Japan's positive sideJapan-bashing is in. Recently the...


July 15, 1991

Japan's positive side

Japan-bashing is in. Recently the "Big Three" U.S. automakers accused Japan of dumping minivans at extremely low prices. And news wires have hummed with the resignations of two top Japanese securities executives, following disclosures that their companies compensated major clients for losses on trades, a scandal that sparked criticism of Japanese business methods.

But several trends under way might, in years ahead, mitigate anti-Japan feelings in the United States.

* Increasingly, Americans are filling top-ranking management posts at U.S. companies owned by Japanese.

* The Japanese are developing a constituency here -- their employees -- that will support them, and speak positively for them.

* The Japanese are becoming better community citizens in the United States. Corporate philanthropy is projected to hit $500 million in 1991, up from $30 million in 1985.

L * Institutional barriers to the Japanese market are falling.

"All large Japanese companies have plans to totally localize management by end of 20th century," said Eduardo Carmargo, a University of Southern California assistant professor of marketing who specializes in Japanese management issues.

Firms get physical

Pressured by increasing competition and reports about declining worker productivity, business leaders are increasingly turning to "outdoor training" to boost workers' confidence and inspire them to produce high-quality work efficiently. The result, executives hope, will be increased profits.

By engaging employees in physical activities that typically cannot be completed individually, outdoor training helps participants recognize the importance of communication and teamwork.

Tricky activities, such as scaling 12-foot walls and walking across suspended cable wire, force workers to use and develop leadership skills such as risk-taking, listening, managing conflict and decision-making.

But not all management consultants are sold on the idea of outdoor training. Some describe it as an expensive "management fad" that fails to answer important questions: Can lessons learned during physical "initiatives" actually be applied in the workplace? Should companies spend from $65 to $2,000 a person for lessons that might be quickly forgotten?

Even advocates concede that the complexity of measuring outdoor training's abstract benefits and the lack of empirical evidence make it difficult to determine how much it affects a company's bottom line.

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