Did you know… that Japanese companies’ decision-making processes follow a method called ringi-sei, in which everyone who will be affected by the proposed changes needs to give his or her seal of approval? As a culture, the Japanese value hierarchy and collectivism, so it’s no surprise that it’s engrained in the work place as well. In order for a proposal to be considered and accepted, it must go through the following steps:
Started from the bottom…
A draft proposal, called a ringi-sho, will first be presented by the creator for peer review. It must then be stamped with the hanko (the Japanese equivalent of a signature) of each of the employees in his or her team. Following final checks and a unanimous consensus, the draft is then submitted up the rank. This process must then be repeated throughout each of the subsequent ranks, until it finally reaches the top.
The project in question can only be launched if and when the parties agree. If, at any time during the project, something needs to be renegotiated with the client, the ringi-sei will need to be repeated.
For Western companies, this can seem like a tedious process. In fact, the long deliberations involved in ringi-sei can sometimes cause these companies to withdraw the offer or the negotiations, assuming that the lack of feedback or response signals that the Japanese companies are not interested in the business. But it’s important to have unlimited patience with this slow communication, because the process is an integral part of negotiating in the Japanese culture.
In order to ensure the process moves as smoothly as possible, Creative Culture linguist Tomoki Minohara encourages Western companies to ensure their collaterals are translated into Japanese.
According to his insight, most Japanese companies looking to import Western products will leave the negotiations to their English-speaking employees. However, these employees tend to lack any decision-making power, so anything that’s discussed with the client will have to be sent up the chain of command. Therein lies the problem: oftentimes, the decision makers don’t speak foreign languages. If a Western company is proactive enough to translate their collaterals, they will speed up the deliberation process by providing materials that the buyers can understand. Perhaps more importantly, this gesture will come across as a sign of respect to the prospective client, and the Japanese market as a whole. In a culture where brand identity is very important, this is a sure-fire way to ensure success on the market and gain consumer loyalty.
To read Tomoki’s thoughts in full, click here.