A Japanese government ministry official in charge of supporting small to medium size businesses said a recent event in Tokyo said that a shocking number of profitable privately-owned small to medium sized companies with perfectly viable businesses are simply closing as their aging CEOs are unable to find a reasonable successor. The children of the owners who might take over the family business frequently lack either appetite or the aptitude to do so, and few if any possible buyers for the business ever materialize. Rates of entrepreneurship in Japan in general are about half of other OECD countries.
Japan-fatigue is real and can be fatal to your success and career. Don’t try to explain how Japan is different to executives in your head office. While such conversations are great for dinner parties, talks with students, and war stories with friends, unless executives in your head office are interested in Japanology as a hobby, it’s best to leave Japanology to academics. Executives will find discussions only frustrating and tedious.
Leaders cannot engage people. People must engage themselves. All a leader can do is clear the way. Despite this, I often find overreaching conclusions from employee engagement surveys about leader’s capability that ought not be drawn, and decisions based on those conclusions that ought not be made.
Engagement is either in the nature of a person or it is not. Some employees will never be engaged no matter what you say or do because the business you want is not what they want. That’s fine, but perhaps they should be in a different role or in a different company. Other employees are simply disengaged from life, not just from your business specifically. You cannot fix that.
Businesses can be their own worst enemies when business process supplants business thinking.
The CEO of a large industrial American company in Japan told me of difficulties he faces in buying from a division of a large Japanese industrial company, not because of a lack of will to sell on their part, but rather unnecessary and burdensome bureaucratic processes that were designed to meet Japanese government procurement requirements, the division’s primary customer. Quality control processes at the Japanese seller company were impractical and far beyond what the American company required, while lead-times and costs were excessive. Adherence to process, no matter how inappropriate, dominated thinking.
Empowerment is like breathing. We all recognize its need but we’re rarely aware of it until something is wrong. Passivity in business is the most common symptom of lack of empowerment. Continue reading →
Any business, in any situation, in any market always has multiple options for a strategic direction that are all good. It is a terrific boon to buy-in when your leadership team can come up with a strategic direction that matches yours without you having to tell them what your vision is.
On December 12th, I conducted an onstage conversation with Cartier Japan CEO Veronica Prat Van Thiel at the Roppongi Hills Club in Tokyo co-hosted by the American and French chambers of commerce in Japan. We had a full house, and lots of great questions from the audience.
This was an off-the-record event. Below are my personal takeaways.