Learn to do things the Japanese way

As the EC looks for IT workers to build links with Japan, Ross Bentley talks to a man who is already there

As the EC looks for IT workers to build links with Japan, Ross Bentley talks to a man who is already there

The European Commission is looking for people from IT companies in the UK
to take part in a programme to build trade links with Japanese and Korean industry.

The EC's executive training programmes (ETPs) are designed to enable both organisations and individuals to build profitable links with overseas companies. They offer business exposure during an 18-month placement but, at the same time, offer an opportunity to understand the culture and nuances of life and business abroad.

Chris Pittaway, regional business director at Reuters, first went to Japan eight years ago on an ETP, and he is still there. "When I first came to Japan I was surprised that a country that is so technologically advanced - we have bilingual televisions for example - used relatively little new technology in the workplace," he says.

"Compared with the English, the Japanese are very conservative and reluctant to change, and perhaps this attitude is transplanted to the workplace. They do have a 'we've done it this way for years' type of mentality."

One example of a new technology that has taken off in Pittaway's business is instant messaging. He says that, to a certain extent, it has taken over from e-mail at Reuters. "Its advantages are that it is instant and that you feel a concept of presence - that the person is actually online and there as you are communicating with them," he explains.

Pittaway says one big difference that he has now got used to is the way decisions are reached in Japanese organisations compared with Western companies. "In Japan there is the concept of consensus building, ie where everyone feels they are involved in making decisions. It may take longer to make decisions, and getting to that point may be arduous, but after that change seems to happen quickly." he says.

"This is different to the dictatorial way that UK management goes about things, when decisions are made at the top and forced on the those below. I tend to think that you will get buy-in from people if you involve them in the process from the start. For example, we recently moved to a new floor of the building to give us room to bring in more people, I had certain requirements for where people should sit but outside that I left it to a committee of staff to organise it. This way we avoided a lot of disgruntlement."

Pittaway has also found trying to get things done in the Japanese system can be exasperating . "In Western companies things are less formal. You may have someone within a company who is at a fairly low level but who has a lot of influence within the company - what you might call undocumented spheres of influence," he says. "In Japan it doesn't work like that. If you want someone to do something for you must ask their boss. Obviously this can be frustrating."

For more information on ETPs go to www.etp.org or phone John Patrick on 01483-575772. The deadline for initial expressions of interest is mid-August

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