Sakaiya Taichi, well known author and futurist, made an interesting observation about the current trend of Japanese society. He referred to Japan’s current lack of yoku (desire), yume (dreams) and yaruki (guts). What does this mean for business and for our companies if we are staffed by young people without these three Ys? As leaders, how can we reverse this trend and produce more engaged teams? Is it too late already?
Diligence has a strong pedigree in japan. Retainers in samurai society were trained to be ready to die for their lord anywhere, anytime. In the pre-war period the majority of people lived in non-urban areas, where agriculture was the main pursuit. This required you to pull your own weight as part of a group effort. The harshest punishment was ostracism or murahachibu, which meant no cooperation from the group and possibly death the result.
In the post-war period, previous firebombing of cities and industrial centers meant Japan had to drag itself up from the ashes of defeat and a strong national unity formed around doing just that. As Japan’s GDP grew, salarymen would sacrifice their families for the company and proudly count off the leading economies Japan had surpassed, as collective notches on the belt of a resurgent Japan.
The 1985 Plaza Accord triggered the surge of the yen and the biggest global shopping spree possibly ever seen on this planet. Japan was coined Number One. The bubble burst, Japan went into decline and has been lurching along the bottom ever since. The Lehman Shock in 2008 and then the triple whammy of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear core meltdown in 2011 has underlined Japan’s continuing fragility. The social contract has been broken and companies now prefer to hire part-timers, to enjoy the greatest flexibility to respond to future downturns. Company profits are soaring but employee wages are not moving. Abenomics seems to have run out of gas. The roots of these three no Ys are not hard to find.
Demographics will create more pressure on companies to focus harder on recruiting and retaining their workers, as the supply of young workers steadily reduces. The stimulus to desire and dreaming of a better future will only arise because company leadership recognizes there is an issue in the first place. The expectation that this current generation will fit in like every preceding generation is Leadership Japan’s geriatric illusion.
The young will need a lot more conversations about their future prospects inside the company, than their current aging bosses ever received from their superiors. They want praise and feedback to give them the confidence to step up and take responsibility. The old style boss luxury of screaming at staff when they make a mistake will not long be available. The young will simply leave and get a job elsewhere.
Not delegating and thereby not enabling them to gain experience, so they can position themselves to step up into higher levels of authority, won’t cut it either. Disorganised, time mismanaging bosses who think it is "easier if I do it myself " will find it is not easier, as they have to spend time and treasure to replace a more mobile workforce.
Coaching and mentoring skills are going to be going at a premium as leaders are sought out who can develop future leaders, retaining the best talent and leveraging the ideas, insights and innovations of those at the bottom – those closest to the action.
Apart from the obvious relationship with the immediate supervisor as a key driver of engagement in staff, the other two drivers are belief in the direction senior management are taking the company and pride in the organization. These last two are communication necessities. If current leaders think these are obvious truths, in no need of elucidation, then they are in for a sad business future, as the young depart in droves for competitors.
Take a good hard look at your middle managers and senior leaders – do they get it? Are they able to encourage the young to see a future with the firm and to not think they have to leave in order to advance in their career? Are they able to get across the key messages required? If they are not fully capable, we had better get busy re-training them for the brave new world just around the corner. Their Job One is to create a culture of yoku, yume and yaruki inside the organization.