Japanese way of the world

Becoming World Class
April 21, 1995

Clive Morton needs no introduction to students of Japanese management in the United Kingdom. The former personnel director of Komatsu's transplant factory in the north-east of England carries a PhD in industrial relations and has been keenly sought as a speaker and commentator by practitioner and academic institutions alike.

Morton draws from his experience of working with the Japanese and of participating in the design of the management systems and structures at Komatsu, with commentaries on experiences at other organisations. While setting his commentary in the context of some of the academic literature on Japanese management and its transferability, his intention is not to present a thesis, rather to offer practical advice to managers and practitioners who wish their organisations to become, like many Japanese organisations, "world class". As one might expect from a manager who has worked in a company whose philosophy insists on flexibility of employees and general skills among managers, Morton does not restrict his prescriptions to personnel and industrial-relations issues, but extends his discussion to more general management issues, such as product development, supplier relations, and especially production and operations management. There is an attempt to show how these areas are interlinked, and how success is dependent on understanding the ramifications of each for the other. The guiding principles for each strategy should be quality and improvement.

Morton outlines Japanese cultural characteristics such as groupism, and contrasts Japanese values with western ones. Elements of both cultures, it is suggested, were used at Komatsu. Komatsu's history and background to the decision to locate in the north-east of England is outlined with the author's own role in establishing employment policies. Morton prescribes "how your company can achieve best practice", drawing eclectically on examples from Komatsu and other organisations to make his points. He offers the fundamentals of key Japanese management techniques such as kaizen but then digresses on the extent to which Japanese companies are internationalising by, for instance, handing over control to indigenous managers. The obstacles to becoming "world class" posed by the UK's politico-economic environment are discussed - especially the absence of long-term visions and policies for industry.

Morton's book is essentially a prescription, grounded in his own substantial experience, as to what that thinking and approach should consist of. The message comes across clearly and loudly.

As a contribution to knowledge on management and organisations, the book makes little original contribution beyond "insider" information on Komatsu. Students of management could find much of the information provided in other potted summaries of Japanese culture and they will certainly have to look elsewhere for critical perspectives on Japanese management. Some academics will be interested in reading the views of an influential British management practitioner. The main audience, however, is likely to be (particularly personnel) practitioners, many of whom are likely to find, the reviewer suspects, confirmation and elaboration of beliefs they themselves hold about how organisations should be run.

Barry Wilkinson is a professor at Cardiff Business School, University of Wales.

Becoming World Class

Author - Clive Morton
ISBN - 0 333 62560 9
Publisher - Macmillan
Price - £25.00
Pages - 257pp

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