OJT is Dead!
There is a silent tectonic shift taking place in Japan. The "lost decade’ now into its third decade has seen stasis in many fields in this country, including in the investment in "human capital" productivity. White collar productivity and the whole service sector in general, has never been a burning light on the hill for efficiency. Lack of investment in people has seen the "formal training/internal follow up" nexus break down.
The infamous OJT (On The Job Training) construct has become a parody of a reasonable idea, with the untrained, incompetent and mediocre leading the corporate charge. It reminds me of a game called "Chinese whispers" where an idea is passed along a line of people and the input at the beginning is totally unrecognizable by the time it gets to the end of the line.
Knowledge, insight, and experience coalesce into a formidable array and smart companies figure out the means to sustain this through training over time. The lack of investment has seen OJT as the sole default, but the juice has dried up. The stimulation of the new has given way to the banality of the outdated. Clueless leaders cluing in successive generations over twenty years leads to what we see today. Entire brigades of senior leaders, few of whom have had to confront a new idea about leadership in the last twenty years. We talk about a Japan being deep in its Comfort Zone, but these leaders have taken this perspective to an entirely new level.
What we are finding in our discussions with even some of the crustiest, most died in the wool, traditional Japanese companies is finally a realisation that they have fully tapped out the ancient injections of formal training from twenty and thirty years ago and that OJT is killing them.
They seek training for their senior ranks to catch up. There are few tricks these old dogs can learn though. They are not battle ready for confronting the new. Training and learning are not the same thing. For most HR people in Japan, training is a box ticking exercise, where the training was delivered on the day and time specified and that is the end of it. Did anyone actually use what they were taught and make changes to their modus operandi? Was there any experimentation with what was imparted, to test it against their company reality? Was there any learning follow up – even a simple as buying and reading books on leadership, management or sales?
The leadership they themselves have been groomed with what has often been the "tough love" school minus the love bit. Like many countries, modern leadership training roots stretch back to the military model from the Second World War. Most countries have moved on from this model, but elements of the Imperial Forces linger here, mainly thanks to OJT. Giving orders not praise, condemning not complimenting, criticising mistakes not motivating. This is how they were educated through OJT, so if it was good enough for them then it is good enough for this generation as well.
Actually it isn’t. This generation is a different cat. The other exciting piece of the puzzle is this generation are going to be in future short supply. They just aren’t making as many as before. The Universities are rapidly dropping their standards, as they compete for a fewer and fewer fee paying bodies. What you get upon arrival to the company in April each year isn’t the same goods anymore.
Universities here, never a powerhouse of education and learning at any time in living memory, will continue to have marginal impact on the intellect of those in their care. Companies will be buying in twenty-two year old High School brains, but less brainy. Imagine handing this earnest young group over to the OJT primed "Tough Love" cadres, for their corporate Finishing School buff into diamonds. Scary!
More and more Japanese companies we talk to are agreeing this is a scary prospect as well. Actually these young people are a bafflement. They have attitudes which seem incomprehensible and disturbing. Nearly 40% of them are jumping ship in their third and fourth year with the company, voting with their feet, and heading off to greener pastures. The cost and disruption of this youth exodus is huge. Companies are starting to work it out. The OJT solution to training this generation just isn’t working.
Apart from induction training, demand for leadership training in the senior and middle ranks is well up when compared to three years ago. Communication skills gets the Gold medal for burning need. Leaders who can inspire, arouse, motivate, enroll, engage, and incorporate are what they are seeking. Few of those here on the ground in Japan. Yet, the younger generation is driving this requirement, whether companies like it or not.
Sales is the other area where OJT has become a certain death spiral. Even worse than soulless OJT is the fact that most salespeople around the world are not trained. Japan is no exception. So either the Scylla of OJT or the Charybdis of no training whatsoever. Both to be avoided if you are thinking about stealing a march on the competition.
The understanding that knowledge of questioning skills; linking features, benefits, applications and evidence; handling objections; getting the order; up-selling and cross-selling might be something better learnt than wished for, is slowly but surely sinking OJT as a construct.
Japan’s revival is starting now, silently, from within. They are breaking out the formal training "defibrillators" and applying them to an ebbing corporate pulse. OJT is out - JIT (Just in Time) is in.