Stack of pebbles on a workplace desktop show how Japanese values impact business philosophy
iStock/peterschreiber.media

Groupthink

Groupthink refers to group pressure and the perception of consensus which together lead to ill-formed decisions—or even unnecessary risks. Learn to identify the warning signs of groupthink and apply countermeasures in this online course.

Using Japanese Values to Thrive in Global Business

Japanese companies have unique cultural, communication, and operational challenges. But they also have values that have led to remarkable longevity. Check out this seminar to hear how these values help earn trust from overseas head offices and develop employees.

Turnaround Leadership: The Differences Between Japan and the West

What's the best way for leaders to communicate a shift in corporate strategy? How do you even know when it's time for such a change? This course explains how Japan might have one answer, Western companies another.

Leadership with Passion through Kokorozashi

The key ingredient to success? Passion.

Finding your kokorozashi will unify your passions and skills to create positive change in society. This GLOBIS Unlimited course will help you develop the values and lifelong goals you need to become a strong, passion-driven leader.

Japan transformed into a global business giant during its famed Bubble Economy of the 1980s and 90s. Even after the bubble burst, the country remained (and remains) a rich source of unique business philosophy, from kaizen to omotenashi.

Some Japanese values provide models for survival and success in VUCA times. Others are cautionary tales.

GLOBIS, the home of Japan’s largest MBA, began its international expansion in the 2010s. We asked the Japanese leaders of these offices to share insights into how Japanese business philosophy does (and doesn’t) lend strength to company culture on a global scale.

Using Japanese Values to Thrive in Global Business

Japanese companies have unique cultural, communication, and operational challenges. But they also have values that have led to remarkable longevity. Check out this seminar to hear how these values help earn trust from overseas head offices and develop employees.

Next Article

Japanese Working Culture: The Good, the Bad, and the Getting Better

Japanese working culture is notorious for strict business practices, lack of transparency, and slow decision-making. But employees are getting fed up, and things are changing.
Office workers in uniform suits crossing a street on their way to the office, a common sight in Japanese working culture

Japanese Values & Longevity: The Oldest Companies in the World

Japanese values drive some of the oldest companies in the world. Here’s how.
A red pagoda stands across a city from a modern tower, showing the endurance of Japanese values in modern times

Community as a Core Japanese Value

“I think the greatest strength of Japanese work culture,” says Tomoya Nakamura, president of GLOBIS USA, “is the ability to quite easily coordinate and achieve the greatest benefit for the company, not just your own department.”

Indeed, a prevailing value in Japanese society is commitment to community and teamwork.

From a young age, Japanese children learn about omoiyari, the concept of putting others first and anticipating their needs. On the flipside is the slang term “KY,” or kuuki yomenai, used to deride those who are unable to “read the air” and follow unspoken rules in social situations.

When it comes to Japanese business philosophy, the commitment to community manifests in a few distinct ways.

Stakeholder Capitalism

Shareholder capitalism, the long-time favorite of Western business, focuses on investor return as a guide for business strategy. Stakeholder capitalism, on the other hand, aims to benefit everyone involved in company practices.

This is more than a customer-first approach. Nakamura explains that stakeholder capitalism “creates a supportive approach towards employees, suppliers, dealers, and governments, although it may lack the shareholder considerations of Western counterparts.”

Tomoko Katsurayama, president of GLOBIS Asia Campus in Singapore and GLOBIS Thailand, puts the mission statement plainly: “For most Japanese companies, the priority is how they can contribute to customers, the community, and society, rather than just making profit. It’s a culture of ‘Do more for others than for yourself.’”

Turnaround Leadership: The Differences Between Japan and the West

What's the best way for leaders to communicate a shift in corporate strategy? How do you even know when it's time for such a change? This course explains how Japan might have one answer, Western companies another.

“There are a number of Japanese philosophical perspectives that speak to stakeholder capitalism,” adds Toru Takahashi, president of GLOBIS Europe. Some are texts, such as The Analects and the Abacus, by Eiichi Shibusawa. Others are sentiments from economists and philosophers such as Sontoku Ninomiya, who said, “Economy without morality is a crime, and morality without economy is a lie.”

Such perspectives are gaining traction among a new generation of passion-driven social entrepreneurs and sustainability-focused impact investors. One article by McKinsey on ESG strategy opens by calling stakeholder capitalism the “business word du jour” if you’re looking beyond profit and stock prices.

Such businesses should look to Japan as a model for aligning priorities as they shift their focus for a new age of positive social impact.

Infographic showing the difference in business philosophy between shareholder capitalism and stakeholder capitalism
©GLOBIS

Keeping Promises

Trust can take a long time to build in Japan, even compared to other parts of East Asia. But proof of professionalism and accountability go a long way in getting you there.

“The most significant strength in the working culture of Japanese companies is the attitude toward keeping business promises, deadlines, and other commitments,” says Takahashi. “There’s a real focus on ensuring that your commitments are implemented. These corporate behaviors form the basis of trust.”

They’re also one of the reasons Japan is famous for omotenashi hospitality and innovations such as the bullet train’s “seven minute miracle” cleaning regimen.

Although no company should settle for inferior output of its products and services, it’s worth noting the danger of perfectionism, even in customer service philosophy. Takahashi and Katsurayama both acknowledge that too deep a commitment to quality can hurt a company’s efficiency and sustainability.

“Japanese companies tend to provide over-valued services and products,” says Katsurayama. “Sometimes, they ignore ROI (especially for investment of time), which leads to low efficiency. In the new era, agility is a factor of success.”

SDG Mindset

Long before the UN set its now-famous Sustainable Development Goals for 2030, Japanese culture had a built-in commitment to social impact for sustainability. In fact, Katsurayama says that “the Japanese cultural perspective is similar to an SDG mindset. The natural inclination is to contribute to society.”

Takahashi further points out that even the simple concept of sanpo-yoshi, conceived by Omi merchants in the Edo and Meiji periods, reflects this perspective. Sanpo-yoshi roughly translates to “three-way satisfaction,” meaning that every transaction should benefit the seller, buyer, and local community.

Though some global businesses clearly feel this pull (Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard being a notable example), much of the world is just beginning to catch on to the idea of creating shared value in business. If Japan harnesses this philosophy, it may well become a global leader for business as a force for good.

Leadership with Passion through Kokorozashi

The key ingredient to success? Passion.

Finding your kokorozashi will unify your passions and skills to create positive change in society. This GLOBIS Unlimited course will help you develop the values and lifelong goals you need to become a strong, passion-driven leader.

Collective Problem-Solving

Kaizen, famously part of the Toyota Way, is a community-driven commitment to iteration for improvement. It applies to everyone up and down the corporate ladder, from the CEO to new hires.

But kaizen is just one representation of how Japanese values of community are reflected in the approach to problem-solving.

“The typical Western reaction,” says Takahashi, who has built a career across such varied countries as Belgium and Iran, “is, ‘That is your problem, not mine.’ However, many Japanese businesspersons tend to say, ‘Your problem is my problem.’ Problems such as climate change, geopolitics, and the COVID-19 pandemic impact all global societies. They cannot be solved by individual companies or countries.”

Japan boasts some of the oldest companies in the world. A collective, community-based approach to problem-solving may be part of their secret to extending the business life cycle.

Next Article

The Ultimate Kokorozashi Guide: How to Visualize Your Personal Mission

Your kokorozashi is your personal mission. But it’s not all personal. Business leaders harness their kokorozashi to create a better future for everyone.

Moonshot Innovation: How to Lead Business Process Transformation

Moonshot innovation is a transformative process that requires a unique approach to leadership, teamwork, and culture.
A person at a desk dreams about an astronaut touching down on the moon thanks to an innovative mindset for business process transformation

How Stakeholders Can Transform Japan’s Gender Inequality

Koh Matsuki wants to bring gender diversity and other social issues in corporate Japan front and center. That’s why he started his proxy advisory firm Proxy Watcher in 2021
A scale representing gender diversity in corporate Japan.

Harmony as a Double-Edged Sword

Hand in hand with Japanese community values is the urge to maintain harmony. This, too, can be a benefit or setback in modern business. A commitment to harmony can keep people moving forward under a unified message or mission. But it can also lead to groupthink and stifled innovation.

Groupthink

Groupthink refers to group pressure and the perception of consensus which together lead to ill-formed decisions—or even unnecessary risks. Learn to identify the warning signs of groupthink and apply countermeasures in this online course.

Even in Japan, the focus on harmony (both within company culture and without) has its pros and cons.

Embracing Contradiction

Many people imagine harmony as like-mindedness, but Japan has a different view.

“Japanese culture accepts contradicting factors,” says Katsurayama. “Shinto and Buddhism coexist, and Japanese people combine the two religions in a unique way. That creates a culture of harmony.”

The critical difference between Japan and the West, in this regard, is an understanding that certain labels are off limits. It’s common to identify a team member as a die-hard baseball fan. But sensitive topics such as religion or politics rarely surface in conversation, let alone define a person’s identity.

“Japanese people usually do not have (or show) their opinions clearly,” says Katsurayama. “This may confuse Westerners, but it’s very good for harmony. It creates a high level of organizational power, rather than individual power.”

Challenging Diversity

Most Westerners would be quick to point out that too much focus on harmony can lead to a lack of diversity, and they’re not wrong. The power balance between men and women in Japan famously remains an uphill battle.

“Japanese work culture, in general, does not possess the diversity of ideas, opinions, or backgrounds in the United States or Europe,” says Nakamura. “There’s a lack of strong initiative, and that can hinder entrepreneurship and innovation.”

Diversity in all its forms—gender diversity, racial diversity, neurodiversity, etc.—has yet to take lasting root in Japanese company philosophy.

Japanese Values and the Future of Business

Traditional Japanese values, from community spirit to harmony, remain a staple of contemporary Japan and its business philosophy. While some could certainly use an update in the modern era, those that reflect a responsibility for positive impact are more relevant than ever.

Business owners worldwide would be smart to adopt the best aspects of Japanese values in the interest of strengthening corporate culture.

“Everyone, even Japanese businesspeople,” says Takahashi, “should be more aware of Japan’s core management concepts. They are vital for modern business.”

Connect with Insights

Trouble keeping up with all the insights? Subscribe to our newsletter for monthly career inspiration right in your inbox!
Your newsletter subscription with us is subject to the GLOBIS Privacy Policy.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here