Translation | Visualizing Concepts and Facilitating Work Process; For the Growth and Development of Thai Employees


[ This article is an English translation of an article written for Japanese. ]

JMAC (Japan Management Association Consulting), the first consulting firm in Japan, has been operating in Thailand since 1992, continually supporting Japanese companies in Thailand in laying a firm foundation and structure to prevent and accurately solve problems, strengthening competitive advantages, and creating an environment which fosters routine practicality.

We got to hear about the structure, principles, and work cases that JMAC presents by Mr. Hiroaki Katsuta, the company’s CEO, who truly understands the concerns possessed by those Japanese companies running business in Thailand as well as what they are looking for. The firm has succeeded from introducing measures and solution to problems. Eventually, it is important to realize what is necessary for both the Japanese and the Thai to perform at their best/to work at their best competency. We want to share with you the story of Mr. Katsuta, which is filled with useful guidelines and beneficial suggestions.

The Young Japanese Posted in Thailand with a Mission of Localization

It is said that among approximately 5,000 Japanese companies extending their business into Thailand, 40% of them are manufacturers. Consequently, it can be concluded that Japan’s manufacturing industry is more closely related to Thailand than other business or industries.

Still, Mr. Katsuta told us that the roles of manufacturing industry are gradually changing with times.

“In the past, producing Japanese-quality products in Thailand, where the labour cost was less expensive, and exporting to Japan or other countries was a general business process. However, since Thailand’s economy has improved, the production for local consumption, considering market within Thailand, has begun to expand, resulting in the localization of some business. Some have shifted their design department or business development to Thailand. Let’s say if Singapore is a center of finance, Thailand is like a center of production where raw materials can easily be sourced and the development of both people and production is promoted.”

The duties of Japanese staffs, who are placed in Thailand, have also changed inevitably. As Japanese companies have to send their people into countries which will be their new manufacturing bases, for instance Vietnam or Indonesia, the people that are posted in Thailand, with a long self-running business, are usually in their thirties and not extremely experienced.

Seeing from their positions, these staffs are in Chief level. Even though they work in technical field, they still possess limited experience. These Japanese staffs, posted overseas, never have any managerial and directorial experiences. Still, they must hold a responsibility and a mission for localization.

“Formerly, Japanese firms intended to do QC (Quality Control) or other subunits’ activities to boost productivity and quality. Nonetheless, the younger generations have not gained such experience. Hence, it cannot be guaranteed or confirmed whether they have enough capability to instruct and advise those Thai managers and employees who are older and more experienced than them. Thai staffs are also aware of this situation.”

Having to guide or coach the Thai despite having limited experience and knowledge, and also having to develop people to execute localization place more responsibility and burden for any staffs coming for a post in Thailand.

Do Not be “Kakaemon”

Looking back at Japanese companies in the past…

Previously, most Japanese manufacturing companies, in spite of their operation in Thailand, would try to keep and get things done within “Japan”, from procurement, sales, to any issues in the company which would all be considered or decided by the Japanese only. The whole business was driven by a so-called “Japanese Village” even the business was located in Thailand.

“Before, Thailand was not regarded as a market. Radically speaking, the main idea of Japanese companies was only for the Thai employees to follow instructions on manufacturing duties to complete the tasks. The Thai staffs then were likely to acknowledge and accept this imbalance of power. They tended to comply with and let the Japanese having a total control of management. The intention and needs of both parties were similar.

Nowadays, however, companies driven by a supply chain system of just Japanese firms remain only a few number. Especially after the fall of Lehman Brothers, such force has accelerated. It was crucial to shape Thai staffs to be able to specify a problem and come up with suitable solutions by themselves. This is an essential issue for Japanese companies in the present.”

Nevertheless, even until now, there are a lot of Japanese firms sending staffs to work in Thailand without clearly giving specific objectives or missions. This cause a main obstacle for the expats posted in Thailand as they have no clue of their exact responsibility or duties and how should they help improve the ability of Thai staffs.

When Thai employees fail to do as expected, or when they cannot think and practice for themselves, how should a human resource development plan be? What occurs when we are struggling and facing such difficult situations is not Doraemon but rather “Kakaemon”.

“The word describes a Japanese worker who takes all responsibilities to himself and tries to finish all those works after other Thai staffs leave work on normal working hours. The issue for “Kakaemon” is that although he “feels he has already done (a job)” or “feels he has already solved a problem” at one point, this action is not directly related to the initial cause or core of the trouble. Thus, the same old problems keep reoccurring, leading to the unhealthy cycle of repeated problems and solutions. The true solution is the necessity to adjust and alter the whole working procedure.”

Clearly expressing a relation between cause and effect

The era when the Japanese were thinkers and the Thai were only doers of the achievement has long ended. Mr. Katsuta has clearly stated that what is required for Thai workers in having a will to work is “to visualize what is in the head”.

“Japanese has a ‘High Context Culture’, which means each person is aware of another person’s intention without having to make any attempt or use any communication skills, right? But the Thai also have ‘High Context Culture’ of their own context. When anyone shaped by a ‘High Context Culture’ gives instruction to staffs who also have a ‘High Context Culture’, a ‘High Context’ communication cannot be used. A professional ‘Low Context’ communication should be used instead. Plus, the main point of the instructions should be made clear.”

To illustrate, when assigning tasks, the first thing to do is to explain steps to be taken, then explain the objectives and expected output. After that the work details should be informed in order to properly assign duties to each employee. The objective for each task should also be clarified.

“By this way of giving information, the concepts or ideas within our head can be visualized. When solving multiple problems, the planning of solution steps, making solution as comprehensible scenarios, and allocating these steps into target problems are important. Therefore, it is necessary to take the thoughts of the instructor to “be analyzed and make clear” in order to illustrate and exemplify the ideas. If the issue is particularly focused by the company’s president, it should be properly “analyzed”. When the time frame for the outcome of the analysis is set, facilitating the process (Seiryuka) is also critical.”

This corresponds with the concept of problem solving. If we excessively stick to the time frame of the solution, we can possibly overlook the opportunity to understand the issue and the current circumstances, for example; what the true problem is, in which situation these problems are likely to happen. If we only launched measures to fix the problem on the surface, in the end, no matter how much we try, we would never be able to actually prevent those same old problems which will keep coming back.

“If we do not make a relation between cause and effect clear and easily understandable, we may proceed in the wrong direction. To implement an effective development plan (Kaizen), it is important to understand the true condition before beginning to analyze otherwise we will never know whether the measures we are proposing is right or not. If the issue occurs in the production line, there should be an analysis to see whether this problem occurs in other lines, or to find out where any of the similar parts are used. Once all these are done, we then conclude what the actual problem is.”

In time of troubles, relying purely on analog to examine all details cannot contribute to the solution at the root of the problem.

It goes the same way with managing an organization. Facilitating the process (Seiryuka) is necessarily required.

A Meeting with The Same Goal

Mr. Katsuta has brought up three significant factors in order to smoothly operate the work, which are:

The first factor is making the work visible. The second factor is the participation of managers. The third factor is an active two-way communication.

“The communication must be equal. Let’s say, the subordinates can express their thoughts and opinions even if they contradict with the superiors’. Any organization with an open-minded and equal atmosphere is really an ideal organization. If these three factors are deeply integrated into a company’s working process, it will help accomplishing goals and developing people who are going to undertake the duties. At first, the feeling of “I am ordered to do this” may come up. As time goes by, though, we will start to feel that “If we do not visualize things, we will feel bad” (laugh) Moreover, this is useful for team building as well.”

Analyzing the subject and having a meeting with similar goal are crucial to the prevention of problems. In addition, a concrete inspection process to specify the next step is also needed.

If the superiors express a lot, what is left for the subordinates to do is only to listen. This is not the consequences that we want. So, the superiors should express less, and emphasize more on listening. The superiors should also let the subordinates explain to check whether they have received the correct message.

Visualization is compulsory when planning, whether it is visualizing the current overall operation, visualizing what is planned for the next week, or visualizing what is to be improved or changed.

When the planning is altered, the reason should be clearly identified. If the planned time frame is changed without reasons and the Thai employees feel their schedule is affected, this could cause a distrust, resulting in the unwillingness to work. Hence, although it takes both time and energy, it must be explained why the plan is altered or what the aim is. Creating a condition where the employees “approve” is requisite.

“If this process continues, the Thai employees will ultimately be able to visualize their own thoughts and ideas. They will become people who can efficiently use information to describe their objectives as well as illustrate and explain about the output by themselves.”

Still, Mr. Katsuta has emphasized that there is no point rushing. The expected timeframe for this whole transformation is at least a year.

“The allocation of power is not that easy. However, we should not think of holding the power or completely transfer this power. It should be done little by little. Although it is not a big deal, if it is successful, Thai staffs could receive the benefits and are able to visualize invisible thoughts and ideas by themselves.”

Gradually gaining experience will allow Thai employees to realize the benefits, feel the confidence, and be able to decide and practice by themselves. There are lots of example of Japanese staffs who let Thai employees learn to slowly operate the work process by themselves. One thing should be noted. There is no necessity to rush.

Mr. Katsuta has also recommended that once the improvement in Thai staffs is perceivable, do not hesitate to give them some compliments.

“Complimenting is very essential. So, do not forget to compliment in front of everybody. Also, if we keep observing the facial expressions of Thai staff everyday, it is easier for us to detect the level of their will to work. Working with people of different cultures, languages, and values, it is inevitable to make our instructions less intense. In this case, we cannot compare with the Japanese workers who can communicate with us without having to say a word. To lessen the intensity of instruction at its least, we must continually try different methods without giving in. Having a way of thinking and practice to handle different cultures is important.”

“Planning a Structure x Human Skills” is the key to drive business.

Mr. Katsuya has revealed a “formula” leading to business success.

“Planning a structure x Human skills” is the key to drive business. Human skills mean adjusting perspective to understand others, signaling to them we want to help them. Simply speaking, it is respecting others.”

Respecting Thai employees and attempting to improve people directly relate to the business development. The development of business and the development of people are inseparable measures as the two are closely related.

“If we separate the decision and operation of human resource development from business development, it would be a hard job. We should not do so. What we should do is to operate the two simultaneously.”

If the people grow and improve, the business would accordingly improve. If the smooth business makes its employees more confidents, this would lead to a healthy work cycle. This is definitely the direction we should head to.

Lastly, Mr. Katsuta has added about the headquarter in Japan, which posts staffs overseas, that:

“With experiences in cooperating with foreigners, it is possible to handle things at a global stage as well as being able to be open in communicating with foreigners. This can lead to shaping globally efficient people who can think logically. Therefore, I want the headquarter to define a career path for staffs going to work abroad. In reality, the post period of three years is not enough for these expats to learn and achieve managerial skills as well as to handle diversities.”

People who can handle different cultures are the hope to drive the future of the firm. Consequently, the headquarter should consider on what should be done. There are plenty of matter which the companies from Japan should start operating on right now.

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