill.

Firkola, P. (2006). Japanese management practices past and present. Economics Journal of Hokkaido Univ., 35, 115-130.

Hofstede, G. (2001). Culture’s consequences: comparing values, behaviors, institutions and organizations across nations (2nd ed.). London: Thousand Oaks, Sage.

Jacoby, S. M. (2005). The embedded corporation. USA: Princeton University Press ISBN: 0-691-11999-6.

Khanka, S. S. (2005). Human resource management: Text and cases. New Delhi:S. Chand & Company Ltd.

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Niels-Erik, W. (2003). Teamwork in the automobile industry – an Anglo-German comparison. European Political Economy Review, 1(2), 152-190.

Snell, S., & Bohlander, G. (2007). Human resource management. New Delhi: Cerngage Learning India Private Limited.

Vaszkun, B., & Tsutsui, W. M. (2012). A modern history of Japanese management thought. Journal of Management History, 18(4), 368 – 385.