Theresa May’s Visit to Japan & Brexit Negotations: Will arrogance hinder UK Japan Business?

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Theresa May’s Visit to Japan & Brexit Negotations: Will arrogance hinder UK Japan Business?

Posted on 15 September 2017 in Inter-Cultural Training, Japanese Corporate Culture, News -
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Theresa May’s visit to Japan & Brexit Negotiations: Will arrogance hinder UK Japan Business?

Theresa May’s recent visit to Japan may have been a good PR stunt but where do we stand now with Japan? The highly entertaining tea-ceremony and comments such as: “I like your dress”, “we have a good relationship” and the all-important “we will commit to a trade deal after Brexit”, were certainly reassuring but should be contextualised within the niceties often seen within Japanese negotiations. These were not false platitudes given by Abe to May, they are important parts of doing business in Japan-tatemae and relationship building- and should be read as such (reading between the lines is another important aspect of doing business with the Japanese). To assume otherwise would be arrogant, which in our current position, is not ideal. The fact is that many Japanese companies are considering something that is against all their business principles-ditching long-term business commitments to the UK- and there will be more to follow. The risk is simply too high (risk is the bottom line for all their business decisions.)

Nurturing Relationships with the Japanese

We certainly would be wise to nurture our relationship with the Japanese-they are one of our most important trading partners bringing with them high levels of job creation and long-term investment into training, education and cultural endeavours, many of which go unnoticed or unappreciated in the Western world of ‘business is business’. The simple fact is, we do business and form relationships very differently. Anyone attending the Hitachi Rail opening ceremony last year should have noticed the difference between the Japanese side’s sentiments and the British side just from listening to the speeches alone. Furthermore, the way David Cameron and George Osborne mentioned investments made into the UK from Japan at the ceremony (Nissan committed to massive investment into their Sunderland operations on that same day) with George then hotfooting it to China to tout for bidders for HS2 the very next day showed a clear contrast of our government’s mentality with the Japanese, who favour long-term relationships, loyalty and trust.

Arrogance may be our downfall

The detail-sparse and rather delusional “we are still incredibly important” flavour of Brexit negotiations mingled with a somewhat admirable British philosophy of “flying by the seat of our pants” does not in any way appeal to the Japanese. Brexit goes against the Japanese preference for long-term stability, an absolute need for details and a low-risk environment. There will also be an expectation of us meeting the obligations they would automatically expect from their investments here, which are currently neither forthcoming nor in any way deliverable. Instead, the lack of clarity and  policies based on rhetoric and arrogance currently coming from the British Government are making us look even more ‘risky’.

The UK is now a country divided by out-of-touch and in some cases quite dangerous politicians who, through a misinformed manipulation of people based in the regions who were voting against a neglect that has never been addressed rather than membership of the EU, have no real Brexit mandate from the British public-just more disillusioned people living outside of London and a negotiating charade with angry Europeans.

The fact that Downing Street were “surprised” by the demands outlined in a letter from the Japanese to the British Government regarding Brexit expectations and that Theresa May was subsequently “vexed” by the decision of the Japanese banks to leave the UK really does show a worrying level of arrogance. If we are not careful, this arrogance will stand in the way of another admirable British philosophy: our ability to “make the most out of a bad situation”. The environment we are offering now to the Japanese is not the right one. Recent comments in the press that the Japanese are being too polite to tell us don’t go far enough. They are telling us-it’s just that we’re too arrogant to listen!

For Japanese companies/executives in the UK: “Understanding why Brexit happened2

Find out more about British society and how Brexit came about by exploring Britain’s political landscape, finding out what the British people in the regions really think, why they actually voted for Brexit and understanding the different ideologies currently affecting British politics and society. We offer 1:1 Skype courses or in-house lectures on this subject aimed specifically at foreign executives in the UK or companies looking to invest here. Please contact us for further information.

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Gender Equality in the Workplace in Japan-Gendered norms still a barrier

Posted on 13 December 2016 in Japanese Corporate Culture, News, womenomics -
womenomics

I recently got back from a week in Japan where I spent some time gathering information for both my ‘Promotion of Gender Equality Training’ for businesses and my academic research into the Gender Roles in Japanese Society. I met with employees from a Japanese company and spoke to other people I met to get both a male and female perspective on Womenomics and to discuss issues such as child-care and gender equality in the workplace.

Labour Participation & Female Leaders

Although the Survey of Living Conditions compiled by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare in 2015 showed a record high number of working mothers in the labour market since 2004, they are still predominately working in part-time and temporary roles. Indeed, many of the working mothers I spoke to in Tokyo supported this by agreeing that they chose to do either part-time or contract work so they could fulfil the duties of bringing up children. Furthermore, full-time working mothers were not going for promotions to managerial levels because of the immense time commitments this would entail since they were already up at 5am sorting out the house-work and children having to do more in the evening, making the long hours and responsibility of reaching managerial level at work unrealistic and unattractive. One of the men I spoke to told me how his wife was wanting to go back into the workforce but was lacking the confidence to do this. Even with his support it seems that the corporate culture and hurdles of finding child-care and fulfilling the expectations of the educational role they are still expected to play (PTA attendance being one of the major bugbears) is still not supportive of mothers returning to work with confidence and ease nor is it giving them any incentives to want to climb the corporate ladder. No surprise that a poll conducted by the Intelligence HITO Research Institute in April 2015 showed that Japanese women have little interest in becoming managers or leaders.

yokogawa-2Gender Gap Widening

Even with all the awareness raising and structural support from the Government within their Womenomics initiatives, Japan dropped even further on the Global Gender Gap Index from 101st in 2015 to 111th in 2016 . The traditional expectations of gendered behaviour in Japanese society are very ingrained and still value men as the breadwinner and women as the house-wife/child-carer with expectations of certain gendered behavioural patterns. These attitudes are used as a socialiser to influence how women feel about themselves, behave, view opportunities and their ability to change things and can be quite harsh for those women who choose to go outside of these norms.

Grass-roots Shift

Pockets of change are happening but for more sustainability and a real change in mindset, there must be a grassroots shift in the expectations of gendered behaviour, which can only really happen from early years education (more about this in my upcoming academic paper). Until then, what the Government is ideally wanting- a rise in GDP from women entering the workplace alongside a rise in the birth rate to offset the demographic time bomb and create a workforce for the future- is going to be at odds with what women can realistically achieve within society.

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Deeper Insight into Japanese Brexit Demands

Posted on 6 September 2016 in Cultural Awareness, Japanese Corporate Culture, News -
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The recent set of guidelines issued by the Japanese Government to the British Government and the EU regarding Brexit apparently took Downing Street by surprise but were inevitable given that Brexit has pushed all the Japanese cultural buttons.

Generally, the Japanese avoid instability, uncertainty and unpredictability. Given that group harmony, inflexible hierarchies and love of consensus are all still powerful forces within Japanese business, they find people from more individualistic cultures scarily unpredictable in their decision making and individuality. Admittedly, they had the Brits pegged as a safer bet in this respect and were lured into a false sense of security about the outcome of the vote from a very London-centric view without foreseeing the anarchic side to the British public or the discontent simmering away in the regions. They also invested heavily into the UK on a basis of trust in the commitments made by the previous government and the potential withdrawal of these benefits that they saw as ‘firm’ commitments has been interpreted as a breach of trust rather than a result of democracy.

Trust and Obligations

This trust within long-term relationships is so integral to the business environment in Japan and relationships are carefully formed so that everyone knows what to expect from them. Even today, many Japanese living overseas still deal with Japanese companies for services-it’s just easier and everyone knows the obligations involved, some of which seem unrealistic and unnecessary to non-Japanese. They include: avoiding loss of face, never upsetting the group harmony, keeping everyone informed so there are no nasty surprises and always show respect and loyalty to your boss/employer or the group as they are the ones who ultimately look after you. Ideally it’s better if you do this without anyone having to actually directly tell you this but a dressing down does occasionally happen and the government are not shy from dictating what businesses should do- the state holds immense authority and control over the private sector in Japan.

So in a sense, it’s totally natural that the Japanese reacted the way they did. The obligations from the long term-investments the Japanese made into job creation, training, education in the UK are in their eyes not being reciprocated. The feedback, detail & reassurance needed by the Japanese to ensure there are no nasty surprises/loss of face, to achieve harmony and to enable long-term planning are not currently forthcoming from the British Government. For obvious reasons really-no-one actually knows what is happening and they are starting from scratch with this. We may be used to some level of unpredictability in our decision making processes and turn-around once decisions have been made but the consensual decision-making Japanese are not. The rhetoric coming from the UK may be one of stoicism-let’s get on with it, stop complaining and see it as a positive opportunity for change. However, this is really unsettling for the Japanese. The current uncertainty surrounding Hinckley Point will just exacerbate this and market us as being unreliable and liable to renege on our long-term commitments.

So how do we go forward?

The British Government needs to be better advised regarding Japan-they already made themselves look unfavourable to the Japanese when not only a week after attending the opening ceremony of the Hitachi Rail Factory in the NE and lauding a massive investment from Nissan in their Sunderland factory in September last year, George Osbourne was straight off to China urging them to bid for HS2 contracts before the hybrid bill had been passed. Although the vote for Brexit was never really about rejecting Japanese investment, there is great sense of betrayal from the Japanese companies who invested in the areas of the UK where the Brexit vote was high. We will need to work very hard to re-build the trust and show the Japanese we appreciate the investment and the obligations that go alongside it. The Japanese side will also have to realise we can’t meet all these obligations and don’t always react well to being told what to do-that caused enough problems with the Brexit vote!

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Brexit and Misunderstanding of Japanese Business Values

Posted on 18 February 2016 in Cultural Awareness, Japanese Corporate Culture, Market Insight, News, Uncategorized -
Brexit

David Cameron recently urged non-British leaders of major companies in the UK to support his opposition to a Brexit by implying they would take their business elsewhere should the UK leave the EU. However, both Toyota subsequently said they would not reconsider their investment should that happen. This was reported in a recent article in the FT as a ‘blow’ to his campaign and incorrectly used as an implication of their support of a Brexit.
Apparently Mr Cameron wasn’t listening at the Hitachi Rail Opening Ceremony in Newton Aycliffe last year when Hitachi CEO Hiroaki Nakanishi announced that they were there to stay and both him and the Japanese Ambassador spoke of historical ties between Japan and UK concerning train manufacturing. (See my blog about this event) This sense of commitment is one particular aspect of doing business with the Japanese that comes from a corporate culture that values long-term relationships, obligations and loyalty over quick profits. Resulting disparities between these values and those of a globalising world have forced change in many areas for Japan, some of which were inevitable such as the shedding of less profitable products of companies and an openness to competition as opposed to supplier/brand loyalty. Such co-operative values are not particularly valued nor are they very effective in western societies where short-term profits and logic prevail. However, these values still remain very much part of Japanese business culture and generally mean that a contract with a Japanese firm, however painstakingly long and arduous it is to forge, is, by western terms, something you can rely upon unless you do something unforgivable.
I am also not suggesting that the Japanese businesses in the UK will stubbornly stay here regardless in the case of a Brexit if it means they will lose profitability or access to vital supply chains. They have shown in the past they will pull out when things go irreparably wrong. Let’s hope it does not come to that. However, it is naïve to expect Japanese bosses of major Japanese companies that have been in the UK for many years, have historical and emotional connections to them and have built communities around them or even more so one that has committed to basing their global HQ for train manufacturing here to publicly deny the values which underpinned that investment in the first place, even if it would further an aim that most Japanese businesses in the UK support- the UK staying in the EU. You only have to consider the Japanese values of honne (real feelings) versus tatamae (public feelings) and face-saving alongside the above mentioned sense of obligation & commitment to understand why this would not be a comfortable situation.
Japan is one of the major inward investors in the UK and has shown immense commitment to R &D, training and education, job creation and community involvement here. I often feel that this long-termism is not always recognised nor appreciated and in this case has been used for political posturing.

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