Do you mean to tell me that the way I was raised, what I was taught as a child, and the community that I associated with did not teach me that other foreign cultures had other ways of doing things and that their way was also successful? I would have never believed it. It’s amazing what a formal education and openness to foreign ideas can teach someone. I am now a believer.
Who would have thought that a concept called “nemawashi” that is practiced in Japan could be a more productive way of doing business? Well, obviously the Japanese did, and still do. As a matter of fact, Americans wanting to do business in Japan should become very familiar with the term and may want to even request the services of a professional organization that can consult on such to help ensure that American company does not “shoot itself in the foot” by not being sensitive to their Japanese counterparts.
“In a nutshell,” Nemawashi is the process in which decisions are made collectively, by consensus. It is translated in the literal since to mean “going around the roots.” In context, it means to “dig around the root of an idea as if to transplant it from one individual or department to another.” The idea is that the final product or decision needs to be one that all parties are in agreement on, one that minimizes conflict, does not cause anyone involved, senior executive to line-level worker, to “lose face.” Causing someone to lose face in the Japanese work force is a cultural faux pas.
An example of where this process would be beneficial is one where it’s necessary for multiple levels within an organization to have input in the final say so of a decision and how it would affect each department. For instance, a large manufacturer that produces a new and innovative product is mulling over the possibility of doing business overseas. For such a large undertaking to be successful, it is imperative for everyone to have input and be on board with the project. However, if time was a constraint due to competition entering the marketplace and being first-to-market is key to a successful project, then utilizing a slow nemawashi process may not be in the best interest of the organization as the competition may gain the lion’s share of the market while the other company is spending too much precious time in gaining everyone’s input and approval.
Again using myself as an example, prior to moving out of my comfort zone and by obtaining a higher level education, I would have thought that if a foreign company was coming to the United States to do business, then they would have to succumb to our culture and our way of doing business. Of course, I now know that not to be the case. In today’s global marketplace, competition is intense and we need to look at all aspects of the business in order to be successful. Hence, if I was hosting a Japanese delegation, I would ensure that I understand what Japanese protocol would call for in this particular set of circumstances so as not offend my potential new business partner. If I don’t, my competition most likely will and with everything else being equal, they would most likely win the business due to my lack of understanding the Japanese business culture and arrogance thinking that we don’t need to waste time on embracing such things as nemawashi, saving face and minimizing conflict. Given that I am no expert on their culture, I would ensure that we