It is a common belief that Japanese companies are slower to make decisions than foreign global companies. Indeed, when I approach a domestic or foreign company with a business proposal, the foreign company, with which I have had no prior relationship, responds immediately and often enters into direct negotiations with the decision-maker from the very first meeting.
On the other hand, I have experienced several instances where a business proposal that was going well is abruptly terminated with the single word 'change of internal policy'. Once a decision is made, Japanese companies excel at organising and completing high-quality projects quickly.
This is why I don't think it is appropriate to judge a company's competitiveness solely on the basis of the speed of its decisions. Nevertheless, it goes without saying that in order to ultimately survive in a tough global market, decisions need to be made quickly.
Moreover, the size of the company, the duration of the project and the influence of stakeholders need to be taken into account while assessing the level of risk involved in operating in an unknown environment.
I believe that behind the often cited factors of slow decision-making in Japanese companies, such as the council system, precedent-based decision-making and a sense of protecting the organisation's reputation, lies a mentality of excessive fear of failure, compared to overseas companies.
In order to develop new businesses, it is essential to have people who can make decisions quickly and without excessive fear of failure. The following elements are necessary for such personnel.
Firstly, the ability to combine knowledge from different disciplines with creative thinking to create a novel story about future projections. Then there is the ability to communicate the story in concrete terms so that the members with whom you work can understand and share it.
Furthermore, it must be combined with a different mind-set that is not bogged down by the unspoken norms of the organisation. From a practical point of view, a fast understanding of new technologies and a high level of IT (information technology) literacy are also essential. Developing such unique human resources requires a non-traditional approach.
For example, top management and the HR department jointly manage a number of very small projects and select members of the younger generation within the company to take responsibility. It is desirable that the projects have little or no relevance to the members' areas of expertise.
They are then instructed to work outside the box, mainly by utilising external networks. The outcome goal is to provide medium- and long-term benefits to the company, such as the creation and fostering of new management resources, know-how, mind-sets and other values. A certain level of accounting losses will be tolerated and evaluation will be carried out by top management and the HR department.
Another useful approach is to recruit people from outside the company who have been involved in starting or running a start-up in the past and have failed, and appoint them to positions of responsibility involving a large number of internal members.
This is because the insights of those who have grown a start-up to a certain extent but have been forced to leave due to changing circumstances can have a lot to offer in terms of decision-making skills.
Opening the door to such people will show both internally and externally that the company is open to new challenges and risk-taking, and will revolutionise the mindset of the company.