Organising Principles - Lecture on Intercultural Management

Professor K. Hayashi, 1992 (Transcript)

 

SIETAR-Japan, Aoyama University, Tokyo

 

The subject matter which I would like to address myself to has to do both with international communication and international management.  In fact my background is basically management and international marketing management, but I have been interested in intercultural communication for the past roughly twelve to thirteen years and I have been trying to combine the two areas. I have not been doing any frontier research in the area of international communication, but I have heavily borrowed from what others found, in order to help myself find more about what’s going on in the area of what I call the cross-cultural interface.  The cross-cultural interface means interactions between people from different cultural backgrounds, which you often see in culturally mixed organisations.

 

I have been doing research basically covering Japanese subsidiaries located outside of Japan. I have probably covered about 80 of them so far in North America and in Asia basically, though I have covered some other locations.  I have interviewed 150 local managers working for Japanese corporations and roughly 200 or more Japanese expatriate managers separately, so that I was able to gather some good information particularly from local people. Also I have visited quite a few non Japanese firms operating in Japan and the comparison between the problems of the latter firms operating in Japan with those that I found in relation to Japanese operations out of the country is rather interesting.

 

However, today I would particularly like to talk about one specific area which, in my opinion, is the most important.  Although, as you know, the conclusion that I’m going to give you now is not based upon a thorough, empirical, socio-scientific research finding, I have done several pieces of research in this area, and I have found a few things there.  While I cannot say yet that the question of organising principles is the most important source of problems for both Japanese companies operating overseas and other companies operating in Japan, I do know that roughly 70% to 80% of the managerial problems that I have heard particularly from local managers working for Japanese corporations very closely related to the differences in organising principles.  And based on that I decided that this topic is probably one of the most significant areas anyhow.  I have also found that many of these managerial problems come from management differences, management styles and so on, and definitely partly from the differences in communicative styles and other areas of communication; and that’s why I have chosen this topic tonight.

 

Now the very first picture that I’d like you to see is not this one, but this one here (pointing to visual).  Would you please raise your hand, except for my students here, who has seen this picture (pointing to Organising Principles diagram)?  OK, now there are only two people who see that I have not really grown too much for the past few years.  In fact I have been fiddling with this idea of organising principles for the last ten years, and when I interviewed local managers both in Asia and in North America, and elsewhere as well, local managers pretty much share the common frustration and complaint when they say that Japanese corporations, in spite of their international competitiveness, have given them really poor job descriptions, and therefore it’s hard for them to base themselves upon job descriptions given. 

 

Also they say that working in a Japanese corporation is almost like working in the dark you don’t know how you’re going to be evaluated and when you’re going to be promoted, how you’re going to get a raise and so on - that has also been mentioned.  They have also mentioned that when Japanese make decisions you don’t know exactly who has made decisions where and when, and when you have to attend a meeting, you feel even more confused when you are getting out of the meeting than when you entered it.  All of these comments have been fairly common by local managers working for Japanese companies across the world, and therefore I figured that these must have something to do with some essential dimensions of Japanese management. 

 

Now what I have here are prototypical organisations O and M.  This O organisation (pointing to O triangle) has the top triangle and the bottom square and the top triangle houses all the jobs and tasks that are necessary to be done in order for this organisation to survive.  These circles indicate positions and what is included in each of these positions basically are two things: 1) the routinised part of the job, and 2) the highly specialised part of the job.  Excepting these two kinds of tasks given to a position or an individual who is filling that position, the rest in the light grey area is to be shared by people who are taking these positions.  Unlike O, in M all of the necessary tasks and positions have been allocated to these squares, each of which again is a position.

 

So when a problem occurs here in the position of this star (pointing to star in O triangle) maybe the three people around there get together and ask “What is the problem?” and secondly probably they say “What has caused the problem?” and then thirdly they ask themselves “How do we go about solving that problem?”  Maybe one will take it up and solve it, because that person happens to be strong in that area, or they may, if the problem is so complicated, decide to develop a task force or something or team work. 

 

Similarly if a problem occurs in a little fuzzy area here (pointing to star in M blocks), three people who are around the problem get together again ask the first question in exactly the same way, “What is the problem?”, however from the second stage on usually it develops in a different way.  One person may say, “Well that doesn’t seem to be my problem, I’ve done my job”, the second person says, “Oh, what a surprise, I have done my job, it doesn’t seem to be my problem either”, and amongst the three of them they need to argue and decide whose problem it actually is.  In fact that’s a fair process because the basic design of the organisation is such that every problem is to be taken care of by someone, there is no grey area, and if the organisation is well designed it has to be someone’s problem.  If it’s nobody’s problem, then that’s because it’s the problem of the organisational designer, and therefore he must step in and reorganise the organisation.

 

If a job of one hundred is given and that job is too big for one person to do, and therefore for four people under this organisation, four people take a fair share for each.  Under this organisation each one takes twenty five, and they say that if you add twenty five four times and cannot produce one hundred then your arithmetics must be very poor.

 

No country’s organisation is exactly O or exactly M, every country’s organisation seems to be somewhat a combination of the two prototypical designs.  I have been touching on this problem for the past ten years and I have probably covered about eighty countries, this is in connection with various kinds of seminars, symposia and training programmes sponsored by JAICA (Japan International Co-Operation Agency, which is under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and also other seminars that I attended in connection with the Ministry of International Trade and Industry), I think I have covered about eighty countries, and probably seven hundred people who attended the seminars, each time only about fifteen to twenty.  In most cases I touched on this problem, and I made it a rule to ask them “in your country which organisation, M or O, are your country’s organisations closer to; some are closer to O, some are closer to M. 

 

I have encountered only a few responses which were unanimous, I remember once from a Melanesian country, I think, in the Pacific, one of the islands in the Pacific, and he said that their country’s organisation were pretty close to O, and there was one gentleman from Thailand and another from Nepal, if I remember correctly, who mentioned that not all organisations in their countries are the same, some organisations were closer to O than to M.  I must say Japanese corporations are much closer to O than to M, and therefore Japanese corporations must have trouble when they go overseas, because this is so basic for one thing, and as you know in communications usually you do not talk about your assumptions unless you realise your assumptions are really causing problems.  And in most cases when I was interviewing various managers they did not seem to be aware that the source problem was this.

 

What happens - O.K. in a nutshell, every culture is different in a way and therefore it is no wonder if this happens to be the difference - but what happens when you look at say O from M, or M from O’s point of view?  If you look at O from M’s point of view, you realise that the design of this organisation (O) requires that the members here share a very high level of information, they ought to know each other rather well, that means that they must have had a history of interactions and this person is strong in this area, that person is very kind when it comes to her job, which takes a lot of patience, this and that, you get to know a better bit about the other people.  And when you know that, and various kinds of problems occur, you can cope with them flexibly.  You can organise yourself, you can keep organising yourself, and reorganising yourselves.  And therefore really the efficiency of type O depends upon the level of information you share, and also the kinds of motivation that is required.

 

However, when they get together and try to exchange information, people who are oriented in M, or who have had experience working in M organisations, now get jobs with O organisations; and that’s what happens to local managers and employees who take jobs with Japanese subsidiaries overseas.  So their minds are really M and they come to O and see that these people have so many meetings for so long; and what the purpose of this is you know.

 

Information sharing is a common term used in management and elsewhere too, but again the meaning of it is very different.  In this (pointing to M blocks) information sharing means that the person who has this job receives that information which is necessary for the person to make a decision within his area, he is given a responsibility and authority to make decisions within this area, and therefore for him to perform well he’s got to have a certain amount of information, and it is the responsibility of the organisation to develop an information system and a flow so that this guy receives enough information, so that he can make an adequate and hopefully excellent decision.  Not here (pointing to O), information sharing means it’s almost like the right hand wishing to know what the left hand is doing; and not for the right hand to be the right hand; but for the right hand to feel balanced. And that appears to M people like a whole lot of a waste of time. 

 

It’s very difficult for them (O people) to develop digital job descriptions, because the way they collaborate with each other, except for the specialised and the routinised areas, they need to stay flexible.  It’s very hard for them to write exactly what your job is going to be and when you are promoted.  I mean this digital approach to it, you know the explicitly descriptive digital approach would be very difficult for O people.  Therefore if an M person goes into O, he feels it’s really like walking in the dark, these people don’t seem to have any clear objectives, and they don’t seem to tell me.  If my boss tells me what to do I can do it well, because I’m confident I know how, but these guys don’t tell me. 

 

A research piece conducted in Germany by a German researcher found that those Germans who were working for Japanese bosses considered that the Japanese bosses were mostly incompetent.  I don’t mean to blame these German people, it’s really natural for them to feel that way, because the leadership required for this (O) kind of teamwork is very much different from this (M) kind of leadership. 

 

Now if you look at that from O’s point of view, again it’s problematic.  I have interviewed quite a few Japanese expatriate managers, they said almost in unison, “Gee, these local managers”, be they Americans, Canadians, Germans, it doesn’t make any difference, “they seem to be so narrowly oriented, and they don’t seem to be able to take an organisational view, they are so specialised and compartmentalised, that one says he’s an accountant, he doesn’t seem to be interested in anything but accounting.  So how do we promote them to the positions of general managers?” 

 

In fact that is a bit of a problem for American and Canadian corporations, and yes, they can be trained and sent to various places and they become general instead of too specialised, but in any case the Japanese expatriates often say that “Gee, these local managers are so interested in avoiding their responsibilities, every time we ask them something they say ‘it’s not my job’”.  In this (O) kind of environment your job description is “you are responsible for whatever is necessary for the corporation, your authority is 100% so far as you talk with other people, and reach a consensus”; if you do it on your own, then other people will think, “you know, this guy seems to think that this is his company; this is our company.”

 

Now I have been asked by some people, including Mary Douglas who is a very prominent professor of cultural anthropology at Princeton, she said it would be very difficult for Westerners to understand this (O) kind of organisation to work.  Many of you have spent quite a bit of time, I’m sure, in this country, and many of you have in fact worked in this kind of an organisation perhaps, and therefore you may have different impressions and opinions. However, first of all how do you guarantee that everyone sweeps not only the front of the doorstep of your house, but also sweeps somebody else’s doorstep – how do you guarantee that?  How do you know that the corporation’s problems are being taken care of? And that has something to do with the concept of the company, the concept of the firm.

 

The concept of the firm in a free enterprise country is about the same everywhere, United States, European countries, the same thing, the company is owned by stockholders or owners; the same in Japan too; however, the socio-psychological concept of the firm in Japan is characterised by two things, 1) the company is communally owned; communal ownership in Japanese is soyu, soyu is sogo no so and syoyu no yu, which is a technical term which appears in the history of business history. The difference between soyu communal ownership and usual ownership is that in the case of, you know, usual ownership, if you have a hundred shares of your company, when you quit your company you can go away with your hundred shares; in a communal ownership so long as you are together with the rest, you own it, as soon as you part from it (the firm) your ownership stops.  Still when you are in it, it’s still your company.

 

So, you know, many Japanese presidents, when they deliver an annual speech they say “ladies and gentlemen, we are a big family” and I thought that that really meant something. But then when I was in Europe and I heard some presidents saying exactly the same thing, “ladies and gentlemen, we’re a big family” which is true too, but perhaps slightly in a different sense.  Teamwork is defined differently, which is kind of a little clearer here.  In many cases in the (M) kind of a division each one knows which twenty-five is his, not just any twenty-five, and that’s teamwork.  Here (O) it is different.

 

The difference in the size of the circles indicates the coverage, the difference in coverage.  Usually what happens is someone who works harder, someone who is more competent tends to expand his realm of responsibility, he acquires a higher level of special competence and then he expands his area a little more.

 

Oh, I forgot about my experiment.  My purpose today, as I wrote down my outline, is to speak both in English and in Japanese, because this kind of subject I feel cannot be in a way talked about too efficiently and effectively if I spoke only in English, because when I speak in English I basically feel as if I were talking to people from outside the culture.  You’ll see what happens, most of you speak both languages, so   ……

 

 

The next part of the lecture is presented in Japanese.

 

There follows a highly animated bilingual (English and Japanese) question & answer and discussion, which is so dynamic and bilingually mixed that it is practically impossible to transcribe. 

 

Hayashi-Sensei, Arigatoo gozaimashita!

 

                 

 

 

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