Steven's Blog

New CEO Manifesto

Are you are new to your role as CEO in Japan, or have you been a CEO for a while?

Below are ten pieces of advice for CEOs in Japan based on issues most frequently raised with me.

  1. Corporate culture trumps national culture. Japanese culture does not matter. It’s the corporate culture you create as a leader that counts. Many Japanese CEOs have created unconventional corporate cultures in Japan. You can too.
  2. Rapid culture change starts with process not people. Stop trying to get people to buy into a new way of doing things as a prerequisite to change. Change processes and get people to try them as an experiment. Nothing changes mindset faster than a new way of doing things that work.
  3. You can fire people legally. It’s a question of how, when and why. A CEO of a major European company in Japan who wanted to remove some non-performers was told by his Japanese HR director that firing people in Japan is illegal. So he fired his HR director—legally, I might add.
  4. You can bypass distributors without committing business suicide. Distributors who no longer add value to the relationship can and should be cut. Your customers will not abandon you if you have a compelling product no matter what dire warnings you hear from your staff.
  5. Japanese people change faster and are more committed to change if you do it right. Look at Japan historically, technologically and culturally. There is no way you can convince me that Japanese people are not capable of rapid, dramatic change. The same tenacity that you may be experiencing before a change you want to make will also be there after you achieve the change you want.
  6. Persuasiveness of business value is universal. Japan is no enigma. Value is value everywhere in the world. Make your business’s value compelling and explicit.
  7. English ability is no measure of competence. Your most talented staff may not be able to speak English. Do not assume that the person you choose for a job primarily because of English ability is the best one to take it on.
  8. Japanese ability is no measure of competence. Similarly, the ability to speak fluent Japanese, while a remarkable skill, does not necessarily imply competence in other areas.
  9. You don’t need more harmony. You need constructive disharmony. There is nothing wrong with a healthy debate over how best to go about achieving agreed upon goals—even in Japan. If you find there is no debate, then you may have apathy, sycophancy, or both, none of which is ever healthy for your business.
  10. Your greatest stumbling block in Japan is you – if you allow it to be so. Neither Japan nor your Japanese staff is ever an excuse for lack of progress. A leader can always proactively make change for success.
Accelerate your success as CEO in Japan. These are ten pieces of fundamental wisdom. Click To Tweet

Are you a CEO yourself? Share your wisdom with me and with others in the comments below.


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