Managing for Creativity in Japan Talking with Foreign Executives in Japan

Advice to Newcomers

“Take it easy. Take a good look around before you change anything. Don’t come in like a tornado – unless of course there is some kind of crisis and you have to do something in an emergency fashion. Go through the process. Make sure that the staff sees that you are trying to learn, you are listening to them. Take their advice, don’t make unilateral autonomous decisions, try to reach consensus before changing anything. So take time. Really analyse. Get their buy-in. Realise as well that they see you as a gaijin (foreigner) so they expect certain funny things to be going on.

For example, I think that they will assume that you don’t understand Japanese culture, that you’re going to be doing things at the last minute, changing your mind at the last minute, not booking meetings a month in advance. These are some of the things that they expect. They are quite amazed that people can change hotel bookings two days before they arrive but in the west, I don’t know if it’s the same in all British companies, but it’s quite normal to arrange to fly somewhere or to change flight plans the week before. In Spain it was quite common to do it the day before or even on the day. Here, we try to book all key meetings one month in advance – with a Shacho (President) of a company that would be a minimum. So, I imagine that there would be some assumptions that a foreigner head of office would not have that understanding and I think that you need to demonstrate that. (CB: Do you mean that it is important to toe the line for a lot of things?) As much as possible I think, they have been employed with bi-lingual capability generally and they have joined a foreign company so there must be some kind of expectation that it is going to be different, and some of them might want that so I think it would be a mistake to try to be a Japanese company. But I think that it is necessary to acknowledge that there is still an expectation that they will want to be treated like Japanese, at least understood and not walked over, and have things explained to them, to try and reach consensus.”

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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