Training World View: Focus on Japan

cross cultural training in Japan

Japan has a thirst for knowledge, with many training and learning ideas incorporated from other cultures.

Reprinted from “Training” 02/06/2008 by Dr. Neil Orkin

Japan is one of the top training locations in the world. This country the size of California with a population of more than 128 million and few natural resources recognizes the value of education. Japan has a thirst for knowledge, with many training and learning ideas incorporated from other cultures. Children in Japan take after-school enrichment classes from the earliest grades. Literacy in Japan is universal, and great importance is placed on academic success.

Most organizations have comprehensive training programs. The Japanese automotive companies have had such successful training programs that many American companies are interested in learning about Japanese training content and methods (think The Toyota Way). And while the Japanese feel comfortable with their approach to business, they are always interested in how successful North American companies operate and train their leaders. As a result, popular training programs in Japan often deal with presentation skills, creativity, communication skills, and leadership.

Although training costs for all programs can run 15 to 20 percent more in Japan than in the U.S., your return on investment will be well worth the effort. To get the most out of your training, you will need to tailor it to your participants. Here are some tips that can help ensure you will experience global business success with your training interventions in Japan:

– Eliminate the use of “ice breakers” at the beginning of your session. Asking participants to give brief introductions of themselves is the preferred approach; ideally, this could be done at a function prior to the training.

– Address trainees by their last name followed by san. If I were a Japanese trainee, I would be called Orkin-san. Name cards with the students’ first names noted are inappropriate.

– Maintain trainer-directed communication as participants want to learn from the trainer. The Japanese are comfortable working in groups; this is a common practice in Japanese culture. Mixing trainer lectures with group work is the best way to conduct your program.

– Be careful not to focus on a particular participant for praise. This could make the participant and group uncomfortable. If positive recognition is deserved, praise the specific group—not the individual.

– When pacing your program, realize that time is looked at in a much more fluid way in Japan than in North America. According to research into the daily behavior of Japanese senior executives, they are much less event focused than North American senior executives. If important points are being discussed in a meeting, Japanese executives will stay at the meeting, while their American counterparts will move on to the next meeting scheduled for the day. Of course, as a trainer you want to cover all your program content, but to get the most out of the program and increase trainee satisfaction and retention of content, you may need to slightly adjust your schedule to allow trainees to get the most value out of each of the covered modules. Questions to the trainer should be fully addressed before moving on to the next section of your program.

– Be aware of potential training challenges such as trainees being very quiet, which may make it difficult to gauge participant understanding. Your use of language is key. Although English is studied for many years in the Japanese educational system, many of your trainees may not feel comfortable speaking or understanding English. Avoid idioms, and keep your language as clear and straightforward as possible.

– Remember that in Japan, there is almost no separation between work and after work. Don’t run back to your hotel room at the end of the day. Eating a meal or singing karaoke (English songs are available) with your trainees can have a huge positive impact on the program atmosphere and your connection with program participants.

Dr. Neil Orkin is president of Global Training Systems. His organization prepares corporate professionals for global business success.