In most Western economies, a colleague’s farewell is no big deal, just a part of the tapestry of business. If there is some turnover and the recently departed are being replaced, then that is considered the natural order and life moves on. Managers applying a typical Western business approach to departures in Japan however, may skip the need to communicate with those left behind. Underestimating the emotional component of colleague separations here is a big mistake.
Most Western enterprises are "Dry" rather than "Wet" ecosystems. Dry meaning logical, ordered, efficient, unemotional, competitive and oriented around Darwinian survival of the fittest. Wet on the other hand is more emotional, nuanced, interdependent, harmonious, inefficient and more forgiving of human frailties. Japan much prefers Wet to Dry work environments.
The unexpected announcement of the coming disappearance of a workmate can cause a degree of consternation amongst the troops, that is probably not anticipated or even sensed by Western trained managers. If there is no boss awareness of the issue, there is no imperative for communication around the departure topic.
Voluntary departures should not be ignored as chances to direct the communication amongst the team. Just because staff departures are no big deal to you, the Japanese staff don’t necessarily share your Dry view of the working world. Don’t let the rumor mill crank up and the information vacuum be filled by negative messaging. If the departure is voluntary, don’t assume there is no assurance needed for those who remain to know that everything is still stable, safe and predictable.
Explaining to each person what is going on is the leader’s job. The team want the assurance that they are not also going to be shown the door. They may wonder that the departing colleagues are bailing out early, because they know something the others don’t. Assure them that there are still oodles of opportunity to advance in their careers or your might see good staff leave.
If there has been a poor performance issue that is driving the team member’s departure, those staying need to hear the survivors are valued and why the person’s departure is the best thing for the organization.
In Japan, the group not the individual, is key. In this type of high density environment, too much individualism is thought to be plain dangerous. The herd feels safety in numbers and in the known. Staff happiness requires as little disruption as possible to the established harmonious order.
Leaders need to explain the Why of what is going on. Three factors determine employee engagement levels in companies – our relationship with our immediate supervisor; our belief in the direction being taken by senior management and our pride in the organization. Departures, when not properly handled, negatively impact all three.
The key emotional trigger to getting higher levels of engagement is feeling valued. Those who are left behind need that conversation with their boss that they are valued. Bone Dry leaders won’t get it or won’t bother. They will subsequently wonder why the levels of engagement, commitment, innovation and motivation are so low in their team. To successfully lead in Japan and beat the competition, you need a more highly engaged team.
When it’s sayonara time, get Wet.