There IS such a thing as an executive boneyard for those who do not succeed in making a change in business. But that doesn’t mean your bones have to go into it. Even the most obstinate organizations in Japan can be changed — if you do things right.
In this video, I share some of the behaviors that I see in the most successful CEOs who have successfully changed the companies in Japan for the better.
As we emerge from the state of emergency and enter a period of recovery, now is the time to make your business thrive, not just survive. Below are five behaviors of my most successful clients that have helped them hit the ground running and stay at the top of their game.
Don’t underestimate the importance of peer support, especially now. My most successful clients ensure they maintain open communication with other CEOs for advice, to learn what others are doing that works and what doesn’t, and for emotional support. Communicating only with people in your head office and your staff just isn’t enough. Interaction with your peers will help keep you grounded and focused, and your stability will help your staff with the same.
The COVID-19 panic that has enveloped Japan and other countries in the world is primarily driven by sensationalism in media reporting giving people around the world a skewed perception of a personal health risk, which in Japan and the U.S. alike, is in reality exceedingly remote. Yet the real health risk is largely illusory.
My wife told me of a news report of a passenger on a Tokyo commuter train who hit the emergency stop button. When railway staff came to investigate, the passenger told them there was a guy in the carriage without a surgical mask who was coughing.
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.