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Japan’s soft values useful to Malaysia

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IN the 60 years of Malaysia’s independence, the one country that has been consistently investing in Malaysia, not just in capital and investments but also in human capital, has been Japan.

This, perhaps, is crucial for policymakers to understand the context of Malaysia which is now catapulting itself to be a high-income nation that can only happen through human capital development.

The height of our relationship with Japan was in the 1980’s when Malaysia embarked on its “Look East Policy” aimed at emulating the miracles of Japan.

The main objective of the policy was to follow the example of Japan Inc and create Malaysia Inc, where both the government and the private sector worked together to achieve a common economic goal.

At the height of the Look East Policy, many students were sent to Japan where they were infused with the values and technological prowess that made Japan a great nation.

Our students were then exposed to the resilience and tenacity of the Japanese which allowed them to rebuild Japan into a great nation from the debris of the Second World War.

These students now hold senior positions in local corporations and impart the value systems they learned to their subordinates and fellow workers in order to make their corporations great.

While Malaysia is free to attract investors from any part of the region to help bolster its economy, Japanese values systems may be more necessary for us now in order to sustain and empower Malaysian corporations, and indirectly the Malaysian economy.

The value systems of Japanese corporations are worthy of emulation here in Malaysia as they can bolster our productivity and increase profits, which invariably mean increased contribution to the country’s coffers in the form of taxes.

In turn, this would mean the government will have more money for socio-economic development.

An important aspect of the Japanese management system is collective decision making or “Ringsei” which allows consensus decision making.

Information is allowed to flow from bottom up to the top, and collective responsibility is instilled in the organisation which provides safeguards against plans from decision makers who often go on a “frolic of their own”.

Some of the corporate failures in Malaysia could have been spared if decision makers had sought consensus in their approach, which would have invoked participation and commitment by all staff.

Another aspect of the Japanese management system that is worthy of emulation is job rotation and working in groups. It is believed that both of these allow workers to find their passion at work.

Job rotation allows them to do many things, and eventually managers will identify what a particular employee is good at and accordingly, he or she is assigned to that specific task.

In addition, job rotation allows employees to explore where their interest lays which they may not be aware of until they try their hands on specific jobs. Having found a particular passion for work and be able to do different tasks would provide the necessary motivation for them to deal with varied tasks.

Working in a team, on the other hand, allows for creativity in the workplace to blossom through interaction with team members aside from blending complementary strengths. By combining unique perspectives from each team member, teamwork creates more effective solutions.

Collaboration also creates enthusiasm for learning that solitary work usually lacks and thus, spurs increased innovation within organisations

Teamwork also reinforces a belief that an employee’s destiny is intertwined and this sense of belonging helps them solve many problems.

Japanese management style fosters close relationship among employees and this system allows their welfare to be well taken care of.

Employees are accorded complete welfare packages such as reduced priced goods, health care measures, low-rent housing and low-interest loans.

Furthermore, the Japanese system does not make any distinction between blue- and white-collar workers as the difference is looked as being irrelevant for commercial advantage. This is achieved by measures including the wearing of the same uniforms and sharing common dining areas allowing for the office workers to become more familiar with the shop-floor workers.

If workers are empowered and their welfare is taken care of, this would lead to increased employee loyalty and better productivity.

Sathish was previously the Senior Analyst at the Institute of strategic and International Studies and most recently as the Assistant Business Editor in a local newspaper.

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