Human Resource Management

HRM Guide Updates



by N G Nelson

"We have passed the Taylor Stage. We are aware that business has become terribly complex. Survival is very uncertain in an environment filled with risk, the unexpected and competition... We know that the intelligence of a few technocrats - even very bright ones - has become totally inadequate to face these challenges. Only the intellects of all employees can permit a company to live with the ups and downs and the requirements of the new environment. ....We will win and you will lose. For you are not able to rid your minds of the obsolete Taylorisms we never had.'

Konosuke Matsushita Manufacturing Engineering 1988 [1]

To understand the process of change which has occurred in blue/white collar human resource motivational techniques over the past few decades it is first necessary to examine the origins of "Teamworking" and the "Continuous Improvement Process", from its early beginnings in the Japanese automotive industry, to its adaptation by US and European industry in the mid eighties and throughout the 1990's to date.

By 1950, after thirteen years of existence, the Toyota Motor Company had produced only 2,685 automobiles in total, compared to Ford's North American Fort Rouge plant which produced 7,000 vehicles a day. In Spring 1950 a young Japanese engineer, Eiji Toyoda, visited Ford's Fort Rouge plant in Detroit and as a result advised his company that, 'there were some possibilities to improve the production system'. When he returned, Toyoda and his head of production Taiichi Ohno thought that given the social makeup of society, mass production could never work in Japan. Despite this, Ohno commenced work on what would eventually become the Toyota Production system, which in turn led to the development of "Teamworking", "Lean Production" and the concept of the "Continuous Improvement Process/KAIZEN" as applied in the Japanese motor industry today [2].

According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology study, carried out at a cost of $5 Million over a five year period, in 1984 European and US the automotive industries were not prepared for the volume and quality of the automotive exports which began to arrive from Japan.[3] Since its emergence in the early eighties the concept of "Teamworking" and the "Continuous Improvement Process (CIP)" has diffused outwards to be adopted within Western white and blue collar environments. However, success in applying these techniques has varied from business to business and even from site to site. In this article I will be arguing that the failure of some enterprises to apply "Teamworking" and CIP successfully is influenced significantly by a failure to understand the culture and long term strategy of the originating country, Japan. In order to understand the dynamics of Teamworking and CIP, it is therefore necessary to examine briefly its social origins within Japanese society.

Leadership Style & The Concept of Cooperation

In his book "Kaizen for Europe" R Hannam maintains that the Japanese ethos of co-operation grew from village culture, through the need for combined labour to cultivate tiered hill sides, the need for sharing resources, tools, labour, water for irrigation, and more importantly the Confucian philosophy prevalent at that time. The social norms which evolved in Japanese villages over the last hundred years may be considered a microcosm of idealised Japanese society, i.e. collaboration, consensus decision making, group activity and deference to elders and seniors. As a result of this social evolution all the members of a household group should in theory be loyal to, and defer to, the head of the household, who potentially has complete authority. This is the basis of the cooperation concept inherent within Kaizen.

However, with authority comes obligation, therefore the head of the household should also promote the Confucian concept of "Universal Harmony", which means that he must be aware of, and sensitive to the needs of all other household members. This is a crucial point as according to Hannam, Japanese managers, whether at executive or shop floor level, should also adhere to this philosophy. This gives rise to the paradox of "the leader who may not appear to lead." In other words the leader must be seen to lead in an un-authoritarian way, he or she must always be a facilitator at the service of those they lead. [6] This leadership style is at odds with traditional Western European "Top Down Management".

> The Concept of Interdependancy

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