Term Paper: Japanisation

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[. . .] Copying these practices is done as a means of providing a tool with which UK managers can emulate these standards. Japanisation in this form may be used as a mechanism through which companies may force changes in production methods and working practices, with a workforce that traditionally "goes along" with the practice with the belief that the company will only survive fierce competition if it meets its competitors with identical practices (Beardwell, 1996).

Many have argued that this practice is not a means of emulation, but rather a means of increasing the flexibility of workers in order to improve productivity and "maintain production levels with much reduced workforces" (Beardwell, 1996).

Ackroyd also describes a type of Japanisation which is referred to as "full or permeated" where Britain is seen as mirroring Japan's economic an social structure, such that investment and marketing practices are one in the same (Beardwell, 1996). What Japanisation does offer British manufacturing companies is an "alternative production system" wherein employee relations take on a new meaning and significance (Beardwell, 1996).

Japanisation at heart involves improving employee relations practices, which are aimed at improving employee attitudes toward work, behaviours and overall work performance (Turnbull, 1986; Wickens, 1987; Beardwell, 1996). By improving employee performance, one may argue that the performance of the company and overall productivity are also improved (Beardwell, 1996).

A study by White and Trevor showed that Japanese transplants to the UK foster employee relations by creating a "stable workforce with a high level of commitment to the company" (Beardwell, 1996). Japanese transplants have also been characterized as being cooperative and more willing to accept change, extremely "unwilling to enter into strikes or other forms of conflict" and also noted for putting the company's best interest above personal interest, thus doing whatever is necessary to ensure the best outcome for the team rather than the individual (Beardwell, 1996). Such effort is said to foster a more unified and "easy" climate in which to work, and in which management changes can occur (Beardwell, 1996).


British Industrial Relations have been characterized by attempts by management to improve employee relations practices and reduce attitudes among employees traditionally defined as "them and us" or the idea that employees are a separate entity from management, in essence a force to be reckoned with opposing management systems (Beardwell, 1996). Some researchers have argued that in traditional industrial environments, employees have held onto the idea that a division or in some situations, brick wall exists between management and employees, and that each has conflicting interests that must be addressed separately (Beardwell, 1996).

Japanese companies operating out of the UK have transformed this notion, and employees at a majority of UK facilities, as well as managers are adopting policies and strategies targeted toward reducing the idea that a "them and us" must exist, and rather encouraging attitudes that are more along the lines of "we." Kelly and Kelly developed a theoretical framework along this idea, arguing that "reductions in the division between management and workers may be induced by certain employee relations practices that use any one, or a combination of three mechanisms" (Beardwell, 1996). These mechanisms are incorporated into an idea referred to as "new industrial relations initiatives" (Beardwell, 1996).

The new initiatives defined by new industrial relations focus on communications skills, new job designs and participation from employees and managers. Among the three mechanisms is the idea of intergroup contact, where companies need to rely on contact among and between employees and managers in order to enhance the development of interpersonal relationships (Beardwell, 1996).

Developing interpersonal relationships is impacts productivity in a variety of ways; Employees and managers working together and building interpersonal relationships are more likely to find common interests and realize that "negative perceptions they hold of each other are inaccurate" (Beardwell, 1996; Allen, 1986; Allen and Stephenson, 1983). Cooperative relationships result in increased production; the establishment of interpersonal relationships is the basis for cooperation and collaboration. The creation of interpersonal relationships is evident in Japanese transplants within the UK (Beardwell, 1996).

Working relationships in a Japanese model factory would be represented as a partnership, one that "depends on mutual co-operation and understanding," or in essence a contract in which each partner is committed to the overall success of a venture or work project (Beardwell, 1996; Oki, 1990).

The next mechanism utilized is creation of "super-ordinate goals" which are goals that supersede sectional goals and which cannot be achieved unless managers and employees work together to realize their success and achievement (Beardwell, 1996). In this case, in essence what is good for the goose is good for the gander; what benefits the worker must also benefit the company and vice versa. Thus the company and employee merge into one to foster super-ordinate goals and realize the overall success and profitability of a company (Beardwell, 1996).

One example of super-ordinate goals is in a company handbook at a transplant company in the UK, which states that "all staff, whether management or employees, should follow the philosophy that we are one" (Hitachi, 1990; from Beardwell, 1996). Other wording that might be incorporated into handbooks or company policies, practices and procedures might include phrases such as "the good of the common interest" or anything which applies to the "mutual benefit" of a company (Beardwell, 1996).

The third mechanism identified as relative to Japanisation is based on the idea that worker attitudes and behaviour may be changed in the workplace (Beardwell, 1996). This idea is exemplified at one Japanese transplant within the UK, where a policy states to employees that "management will seek to use participative and cooperative practices in order to promote a positive and harmonious relationship between the Company and staff" (Beardwell, 1996; Pioneer, 1991).

This idea is contrary to the popular belief that worker interests differ from those of management; employees are lead to believe that it is in their best interests to work with management in a complementary rather than adversarial manner.

Japanese methods have not simply been adopted with vigorous enthusiasm at UK facilities however. Rather, Wood notes that "the distinctiveness of Japanese methods is not simply that a particular set of practices are followed, but that they are devised and adopted in such a way that they are integrated and mutually supportive of each other" (Beardwell, 1996). UK facilities can not simply adopt one or two mechanisms or practices of the Japanese model; rather the system must be adopted as a whole to work. As Oliver and Wilkinson put it, the success or secret of the Japanese system lies in "the synergy generated by a whole system" (Beardwell, 1996).


RENCO is a UK company in the electronics sector currently described as representative of "direct Japanisation" (Beardwell, 1996). The company may be classified as a large batch manufacturer, meaning that it produces several models of the same product along several different assembly lines (Beardwell, 1996). Most recently the corporation was divided into the following work areas: a main assembly area, a press-weld area, and a subassembly area (Beardwell, 1996).

The work environment at RENCO offered employees at the time of analysis an employee relations package that incorporated "harmonized terms and conditions of employment, flexibility, training, communications structures and briefings" (Beardwell, 1996). The company also encouraged workers to be actively involved in issues related to production and quality issues. The agreement workers had entered into with the electricians' union included a non-strike clause, typical of the Japanese style or model of management (Beardwell, 1996).

RENCO human resources or personnel management staff was dedicated to enabling employees to break past the idea of "them vs. us" and acknowledging the idea that all employees are equals (Beardwell, 1996). The company held onto the idea that employees would actively seek out long-term employment because the structure of employee relations at the company was structured in such a manner that would create feelings of equality and cooperation among employees. Employees were made to feel that their organization was "our company" rather than a separate entity from employees (Beardwell, 1996).

During the time of observation the company employed JIT production and supply practices. The corporation's success relied in part upon the ability of suppliers to deliver "quality components by the date requested" (Beardwell, 1996). More than one hundred and eighty employees at the company, non-managerial employees, were invited to fill out a workforce questionnaire which measured employee's notions of company practices. Respondents indicated that they were dissatisfied with the unions performance; more than 80% of respondents indicated that they "disagreed to some extent that communication between workers and management was good at the company" (Beardwell, 1996).

Respondents also stated that they felt weakened by the no-strike clause in the union agreement, with more than 65% of respondents claiming that the union was "too co-operative with management" (Beardwell, 1996). Part of the trouble however, seems to lie in the fact that a majority of respondents cited the belief that the purpose of… [END OF PREVIEW]

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