IN MY last article, I mentioned that Governor Calvo is someone who can probably make a good first impression on most Japanese business leaders, and hopefully get some of them to start considering an investment in Guam.
After that, however, the hard work begins. As I am sure many people on Guam already know, negotiating a new project with a Japanese company can be a challenging and time-consuming process, and one that can leave many people feeling very frustrated.
“Why is this taking so long?” “Why can’t I get a clear yes or no answer?” “Why are they asking me that question again?” If you’ve ever been involved in a serious negotiation with a Japanese company, especially one of the large conglomerates, the chances are good that you’ve asked yourself questions like that on more than one occasion.
Getting angry or impatient will accomplish nothing, however. What you need to do is try and understand a little bit about the dynamics at play within most Japanese organizations, and why they are acting the way they are.
For this, one of the most important concepts is “nemawashi.” Literally, this word means “going around the roots,” and it originally referred to the careful way the roots of a tree were bound up by a Japanese gardener when it was going to be transplanted. In business, it is used to describe the slow, careful process by which a consensus is reached about a new project in a Japanese organization.
To understand “nemawashi,” it is important to remember that Japanese culture ... and by extension, most Japanese companies ... usually operate on a consensus basis. When a significant new project is considered (such as an investment in Guam), it is essential for all of the people and departments involved to sign off on it. For this to be accomplished, the team that is tasked with investigating the project has to go around to all of these people every step of the way, explaining exactly what has been discussed with the foreign counterpart, and soliciting feedback, comments and questions.
Usually, this is done through a lengthy in-house series of meetings, emails and reports ... and a lengthy series of questions, objections and suggestions, coming back from different parties at different times. Complicating matters, the members of the project team might be lower in rank than many of the people they have to report to, making them (in the Japanese context) reluctant to speak too forcefully, and they might present things in a roundabout fashion, resulting in further delays. Of course, it is also very common for people from different departments to think of the same questions at different times, but it wouldn’t be polite for the project team to just brush them off.
With all this going on, it’s no wonder that it can take a very long time for decisions to be made, and that – from the standpoint of the foreign firm – the discussions seem to be jumping all over the place. In response, all you can really do is be patient and cooperative, recognize the process for what it is, and remember that there can be a very big silver lining in this dark cloud. If the project is approved, everybody in the Japanese organization will be strongly behind it and a lot of the potential problems will already have been considered and countermeasures developed. Once the final decision is made, the actual execution of the project is often a model of speed and efficiency.
David Jay Morris is the International News Editor of Marianas Variety-Guam.