Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Japanese Experience...

Since I'll be coming to the end of my tenure in a Japanese company, I'd like to write a few things about my 7 years of experience before I forget about them. Please note that the issues might be specific to my company only.

1) It's a Japanese company and you are not a Japanese
Whatever you do can be wrong unless its explicitly written in black and white. And no matter what you say or do, even if it is written in black and white, you can still be wrong.

So... if that's the case you just ask someone to write you an e-mail giving clear directions, right? No. Most don't have the balls to write any such e-mails although they will demand you to send in e-mails regarding what you have done, how you did it and why you did it.

What if a Japanese do it wrong? Well... he's a Japanese and he can do no wrong. And if it is wrong they will find a way to cover up, push the blame onto a local and get the local to solve the problem.

So if the Japanese staff are so useful, why did they send so many from Japan? They figured that having a Japanese will show more sincerity when dealing with Japanese customers. And they figured that a Japanese will be able to learn more from the exposure. I agree with the last 2 points.

Basically they have it good because they are Japanese. The local managers leading the Japanese executives are the ones who I really respect for their patience and good temper.

2) Culture... or a lack of culture
Ahh... the Japanese culture... I will add one level to the hierarchy of power in overseas offices. i) Japanese vs all other races, ii) rank/position and iii) years of tenure.

What does it mean? If you are a sales manager but you are not a Japanese then you really have less influence than a sales executive who is a Japanese. It's obscene and disgusting... Even the military was straightforward and easy. We just looked at the rank on the shoulder.

They want to be global but they are really trying to bring their culture to overseas offices. And in the process they lose sight of both Japanese and foreign culture. In the end we get a mashed version which works horribly. Command hierarchy is shit because every little e-mail must be forwarded to everyone up and Japanese down. "And to be safe I will just forward to this, this and this Japanese as well..."

3) Oh so rigid... but I was never talking about their dick...
Procedures are followed to the word. Fine in many aspects since every MNC aspires to be as close to audit standards as possible. Unfortunately this Japanese company set its welfare and benefit standards according to minimum requirements stipulated by the Government.

Minimum 7 days of annual leave? OK~ That's what we have here! What about starting with 14 days? "That will be different from the SAR standard! We can't do that!"

Its written in the Employee Handbook that staff can claim for housing allowance if they have alternative lodging in America and Japan. But what if I have lodging in Vietnam or Thailand? "Uh.. its not in the handbook so we will prefer to pay more than double for your hotel than to pay you the allowance~"

Annual D&D? Cut... Team gatherings? Unheard of... Toilet paper? Bring your own... Sometimes I cannot help but feel like a cow... They milk me and I thank them for giving me grass...

4) Company win nobody wins, company lose Locals lose
When the company do fairly well the locals don't get anything special. Just the usual 13th month and <1mth bonus. Fair enough. But when the company makes money, like really obscene profits, the locals get the same. No more and no less. I know that a fair number of staffs from Japan have stock options. Once the company starts to lose money, guess what? The locals are the first to get the chop. They never realised that sending one of their elite expat staff from Japan home will save the headcount of many locals. Apparently they cannot count very well...

Once the market picks up they will employ headhunters to seek new talents. Talents who leave after 3 months? Aplenty~ Resources was wasted teaching these new staff, paying headhunters and handing over/taking back their work.

How can a company gain loyalty from their staff? Well its not a matter for this company. Having new staff means lower starting salary and annual leaves starts from 7 again. The products will sell itself and other staffs can just takeover the work.

Vicious cycle but no one bothers about finding out the root cause. I can see a >20-staff turnover by end of December. Not a problem if we are talking about 300-500 staffs. We are talking about 100 here. And many of them are experienced staff in key departments.

5) Will I ever work for a Japanese company again?
Yes. Just to make sure that this is a freak company or there are Japanese companies out there that are different. I've worked for Brit, Singaporean, Japanese organizations and I'd really love to see what its like to be working for European or American firms.

Are they definitely better than where I am? I don't think so. The world is too full of rubbish people with no management skills but good connections/a sweet mouth/high qualifications. But at least I will have a fair comparison matrix before I land my next Japanese job.

6) Additional points
-- To be added --

Anyone out there with more points to add?


Razlan said...

"Sometimes I cannot help but feel like a cow... They milk me and I thank them for giving me grass...

Off point here, but taken out of context this statement sounded more... pleasurable than you intended it to be


WhiteDuskRed said...

Hmm.... the milking or the grass part? Now that I take a second look it can be a really nice hippie workplace! LOL~

YTSL said...

When you were in Hong Kong working for a Japanese company, you were neither local not Japanese. So how was your situation then (vis a vis working for the same Japanese company in Singapore)?

Also, why did you stay with the company you did for seven years when it sounds so awful to work for if you're not Japanese?

WhiteDuskRed said...

Hi YTSL, very sharp of you to observe that!

When I was in Singapore I was an executive > snr executive. My pay was on par with market rates, and benefits in Singapore was pretty good. Most importantly I didn't get the type of crazy things I get in a managerial role. Still points 1) and 2) were just as prevalent in Singapore.

Singapore was more flexible with benefits for local employees. Starts with 10 days of annual leave (which many feel is way below market) but bonuses and other welfare are quite ok. Annual D&D (location depends on how well the company do) and staff gatherings paid for my the company.

In HK we starts with 7 days annual and 7 days sick leave. 13th month is standard but additional bonuses are capped at 1 month no matter how much the company makes. Annual D&D cut since 1 year ago and absolutely no other company events or activities unless you pay and organize yourself.

Why I'm still here... I spent first 2 years in the Singapore warehouse, then came to HK in 2005 because of the managerial position and exposure. And of course the money~

Was ready to go back to take up NTU-Waseda MBA in 2008 before the financial crisis struck. I ended up taking the MSc from HKUST. Basically I'm tied down to HK until I finish my studies by the end of the year. Basically thats the reason I stayed for 7 years...

It's not all bad. But the company can be better if they want to.

Worldwide Visitors