Miura Hiroaki, the General Manager of Mitsubishi Corporation’s IT department (and formerly in charge of IT in the Europe, Middle East and Africa region), has a series in the Nikkei Business magazine on digital transformation at Mitsubishi Corporation. He joined Mitsubishi Corporation in 1996 and like me, was trained as a new member of staff to pick up the group fixed line phone within two rings and answer it correctly – with the team name, not your own. “Fixed-line phones were not just a means of communication, but also played a part in employee education and guidance. The mentality of abolishing this was unthinkable” he says. But Mitsubishi Corporation did, in 2019.
The only way to deal with the anger that followed the abolition of fixed line phones was to build trust, he explains. He remembered what one of his mentors had told him about building trust – to take someone’s feelings seriously, and to laugh together. So he listened patiently to all the anger, which gradually dissipated.
As well as remembering the words of his mentor, he also found revisiting Prince Shotoku’s 17 article constitution, drafted in the 7th century, useful. He sees the statement in it that “harmony is valuable” as being misinterpreted by him and others in Japanese society – that people should try to understand the other person’s point of view, without arguments. Instead, it proposes the idea that “we should always build solid trust so that we can argue with each other in times of crisis”. Miura’s view is that Japan has suffered as a national power in the 1990s and 2000s from not discussing important issues enough.
IT departments should be at the forefront of change and debate, but “the reality is Japanese corporate IT departments are being overwhelmed by having to maintain obsolete systems, suffering from a shortage of human resources, and being driven into a difficult position in terms of their relationships with employees.”
Miura also found Mitsubishi’s corporate principles an important touchstone, and driving force for change – social contribution, fair play, and a global perspective. They have more absolute value, he argues, than just blindly adopting global standards. Bezo’s view that “good intentions don’t work, mechanisms do”, are not appropriate for Japanese companies. Mitsubishi Corporation’s predecessors faced up to and adapted to the disruptive Black Ships of Western globalization before, in the Meiji Era, and will do so again.
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