[VIEWPOINT]Valuing workplace management

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[VIEWPOINT]Valuing workplace management

In 1999, Carlos Ghosn was starting his new post in Japan as president of Nissan Motor Co., Ltd. Upon touring the Nissan factory, he is said to have been confident of reviving Nissan, which was suffering huge deficits.
His conviction was based on being at “the scene of labor.” He pointed out that Nissan’s laborers were highly qualified and motivated, and had extraordinary skills that could only come from working in their field for a long time.
Mr. Ghosn, who indeed revived Nissan successfully, nowadays affirms, “The economic revival of Japan is due to the high quality of the workplace.” He always uses the Japanese word kenba, which means the scene of the action, when talking about this topic, even though he speaks English. It reflects his respect for the workplace and his attitude to encourage those working there.
“Workplace management” comes up often in New Year’s topics of conversation amongst domestic corporation leaders. Chief executive officers go to the scene of production and sales, and listen directly to the voices of both workers and clients.
The workplace is a scene where subjective and informal knowledge that is hard to express in theory or formulas is formed. Specialists call this Ahm Mook Ji, which means implicit knowledge and information. It indicates what is obtained and shared through things such as personal experience, skilled abilities, the culture of a corporation and the interaction between workers.
The value of workplace management can be seen to be in understanding implicit knowledge and making efficient decisions based on it.
Of course the value of being at the scene of the action should not automatically become first and foremost. Unnecessary stubbornness can cause problems. That is where the negative saying “playing gonjo”, which means “displaying arrogance” in Japanese, comes from.
They say the reason Matsushita lost to Sony in the race to be the first to develop a flat screen TV is because the engineering group at Matsushita insisted that “picture tubes have to be slightly convex for the best quality picture.” Such errors are problems that those in the workplace have to overcome.
It is not only corporations that have a scene of action. There is a domestic workplace in families too. Even if husbands try to help their wives once in a while with the household chores, they are not much help if they don’t know the scene of action. Many husbands put outerwear, socks and undergarments into the washing machine all at once, cook meat in the fish frying pan ― the list goes on.
It is hard for the husband who is trying to help, and uncomfortable for the wife who is watching.
Many businessmen consider opening a restaurant upon their retirement, but this too requires knowledge of the workplace. You need to know how to purchase wet towels, toothpicks and groceries at a cheap price, how to wash dishes quickly, well and economically, how bright the interior lights should be and many other things.
One would probably fall flat on one’s face by starting a restaurant without any relevant knowledge and thinking it involves simply sitting at the cash register.
The same can be said about reporters who run around the scene of action looking for news material. Listening to what an assistant or a head of a department has said leads to a big story more often than listening to the president of a company does. It is okay to meet the president for the final confirmation of facts. Fresh information comes from the scene of the action.
It seems to be an unchanging rule of reporters to go as close as possible to the scene of the action, no matter what.
However, presidents of companies visiting the workplace for outside publicity or to be featured in a company magazine as if it were a big event is a totally different matter. Occasionally companies promote themselves with articles about the CEO visiting the workplace. Workers at the actual scene go through numerous preparations and formalities beforehand so that a newspaper article showing a kind CEO leading and encouraging his workers can be printed.
This is not good workplace management, it is a nuisance.
They say having a CEO just look around the workplace in person is meaningful in itself in the corporate world. It can help the morale of the staff to see the president caring about the frontline workers.
However, if workplace management that is only as deep as a slogan combines with bureaucracy, it instead harms the workplace.
I hope to see real workplace management in the New Year.

* The writer is the head of the family news team at the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Nam Yoon-ho
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