Managing for Creativity in Japan Talking with Foreign Executives in Japan

Advice to New Managers

“I suppose that I would let them know that people management is quite a big part of the job here. I wouldn’t talk about individuals at that point because they need to form their own opinions on the team – who’s good and who isn’t. But the team here has worked together for a long time – staff turnover is very low, so whoever comes into the job will find that you don’t get shouting matches in the office or anything like that. I suppose that someone who doesn’t know Japan needs to understand that that doesn’t mean that everything is completely cake and roses and that there are tensions between certain people, or historic questions about who is supposed to do which job. You won’t pick these things up if you stand here and look around the room. You won’t really spot it at first, but then 3 months in you’ll get someone coming and knocking on your door saying “did you know that this person did this?” That’s one thing that I would highlight, that HR and people management is probably going to take up a lot of time.”

“Certainly in my career history this has been the job where people management has been the most challenging. Part of the reason is that it’s the biggest team I’ve ever had. When I was here last time it was a big team and it was challenging then, but when I’ve not been in Japan I’ve only ever had one or two people reporting to me. But beyond that, one thing is that turnover is quicker in other countries so if two people don’t get along you can grin and bear it for a year if things really can’t be resolved and typically after a year or two years in my home country someone will be promoted or change jobs or whatever. So the longevity of service here makes it more challenging – put you and me in the same room for 18 years we’d, y’know… And that’s what these guys have had. They’re like a family, they know each other very well but at the same time there are embedded issues because of the length of time they’ve spent together. That’s one. And I supposed in Europe people are more vocal. Well, they’re not more vocal but they are more direct. If they have an issue with someone then they are more likely to discuss it directly with that person whereas here they are more likely to shy away from raising it directly but they will talk to their own boss about it, and gossip in the coffee room about it – that kind of stuff. Sometimes you have to deliberately bring the issues to light whereas in my home country it would naturally come to light. We are basically a happy team though, I just mention it since you are asking about differences.”

This post is part of a series of excerpts from interviews with foreign executives in Japan, focusing on creativity. Excerpts have been edited for confidentiality.
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