Japan with a Mission: Management Philosophy

Japan with a Mission: Management Philosophy. The philosophy of management is what connects the people with the organisations they work for, says Prof. Yingyan Wang, of Keio University, Japan, as she examines the underlying mechanisms by which people play a role in fulfilling their organisation’s goals.

Japan with a mission: The philosophy of management is what connects the people with the organisations they work for, says Prof. Yingyan Wang, of Keio University, Japan, as she examines the underlying mechanisms by which people play a role in fulfilling their organisation’s goals.

Japan with a Mission: Management Philosophy by CoBS Editor Guragam Singh. Related research:Mission-Driven Organizations in Japan: Management Philosophy and Individual Outcomes, Springer. With kind acknowledgements to Prof. Hirokazu Kono, Keio Business School

Actions speak louder than words. So too in management, for firms do not necessarily walk the talk when it comes to fulfilling their mission statements they so proudly display on their sophisticated web pages that fill up the crucible of knowledge known as the internet.

As such, the establishment of a real, concrete management philosophy that is followed in letter and in spirit is what sets Japanese mission-driven organisations apart. But what is this elixir?

Research has shown that it is nothing less but the core tenets and practices that an organisation is guided by in the pursuit of its mission. Ethical values such as sustainability, trust, honesty, among others are crucial in determining right from wrong in the Japanese business context.

However, previous research has been limited to analysing the content of mission statements and how these can be made operational on a large scale. Overlooking the fact that it is the people who will ensure that these statements are not mere platitudinal rhetoric, but statements of depth made by those who put their money where their mouths are, has been legion.

Japan with a mission: Prof. Yingyan Wang of Keio University Japan examines the underlying mechanisms by which people play a role in fulfilling their organisation’s goals.

To fill this void, Prof Yingyan Wang analysed data from over 1,000 employees of a Japan-based general trading corporation that enjoys good social standing. In doing so, the study focuses on developing a comprehensive framework that can explain how people understand management philosophy and how its adoption is related to end results.

As such, the study draws from research that shows that a well-formed philosophy that is acted upon and representative of the company’s goals and values can act as a moral compass for employees as they go about their jobs.

To this end, Prof Wang examines how employees adopt the management philosophy from cognitive and attitudinal perspectives, the factors that influence this adoption as seen from the eyes of organisational practice, and whether this bolsters job involvement and organisational citizenship.

How deep is your love?

But management philosophy is not a checklist of standard to-do tasks that employees perform in their daily activities. Identifying with it requires a connection at an emotional and cognitive level and an acceptance to incorporate it with one’s idea of self-concept. And to make sense of it.

This identification manifests itself in highly motivated individuals, who in associating themselves with the management philosophy at hand believe it to be not only a part of their job function, but also a representation of who they are as a person. In doing so, they exhibit a behaviour based on a theory that closely identifying themselves with a mission-driven organisation will give them the traits that are associated with their organisation. ‘I’m innovative because the company I work for is innovative’ is a refrain that can aptly describe this line of thought.

Helping develop this identification process is the sensemaking ability that humans possess. This is important because management philosophy is not a straight-line curve. As such, people will face various challenges in their job roles in the form of conflicting opinions, events, issues, and actions that will force people to pause and think before they can act. In doing so, humans map these circumstances – for people seek meaning in whatever they do. This reduces conflict, untangles webs of chaos, and provides a perspective on how to interpret the management philosophy. And achieve the company’s mission.

Management: Practice what you preach

Japan with a mission: senior and junior employees must coach each other.

Subsequently, organisations engage in practices that are used to convey their values, norms, and goals to their employees. According to theory, these organisational practices can influence an individual’s behaviour. For mission-driven organisations in Japan, these practices include methodical processes that promote actions that do not focus on profits alone but on the serving the interests of multiple stakeholders such as support from senior management regarding CSR activities.

As seen previously, since management philosophy is difficult to understand, individuals rely on their sensemaking to join the dots to figure out what to do. For this reason, research has found that they rely on organisational practices that signal, develop, and reinforce the ethos of the organisation to its employees. For instance, senior managers could lead by example by following the management philosophy in serving their customers’ interests. Or perhaps, develop training programmes that upskill employees.

As such, philosophy-oriented practices help clarify confusion, develop the individual’s faith in the philosophy, and promote collective commitment to it among organisational members—promoting individual identification of and sense-making with the management philosophy.

Going the extra mile

Japanese management - going the extra mile

In order to measure individual outcomes of management philosophy, it is important to take a look at two aspects—job involvement and organisational citizenship behaviour—that represent a person’s behaviour.

Given that organisations have a sense of collective identity, management philosophy is the mission-driven organisation’s most powerful expression of that identity. For example, employees who associate themselves strongly with a mission’s identity of environmental protection will go the extra mile to decrease pollution in their daily work processes.

Building on this, the success of the mission-driven organisation’s philosophy lies in the success of its actions it takes as a collective unit. As such, people will engage in organisational citizenship behaviour—actions that benefit the organisation but are not formally required—by helping others in the organisation in order to ensure that the philosophy succeeds.

Sense and sensibility

But why do these individuals engage in such altruistic behaviour? The answer lies in the sensemaking nature of humans examined previously. For starters, it helps people to interpret the management philosophy in their own way. As such, people are prompted to invest significant time and energy on how and what to do in order to say ‘mission accomplished’—increasing their job involvement.

It also has to do with the fact that mission-driven organisations are attractive for people who show pro-social motivation, and are therefore encouraged to behave in a pro-social fashion. And theory says, corroborated by Prof Wang’s study, that these people are more likely to engage in organisational citizenship behaviour.

The adoption of management philosophy, which consists of both identification and sensemaking, thus forms the central idea of this study on mission-driven organisations. This principal theme is flanked by organisational practices—rooted in this philosophy—in the west, and by individual outcomes in the east.

As such, Prof Wang’s research has shown that organisational practices affect the adoption of management philosophy, in turn affecting outcomes. Thus, the adoption of management philosophy mediates the relationship between practices and outcomes.

On the job

What is management?

There is also research that suggests that a higher level of corporate value exists when employees believe that ethical policies and procedures are followed by management and their fellow peers. Furthermore, the inculcation of business ethical values is a pledge of sorts taken by the company to promote these values in a formal setting.

To this end, the first and most important thing to be done by organisations looking to be mission-driven is to formulate and implement comprehensive philosophy-oriented practices—training and educational programmes, employee appraisal systems, ethical leadership of the organisation, and mentoring by managers and supervisors.

Moreover, in light of the fact that an individual’s adoption of management philosophy forms a link between organisational practices and outcomes, organisations would do well to spend their energy on seeing whether individual employees are willing to follow the same management philosophy as that of the firm. The absence of this understanding will cause frustration for the organisation failing to see individuals act in the appropriate manner.

Previous research has also suggested that employees at all levels should practice the management philosophy of the firm, while recognising that this complex issue may not be well understood at all levels.

To overcome this hurdle, Prof Wang suggests that senior management take charge in implementing philosophy-oriented organisational practices and that individual employees focus on adopting the philosophy into their self-concept. Exhibiting a key Japanese trait along the way—job commitment.

Professor Yingyan Wang, Keio University Japan
Prof. Yingyan Wang

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The Council on Business & Society (The CoBS), visionary in its conception and purpose, was created in 2011, and is dedicated to promoting responsible leadership and tackling issues at the crossroads of business and society including sustainability, diversity, ethical leadership and the place responsible business has to play in contributing to the common good.  

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