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" Nemawashi " A Technique to Gain Consensus in Japanese Management Systems: An Overview

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Abstract

Nemawashi " is an activity to build support for a project or decision through communication in advance mainly to gain consensus. The Japanese term " Nemawashi " comes from the gardening activity of nurturing and preparing the ground to transplant, and it says that without a proper Nemawashi, a plant transplanted to new soil may die. The principle of gardening is much applicable to organizations and people who require nurturing prior to an official declaration or a new course of action / decision. This paper gives a detailed description of " Nemawashi " technique as one of the important decision making tools prevalent in Japanese Management Systems and practices. Even though the " Nemawashi " process is viewed as time consuming by inviting more members of the organization to endorse on a project / decision it still ranks high in appreciation for its nature of participatory management with collective decision making process in an organization.
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“Nemawashi” A Technique to Gain Consensus in Japanese
Management Systems: An Overview
Dr. Srilalitha Sagi,
Assistant Professor, Gitam School of International Business, Gitam University, Visakhapatnam, A.P
ABSTRACT:
“Nemawashi” is an activity to build support for a project or decision through communication in advance
mainly to gain consensus. The Japanese term “Nemawashi” comes from the gardening activity of
nurturing and preparing the ground to transplant, and it says that without a proper Nemawashi, a plant
transplanted to new soil may die. The principle of gardening is much applicable to organizations and
people who require nurturing prior to an official declaration or a new course of action / decision. This
paper gives a detailed description of “Nemawashi” technique as one of the important decision making
tools prevalent in Japanese Management Systems and practices. Even though the “Nemawashi” process
is viewed as time consuming by inviting more members of the organization to endorse on a project /
decision it still ranks high in appreciation for its nature of participatory management with collective
decision making process in an organization.
Key Words:
Nemawashi, Nurturing the Roots, Consensus, Decision Making, Japanese Management Systems
INTRODUCTION:
The origins of Japanese Management Systems present the view that history and culture play an
important role in the most of the current Japanese Management System. Some of the possible
roots and their characteristics related to Japanese business practices include Confucian
philosophy (respect for elders, loyalty, harmony), Buddhism (humility, work ethic, working for
collective good), Bushido (obligation, duty, honour). And the practices of rice farming village
communities in pre-modern Japan provide insights into the origins of many key characteristics of
modern business practices such as paternalism and collective behaviour.
POWER / AUTHORITY AND DECISION MAKING:
In most cultures the power / authority, responsibility are associated with the significance of the
decisions and their impact on the organization and the environment. In some cultures power of
an individual is demonstrated by making decisions individually in other cultures those in
positions of authority are expected to delegate decision making to a defined group or at least
reach a consensus like in Japanese organizations. However, final decisions that emerge reflect
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the different amounts of power mobilized by the parties in competition. Decision making can
therefore be seen as a critical process in which outcomes are a function of the balancing of
various power vectors (Keeley 2001: p.154).
THE DECISION MAKING PROCESS:
A decision is supposed to be convincing, reasonable, should have a validity and needs to contain
built-in justifications and excuses if it results in unexpected outcomes (Keeley 2001: p.154). The
process of decision making is a set of interactions through which demands are processed into
outputs (Pettigrew 1972). Decision makers are expected to produce outcomes that are consonant
with their own or their system`s goals, and the decisions are influenced by power in the
organization and by corporate communication. Decision makers strive for mutually acceptable
solutions countering with different values, personalities, backgrounds leading to delay in process
and conflicts. While deciding on the most suitable decision making method, it is important to
consider the real need of full participation as it is a time consuming and causes unnecessary
delay.
Managerial activities may range from setting of goals and targets for the entire business
enterprise to specific decisions regarding day-to-day activities. Some of them may have only
short-term implications, while others may have long-term implications on the enterprise. In
organizations managerial decisions can be broadly classified into three categories, namely,
strategic, tactical and operational decisions. And traditionally organizations count on three
different types of decisions:
1. Strategic: relate to the identification of long term interests and means of achieving goals.
2. Organizational: relate to the way different aspects of a group being arranged to become
more efficient.
3. Operational: relate to the way employees of an organization chose to work on daily basis. It
is observed that it is important to seek maximum of participation on agreement for strategic
decisions as they have impact on long term goals of an organization.
THE PROCESS OF CONSENSUS BUILDING IN DECISION MAKING:
Arietta and Wallace (2000) define consensus as "a journey and a destination”. It is said that as a
process, consensus is the means by which groups can productively resolve issues, make choices
or develop strategies. It is a cooperative process in which all group members participate and
agree to support a decision in the best of the interest favouring an organization. The consensus
process is often referred to as “consensus building”, and it is a journey of preparing participants
to make a decision. In consensus, the input of every participant is carefully considered and there
is a good faith effort to address all legitimate concerns. (Dressler, 2006).
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Figure: 1 Consensus Flowchart
Source : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Consensus-flowchart.png
JAPANESE MANAGEMENT AND COMMUNICATION PROCESS:
The Japanese corporate communication system is anchored in the socio-cultural values of the
society as a whole the effective corporate communication system is related to the high level of
productivity and technological innovation (Erez 1992). Communication networks in a Japanese
corporation are highly complex formal and informal systems with top-down, bottom-up,
horizontal and diagonal channels (Erez 1992: 50). Ballon (1988) states that in contrast to the
linear pattern with a definite point of origin for the communication flow and the decision making
process, in the Japanese case the pattern is circular, whereby any single point in a circle can
become the origin (in Keeley 2001, p. 149).
THE CONCEPT OF NEMAWASHI:
“Nemawashi” is a Japanese term for preparing the ground and it is a basic technique of
gardening. In gardening, it means “to dig around the roots of a tree to prepare it for
transplantation”. The term “Nemawashi” comprises of two words Ne = roots; Mawasu = go
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around, it is often translated as “laying the groundwork” and it is deeply embedded into the
Japanese organizational culture.
In a business context, the concept of “Nemawashi” helps to lay the groundwork to take a good
decision by integrating the key issues and concerns of stakeholders into a recommendation or a
proposal before making it an official decision. It is a consensus building technique prior to the
meeting that aims at removing obstacles in decision making or approval of a proposal from the
audience. This cannot be taken as lobbying because with lobbying there is an involvement of
unprofessional conduct of politics and manipulation. In the “Nemawashi” process, people use
informal meetings to seek approval so that the process can take less time to get everyone at same
level of understanding and more so it fits into the culture norms of collectivist society of
Japanese.
THE PROCESS OF NEMAWASHI:
The primary reason of following a “Nemawashi” technique is to maintain a harmonious
environment among the employees. In practice, it means that the groundwork for a new proposal
must be carefully prepared in advance if it is expected to take root, survive and prosper. This
preparation includes talking with those affected by a new proposal, getting their reaction and
feedback, and modifying the proposal accordingly. The decision making process through
“Nemawashi” technique is diffuse, recursive, nonlinear, and multi-step. The steps listed below
present a more structured picture of the process but in practice the process can be more informal.
One very formal type of “Nemawashi” is the pre-meeting, which takes place before a structured
meeting. In a pre-meeting, any issue /s planned for discussion in the structured meeting that
might prove to be controversial are discussed in detail ahead of time. Any new project or a
proposal that is going to be presented can be floated in the pre-meeting, in order to avoid any
surprises during the main meeting. The key concentration of the “Nemawashi” meetings is to
explain the proposal or idea that is being promoted, and assess the reactions from audience for
rejecting or passing. It is important to take note of their reactions such as some present specific
suggestions for improving it, some are indifferent with their suggestions or they are hinting that
it can be accepted.
NEMAWASHI IN PRACTICE:
The best way to conduct these small one-on-one meetings is to schedule them at the end of the
day for about fifteen minutes. The presenter will eventually spend a fair amount of time meeting
with everyone, but the key is everyone else would invest only their fifteen minutes. If the
presenter receives contradictory inputs or if two stakeholders have differences of opinions, the
presenter brings them together to work out a resolution in private, so that the final proposal has
the support from both. If their differences prove to be irreconcilable, the presenter brings the
matter to the decision-makers for further guidance.
For a person who is pursuing this process for the first time, it may seem a little onerous to
explain and schedule the meetings repetitively. However, these meetings conducted for
“Nemawashi” process are fairly short and tend to fit easily into people’s schedules. Once an
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organization uses this method consistently over time, it will rarely be necessary to schedule
meetings for long periods to take decisions. It is observed that in “Nemawashi” system it’s
enough to stop by a person’s desk, and ask if they have a few minutes, and then go ahead and
proceed to run through the proposal and collect feedback. The total time used by the average
program manager will be about the same as it was under the old system when one considers the
amount of time spent preparing the presentation, attending a meeting, receiving and
incorporating feedback, and then, having to go back to another meeting to get a decision and
approval.
CONCLUSION:
Nemawashi is a technique to get everybody on board right from the beginning of any proposal /
decision making process. It is evident that in the process the responsible employee is building
agreements and consensus for the final decision. The result of effective use of “Nemawashi” is
that by the time a proposal is finalised, the problem or the root cause is clearly being identified
through the oneon-one meetings and premeetings of this technique. This technique has given
greater adaptability in institutions like Toyota and in recent times a lot of non-Japanese business
entrepreneurs and managers started to appreciate it. The main fear people have of “Nemawashi”
is that it may give chance for decisions to be made behind the scenes under the disguise of
consensus. The decision making process depends on the situation that is being solved and
requirement of building consensus is also depending on the situation. According to the Toyota
way the art of “Nemawashi” brings success to an organization and it helps to gain consensus
slowly but facilitates to implement rapidly. To make this possible, organizational and physical
setting must be such as to encourage regular and frequent face-to-face interaction and it calls for
an organizational culture of sharing a strong sense of understanding and values among
participants.
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Volume 01, No.4, April 2015
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... To achieve this, it is effective to assign people who can be trusted as leaders and key personnel. It is also important to implement "NEMAWASHI" [17] and stealth storm [18] to gain trust of stakeholders. ...
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Thesis (A.B., Honors)--Harvard University, 1935.
More than 50 ways to build team consensus
  • R B Williams
xv. Williams, R. B. (2007). More than 50 ways to build team consensus. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, Inc
Organization and Management of Japanese Industrial Companies
  • J Rudy
xi. Rudy, J.: Organization and Management of Japanese Industrial Companies, Alfa, Bratislava, 1988
Consensus decision making
  • D L Arietta
  • L Wallace
ii. Arietta, D. L., & Wallace, L. (2000). Consensus building field book. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Extension and Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs iii. Bressen, T. (2007). Consensus decision making. In P. Holman, T. Devane & S. Cady (Eds.), the change handbook (2nd ed.).San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc iv.