The CEO of a well-known US company in Japan contacted me recently to ask whether I thought flatter organizational structures are better than more hierarchical ones. He learned that vital information from the ranks was not getting to him fast enough and thought that a flatter structure might resolve the problem. He was, in fact, asking the wrong question, because his question presumes cause is organizational structure, whereas it might not be.
On October 19th, I conducted an on-stage conversation with Nihon Michelin CEO, Paul Perriniaux, at the Tokyo American Club for the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan and the French Chamber of Commerce.
Here are a few of my takeaways.
I often see sales people offer highly valuable expert services from an R&D division to a customer for free in order to make a product sale, even when the customer would likely have been happy to pay.
The key to rapid culture change in any organization is process, not people. First focus on changing processes. Attention to people comes later.
For example, in working with a leadership that was having difficulty in coming to consensus and making decisions in a timely manner, I asked them to try a process I had developed. Unconvinced, they humored me and gave it a try. As a result, they worked through a list of seventeen strategic issues requiring decisions in two hours. Previous efforts had taken weeks with no result. The CEO and many of the managers had ascribed cause to cultural and communication issues, or otherwise to personalities of certain individuals in the group. Yet simply changing processes fixed most issues right away.
Too many companies in Japan are dominated by processes-driven thinking when what is really needed is thinking-driven processes. Process-driven thinking is all about adherence—following a process meticulously and consistently—something that the Japanese are particularly good at. Thinking-driven processes, on the other hand, are all about contingence—what you do is contingent upon the situation, and will naturally vary. Continue reading