Management Practices in Japanese and US Companies

This Research Paper makes a summary comparison of cross-cultural research conducted in the last ten to fifteen years in the areas of Human Resource Management; Management Style and Negotiation Strategies in Japanese and US companies. The different Research Studies in these three areas analyzed the learning possibilities for Japanese and US companies on two different levels: At headquarters and at subsidiary level. For each one of the three research topics, a Roadmap is drafted with concrete steps and strategies as to how these companies should adapt their management practices in these 3 areas in order to be even more successful. The findings of this paper also cover the very central debates in the international Human Resource Management literature: The Convergence vs. Divergence issue and the Standardization vs. Localization issue. The results clearly show that overall the dominance effect is most important (i.e., subsidiary practices appear to converge to the dominant US practices). Hence the results obtained in this paper lead to the rather surprising conclusion that for what might be considered to be the most localized of functions – HRM – convergence to a world-wide best practices model is clearly present. From the author’s viewpoint his is a logical consequence of globalization in all business sectors.

Key Words: Road Map; Human Resource Development; Leadership Style, Negotiation Strategies; USA; Japan; Cross-Cultural

Introduction to Human Resource Management Practices in Japan and in the USA

From a historic perspective, Human Resource Management (HRM) has been identified as a key ingredient for the success of Japanese companies on world markets during the 1980s. In this decade, suggestions as to how Western managers could learn from Japanese HRM practices were plentiful. Only one decade later, however, Japan went into a recession from which its business model has not yet fully recovered. Oddly enough, these formerly superior HRM practices are now being viewed as the root of the malaise of the underperforming Japanese economy

A Research Perspective of HRM Practices in Japanese and US Companies

In the early 1980’s of the last century, the Japanese management model, and in particular its HRM model, have often been depicted as very different from Western-style management, yet much more competitive (Kono & Clegg, 2001). Its deep-rooted and unique cultural and institutional characteristics usually were cited as the key reasons for these differences (Pudelko, 2006). Earlier, Frenkel & Peetz (1998) described a rapidly speeding up globalization-induced trend towards increasing convergence resulting from global competitive pressures. In parallel, Katz, & Darbishire (2000) noted a clear trend towards convergence in key patterns of HRM practices among industrialized countries. This phenomenon they call converging divergences. In parallel, the research of Frenkel & Kuruvilla (2002) concludes that employment relations patterns are being determined by the interplay of what they define as three distinct „logics of action‟: The logic of global competition, resulting in the pursuit of global „best practices‟ and ultimately global convergence does not allow local insular cross-cultural happiness and coziness any longer.

One reason that the USA has achieved its dominant status in the 1990s was its superior economic performance. The conclusion from these findings were that if the strengths of a successful economy are concentrated in industries characterized by intense international competition – such as IT, computers and electronics – the attention and the readiness to learn from it tends to be particularly strong. Such industries are often the pioneers for defining and producing „best practices‟ and the place where such global standards of management practice are set. Taylorism, or „scientific management‟, has been the prime example for a management concept claiming universal validity. Other examples were lean production, kaizen, re-engineering and management by objectives – once strong points of the Japanese economy, when they were the best practice leader in doing so. Since the implosion of the Japanese economy and with the advent of globalization, speed of action and instant flexibility to adapt to changing global market conditions were key criteria to succeed. Cultural diversity research carried out in the US and in Japan over the last one and a half decades has been that the American management model is particularly well suited to provide the required speed and flexibility to cope with rapidly changing economic and technological conditions. Consequently, the USA became again the dominant role model (Edwards, Almond, Clark, Colling & Ferner, 2005).

Summary Comparison of Key HRM Practices in Japanese and US Companies

The following diagram shows a comparison between Japanese and US firm’s HRM practices. Areas discussed are: Recruitment and release of personnel; training and human resource development; employee assessment and promotion; as well as employee incentives. The comparison clearly illustrates the individualistic HRM approach in American firms as compared to the collectivism-oriented HRM orientation in Japanese firms. It is obvious that in the high technology sector especially the team and consensus oriented HRM philosophy of the Japanese is a hindrance to success.

It appears that there are several other reasons for the declining importance attached to key attributes of Japanese model (kaizen, kanban, total quality management, quality circles, team work). Just like the Japanese firms have to learn from best practice solutions from other countries, these attributes have already been adopted by American HRM managers in the last 20 years, therefore are less significant in the future as sources for orientation. The changes brought about by globalization in the competitive environment probably also have played a role. For the future, fundamental developments such as globalization require substantial on-going responses from multi-national companies to maintain competitiveness. Figure 1 compares Japanese and US HRM practices and their competitive impact on HRM management in general.

Figure 1: Comparison of Japanese & US HRM Practices in 4 Key Areas

HRM Sector:

Japanese HRM Practices:

US HRM Practices:

1. Recruitment &

Release of Personnel:

Recruitment of new graduates to a permanent position

Selection based on inter-personal skills

Life-long employment philosophy – low staff turnover rate= high loyalty

Managerial positions filled with internal staff only

Finding the best candidate internally or externally available

Selection based on performance/expertise

Job hopping philosophy pouts individual goals above company interests

Positions filled with best expert available

Competitive Effects of respective HRM Practices:

Slowness towards innovation

Lack of external expertise

Promotes rapid innovation from inside or outside

Low loyalty to employer

HRM Sector:

Japanese HRM Practices:

US HRM Practices:

2. Training & HRD Development:

Broad training towards generalist knowledge

Extensive training based on work group approach

Employee is trained to fit corporate culture

Specific training for specific tasks only

Training is limited and focused on the individual only

Little effort to mould the employee towards the corporate culture

Competitive Effects of respective HRM Practices:

Focused on corporate culture building

Focused on individualism to promote success

HRM Sector:

Japanese HRM Practices:

US HRM Practices:

3. Employee Assessment & Promotion:

Emphasis on seniority and not on performance

Emphasis on group achievements

Qualitative & informal evaluation criteria

Career path broad based in several Divisions

Emphasis on individual success only

Emphasis on individual achievements

Quantitative & measurable criteria and objectives

Career path mostly confined to one functional part only

HRM Sector:

Japanese HRM Practices:

US HRM Practices:

4. Employee Incentives:

A mix of material and immaterial incentives

Read also  Employee Issues And Failure Of Mergers And Acquisitions Management Essay

Pay increases based upon seniority

Little difference between top management pay levels and workers: Low with 20:1

Emphasis is on material incentives: Pay + bonus

Pay based upon individual performance only

Very large differences between top management and workers: High with 100:1

Competitive Effects of respective HRM Practices:

Slow promotion for top performers

Slow climate of innovation

Quick promotion for top talents

Innovative staff ensures innovative corporate climate

Proposed cross-cultural Roadmap for a strategic HRM Approach

Throughout the research reports analyzed for this paper, Globalization demands a broader-based strategic HRM response by Japanese firms – on this more than 90 % of the interviewed Japanese Executives agreed. The results from the American respondents showed that they considered it to be a particular strength of the American HR management. Japanese managers agree in turn, that their process based incremental improvements concepts will lose in significance in the future.

Furthermore the research data clearly shows that only Japan management has a distinct desire to change its own HRM model in a rather comprehensive way. This definitely can be described as a paradigm shift. The following Figure 2 gives some key thoughts and elements for such a strategic approach to HRM tasks in the future.

Figure 2: A cross-cultural Roadmap for a strategic Approach to HRM Tasks in the Future

Drivers of Global Changes in HRM:

Elements causing Changes:

Impacts of Change Elements on HRM:

Need to reduce costs

Speed of product innovation

Quality of service

Knowledge of client needs

Staff motivation

Training in “design to cost” method

Innovative methods in product management

Staff motivation and skills training

Market knowledge has to be communicated

Individual performance alone counts



Overall corporate management philosophy has to be benchmarked against industry’s best practice

Key Changes


HRM has to install and accompany a change management process

Individual performance evaluation has to abolish consensus-based group performance evaluation concepts


HRM has to become the driving & integrative force for the implementation of the Corporate Business Plan

Resulting Roadmap for HRM Strategy:

HRM Parameters that need to improve the Competitiveness of Corporations:

HRM Parameter:

Expected Benefits from HRM Changes:

Strategic HRM Plan has to be part of Business Plan

Future staff qualifications are in sync with corporate business plan

Business Plan has to contain Change Management Concept

HRM develops a long term focus linked to strategic corporate objectives

Innovative Career Development

Allows quick promotion of top performers

Innovation oriented recruiting

Speed up innovation cycles

Promotion based on merit only

Does away with risk minimizing attitude

Introduction Best HRM Practice Concept

HRM does self-control of its performance against key competitors

Strategic HRM Implementation Roadmap:

Overall Strategic HRM Objectives:

HRM is the binding link of overall corporate business strategy to the employees of the company

HRM promotes innovation and change culture in the company

Planning Horizon of chosen HRM Strategy:

Long term plan over 20 to 30 years

Strategic plan over 5 years

Operative rolling plans over 2 to 3 years

Top Management Support required to implement new HRM Strategy:

HRM has be a board level responsibility with staffing and budget to implement HRM Strategy chosen

Introduction to cross-cultural Management Styles

Globalization has changed the managerial tasks of US and Japanese mangers dramatically: Many have to work now in an international environment, in Japan or in the USA. Reasons for these changes were joint ventures, mergers, acquisitions and cooperation alliances. In the 1980’s, Japan taught the work what kaizen; kanban, total quality control, etc meant in terms of competitive advantage. So the US managers had to learn these concepts. Towards the end of the late 1990’s, the US had caught up with this cross cultural learning approach.

Then the globalization effect came to full speed – suddenly the individualistic type of US management proved to be much more flexible and successful then the slow consensus-based Japanese management style.

Research findings towards different Business Cultures in Japan and in the US

The research for this paper showed that the business cultures in Japan and in the US differ in 5 key categories:

1. Power Structure: National level versus international level; egalitarian approach versus non-egalitarian approach; centralized management forms versus decentralized management practices. In the authority-driven business environment still prevailing in Japanese companies, aspects of power play a critical role. This slows down decision making, as power issues dominate business cultures dominating innovative US companies (Browaeys 2009).

2. People Relationships: Collectivism versus individualism; team orientation versus individual focus. Japanese collectivism is documented in its overemphasis on team issues; where consensus finding warrants longer times until a decision is being taken (Dickson 2003). Management emphasizes group loyalty, relationships in groups prevail over individual tasks. Americans have lesser loyalty to their companies, they see employment as a temporary issue for the mutual benefit of employer and employee.

3.Tolerance for Risk-taking: High avoidance levels versus low avoidance levels; bureaucratic orientation versus non-bureaucratic orientation. The consensus-based Japanese business culture tries to

minimize uncertainties through an over-emphasis on planning. As a result, they do not like to change plans once they were approved (Yamazaki 2008).US companies treasure the opportunities offered in risky endeavors – a horror for traditional Japanese companies!

4. Masculinity/Femininity: Role differentiation between males and females at society and organizational levels. Japanese managers are expected to be assertive and decisive, with sex roles clearly defined. This means fewer women progress to managerial positions in Japan, whereas in the US women climb to executive posts on a much more regular basis (Jacofsky 1988). Work for Japanese managers is seen as the center of life interests. Edwards 2005)

5. Time Orientation: Long term view versus short term view in business planning and strategy formulation. The time perspective in their business philosophy: Past/present in Japan versus present/future perspective in US companies. American companies are a lot quicker to react to new opportunities what was successful in the past is less important than new opportunities which lay ahead in the near future (Dahl 2004). The retrospective business approach of Japanese companies has them look for long-term relationships. US companies take the present and look quicker and often farther into the future. This speeds up their decision making processes and facilitates the acceptance of risk taking among their executives (Tsui 2007).

Research findings towards Key Managerial Skills in Japan and in the US

Effective cross-cultural management skills have to fit the prevailing national business culture where they are being applied to on their workplaces. In individualistic business environments as in the US, new employees are being hired on the basis of their personal records. In the collectivistic business culture of Japan, recommendations from elite universities or from family members who already work for the company play a vital role. The following key managerial functions have been analyzed in research paper: Reward allocation and employee motivation; employee participation and managerial communication; executive development.

1. Reward Allocation and Employee Motivation: The proper allocation of rewards is the driving force of the individualistic US business environment: Rewards are expected to be equity based, i.e. based upon an individual’s contribution to corporate success. Rewards are supposed to be equal for equal performance: Rewards have to based upon the specific needs of a position (Riley 2007). In the more equality and group oriented Japanese business culture, rewards are being allocated on a group basis. These research findings did prove that the application of inappropriate reward systems caused feelings of de-motivation and injustice (Buttery 2000)

Read also  Managing changes in the British Airways organization

2. Employee Participation and Managerial Communication: To get employees to participate in goal setting in a US company is daily business, as in this way it increases the employee’s involvement in how his work environment is being shaped. Given the individualistic US business culture team effectiveness rises if team members are personally accountable for their personal contribution, which can be measured – i.e. management by objectives (Javidan 2006). In the more socially oriented Japanese Business culture, employee participation is more socially oriented and the employees display lower levels of power distance between organizational levels (Hofstede 1980)

3. Executive Development: In an American business environment, qualified staff is classified into high potential groups for future executive positions at a much earlier stage of their career and at a much younger age as compared to the Japanese business culture. This encompasses a mix of specialist type of work assignments combined with near executive project assignments, to give them an early feeling of how an executive ticks (Yamazaki 2008). Japanese companies tend to focus on generalist type of assignments with intensive functional and geographic job rotation at almost the same hierarchical levels. Promotion is by seniority criteria mostly (Saee 2010). In consequence this implies: Executive development in US companies is based upon the potential benefits seen in a junior executive, whereas the Japanese approach is more oriented towards rewards for the past performance (Raimo 2009).

Proposed Roadmap for a strategic cross-cultural Management Style

The following Figure 3 gives a strategic roadmap for a cross-culturally based management style which facilities quick and efficient adaptation to cross-culturally different work environment.

Figure 3: A cross-cultural Roadmap for a strategic Approach to

Drivers of cross-cultural Management Styles:Management Style Development

Common Management Skills Deficiencies:

Negative Impacts of missing cross-cultural Management Skills:

Lack of employee motivation

In-adequate communication style

De-motivating reward system

Slow pace of promotion system

Lack of managerial skills training

Performance is not recognized/rewarded

Work objectives unclear=de-motivating

Individual motivation not released

Resistance to innovations

Necessary changes do not take place



Mix of management skills not suited for work environment

High potentials are not identified and promoted

High staff turnover; slow pace of innovation and change management

Key Changes


HRD concept oriented towards cross cultural sensitivity

Top management involvement in management skills profile development

Cross-culturally oriented career development system


An innovative HRD approach is needed

Designed by managers with local management experience & HRD skills

Resulting Roadmap towards a cross-cultural oriented Management Style:

Managerial Skills that need to be improved:

Management Skills requiring Attention:

Expected Benefits better Management Styles:

Reward systems & motivation tools

Keep staff and attract talents

Career development system for talents

Quick promotion for high potentials

Innovative pay system

Increased motivation to innovate

Clear set of managerial objectives

Rewards are measurable and objective

Internal PR for new management style

More credibility for management styles

Top managers have to practice this style

Extra motivation to manage/risk changes

Strategic Management Skills Implementation Roadmap:

Overall Strategic Management Skill Development Objectives:

Analyze requirements for necessary cross-cultural management skills

Incorporate necessary changes into overall management philosophy and corporate mission

Document and promote concept at all managerial levels

Planning Elements for chosen Management Skill Development Strategy:

Assess time and research requirements properly; involve superiors where needed

Involve top management team properly and show their support in public statements/info releases

Managerial Support required to implement new Management Skill Development Strategy:

Develop a strategy paper involving top management and clarify roles and inputs and state resource requirements as compared to potential gains from these improved management skills

Introduction to cross-cultural Negotiation Styles

Cultural Diversity is one of the most critical issues in international negotiations. A key requirement for successful international negotiation is the extent to which the negotiating parties are capable of understanding the negotiating habits and thoughts of their counterparts who come from another culture (Brett 2000). When entering into an international negotiation process, the full awareness and understanding of the cultural differences, such as cultural background, national character, emotional aspects, rules and regulations of other countries, decision making styles, ways of discussing, meeting and negotiating is of vital importance in order to make the negotiation successful. The difficulty the negotiators are facing have to do with dealing on the basis of different sets of values, attitudes, behaviors and communication styles of the other party participating in the negotiation process. The proper planning and preparation for negotiations, and participating in the negotiation process must take into consideration all these factors. This will avoid setbacks, surprises and shock so often faced in cross-cultural negotiations.

A. Basic Research Findings linking Negotiation and Culture

A nation’s culture in itself consists of interrelated patterns or dimensions which come together to form a unique social identity shared by a minimum of two or more people It is the unique character of a social group and the values and norms common to its members that set it apart from other social groups (Brett, 2001;). Consequently for this reason, because of the different values and norms, people from different cultures negotiate differently (Brett, 2001;). Many authors talk of a set of ‘cultural values’ associated with each cultural group which actually is the determining force for the culture (Tinsley, 2001, Brett, 2001;). The knowledge of these values and norms provides insight into the choices made and influences these very negotiators’ cognitions, emotions, motivations and strategy. Research shows a clear differentiation: Whilst values refer to what a person considers important (more on cognitive side), norms refer to what is considered appropriate behavior (behavioral aspects) in a specific culture. Consequently, because of these different values and norms, people from different cultures tend to negotiate differently (Brett 2001). These cultural values and norms shape implicit theories invoked in negotiations (Gelfand and Dyer 2000) and may influence a negotiator’s response to strategically displayed emotions. In Japanese companies, the emphasis of a group being the core nucleus for negotiations communicates these values to its members and rewards conformity. In this way a member’s values become “thoroughly culturally constituted”. Thus, culture creates an overall environment for Japanese companies and their negotiators which in many ways directly or indirectly compels the constituent members to be guided by their cultural value sets while negotiating.

B. Research Findings concerning the strategic Framework of cross-cultural Negotiations

According to the book “The Global Negotiator: Making, Managing, and Mending Deals around the World in the twenty-First Century” (Salacuse 2005) there are a total ten particular elements consistently complicating intercultural negotiations. 1) Negotiating goal: Contract or relationship? 2) Negotiating attitude: Win-Lose or Win-Win? 3) Personal style: Informal or formal? 4) Communication: Direct or indirect? 5) Sensitivity to time: High or low? 6) Emotionalism: High or low? 7) Form of agreement: General or specific? 8) Building an agreement: Bottom up or top down? 9) Team organization: One leader or group consensus? 10) Risk taking: High or low?

Read also  Passenger check in process

Research shows that for a Japanese manager negotiation is also about being sensitive to the personal/emotional factors and hence may sometimes be indirect, informal, and general with less sensitivity to time whereas. On the other side for a negotiator from USA, any negotiation is to the point, direct, formal, with high consideration for time and less care for personal or emotional factors.

B. Research Findings concerning Diversity Factors and Strategies in Cross -Cultural Negotiations

In countries such as in the US and much of northern Europe, strong, direct eye contact conveys confidence and sincerity while in Japan, prolonged eye contact is considered rude and is generally avoided. In Japan they always prefer personal space during business dealings. With regard to the Japanese, Salacuse shows that 100 percent of the Japanese respondents claimed that they approached negotiations as a win-win process.

Communication itself constitutes a basic component of negotiation framework. Diversity in this communication aspect is also very obvious and pertinent. In a culture that emphasizes directness, such as the American one, you can expect to receive a clear and definite response to the proposals and questions. In SE Asian cultures such as the Japanese – reaction to proposals made to them may be gained by interpreting seemingly vague comments, gestures, and other signs.

Concerning the cultural sensitivity to time, Salacuse in his study quotes Japanese tend to negotiate slowly, and Americans are quick to make a deal. Contrary to this perception of time, for Americans the objective is a signed contract and as for them time is money, they want to close a deal quickly. Americans therefore try to reduce time invested in formalities to a minimum and get down to business quickly. Japanese and other Asians, whose objective is to create a relationship rather than simply sign a contract, need to invest time in the negotiating process so that the parties can get to know one another well and determine whether they wish to embark on a long-term relationship

Another crucial aspect in cross-cultural negotiations is risk taking ability. The Japanese tend to be highly risk averse in negotiations, and this tendency was affirmed by the survey conducted by Salacuse, which found Japanese respondents to be the most risk averse of the twelve cultures. Americans in this survey, by comparison, considered themselves to be risk takers.

C. Research Factors concerning the Management of Conflict in cross-cultural Negotiations

Research findings with regard to managing conflict in cross culture negotiation show that different cultures focus on different aspects. Tinsley (1998), revealed that when managing conflict American managers preferred to focus on interests, while Japanese managers concentrated on status power. The differences could be explained by the American value for poly- chronicity (or multitasking) and the Japanese occupation with hierarchy (or unequal social structures. It is obvious though, that awareness of emotions is vital to negotiation and it plays a key role when it comes to cross-culture negotiation conflicts. In the Japanese business culture, status and power also play an important role in conflict management where parties try to manage conflict by using differences in authority, status and power. To them it is normal that high status parties try to enforce their ideas for resolution on lower status parties. If this is not possible, Japanese negotiation parties try to enhance their status by co-opting people of higher status.

D. Research Findings concerning cross-cultural Decision-Making styles during Negotiations

Decision-making styles vary a lot between Americans and Japanese. When it comes to “team based” versus “individual way” of taking decisions one extreme is the American negotiating team with a supreme leader who has complete authority to decide all matters. The Japanese business culture stresses team negotiation and consensus-based decision making. American managers usually tend to make decisions by themselves, while Japanese managers tend to make decisions by consensus. Furthermore, Americans treasure the value of flexibility, whereas once a Japanese manager has reached a decision, may believe it is shameful to change it. Decisions can be taken either through a deductive process or through an inductive process. In his research, (Salacuse 2005) found that Americans do view deal making as a top down (deductive process); while the Japanese tend to see it as a bottom up (i.e. inductive) process.

E. Research Findings concerning the Interests Strategy in cross-cultural Negotiations

The process of aligning and integrating the best interests of both parties works as a catalyst for successful negotiation. This interests-based strategy promotes the resolution of dilemmas through cognitive problem solving. Research shows is essential to shift focus from position to interest. Several authors suggest that as both parties want to gain their individual interest – therefore they always want to implement the negotiation. From their perspective, individual interests of parties are always more important than collective group interests.

A cross-cultural Roadmap for a strategic Approach to Negotiation Styles

The following Figure 4 shows a roadmap for the development of efficient cross-cultural negotiation styles.

Figure 4: A cross-cultural Roadmap for a strategic Approach to Negotiation

Drivers of cross-cultural Negotiations:

Common Negotiation Difficulties:

Negative Impacts on Negotiations:

Time limitations

Slow decision making

Oponent’s interests are unknown

Negotiaton objectives are not clear

Conflicts are not handled properly

Focus on problems and not on solutions

Time consuming, hampers progress

Proposals do not meet client needs

Waste of time and resources

Unnecessary break ups in negotiations



Focus is on the quick fix contract

Little chance to build a relationship

Missing knowledge of opponent limits chances for successful business

Key Changes


Much more effort in preparation

Time frame and openness for mutual information gathering

Mutual agreement on time + info exchange + info requirements


Negotiation preparation and planning requires a clear understanding

The more cultures differ, the more time you need to plan and prepare

Cultures with team-based negotiation approaches expect to meet teams

Resulting Roadmap for an improved Negotiation Strategy:

Negotiation Parameters that need to be improved:

Negotiation Strategy Parameters:

Expected Benefits from Negotiation Strategy Changes:

More knowledge of own objectives

Better position to present own interests

Better knowledge of client objectives

Allows benefit-oriented communication

In-depth knowledge of client needs

Saves time and allows in depth solution

Clear knowledge of time framework

Focus is on key issues

Close knowledge of decision making process

One knows whom to address and how to address and when to address

Analyze long term interests of client

Basis for more business in other areas

Strategic Negotiation Strategy Implementation Roadmap:

Overall Strategic Negotiation Objectives:

Adapt to the needs and interests of the opponent

Optimize presentation of own interests

Clarify solution strategy for your client

Planning Elements for chosen Negotiation Strategy:

Assess time and research requirements properly; involve superiors where needed

Involve own team properly and address client team in proper order with tailored win-win arguments

Managerial Support required to implement new Negotiation Strategy:

Develop a strategy paper involving top management and clarify roles and inputs and state resource requirements as compared to potential gains from these negotiations

Order Now

Order Now

Type of Paper
Number of Pages
(275 words)