A Comparison of U.S. and Japanese Management Styles and Unit Effectiveness

Article excerpt

* This paper reports of a comparative study of American and Japanese management styles in a conceptual framework consisting of six managerial dimensions: supervisory style, decision making, communication pattern, control mechanism, interdepartmental relationships, and paternalistic orientation.

* The findings indicate that U.S. and Japanese management styles differ significantly both in overall management styles and in each of the six dimensions. They also show that managerial perception of departmental (unit) effectiveness in each country differs significantly. Additionally, the paper discusses the implications of research findings for management theory and practice.

Key Results

* This study of American and Japanese management styles has identified the salient features of both systems. To understand and learn from different management systems, its model offers an effective tool for comparative studies; but for further research advances the present model has to be expanded or alternative models have to be developed.

Comparative management has received a lot of attention over the last two decades as global business has increased tremendously. Critics have claimed that different management styles account for the level of international competitiveness of firms (Cosier and Dalton 1986, Harber and Samson 1989, Peters and Waterman 1982). Because of the success of Japanese companies in world markets, researchers have paid a special attention to the Japanese management style (Hatvany and Pucik 1981, Koya and McMillan 1981). As a result, many scholars compared the Japanese management system with the American and European systems (Buckley and Mirza 1985, Ouchi 1981, Pascale and Athos 1981, Lincoln 1989).

In his popular book, Theory Z, Ouchi (1981) contrasts the principal characteristics of American and Japanese management. He identifies seven major characteristics of Japanese organizations: lifetime employment, slow evaluation and promotion of employees, non-specialized career paths, implicit control mechanism, collective decision making, collective responsibility, and wholistic concern (building a complete relationship between employer and employee, including concerning with employee's non-work, personal and family, matters). He asserts that these characteristics are not true of a typical American organization. In his later book, The M-Form Society, Ouchi (1984) elaborates on harmonious relationships in Japan among financial institutions, industrial organizations, labor, and government to develop industrial strategy. He argues that integrated planning at the societal level is responsible for Japanese success. Although Ouchi's Theory Z has become very popular, his research methodology has been criticized because of his small sample size and limited interviews and observations.

On the other hand, Pascale and Athos (1981) used the "seven S" model developed by the McKinsey Co., including the following seven components: superordinate goals, strategy, structure, systems (administrative), staff (the concern for having the right kind of people), skills (training and developing the people), and style (the manner in which management handles subordinates, peers, and superiors). They argue that Japanese companies are more effective because of their integration of these seven components and their concern for staff, skills, and, most importantly, style. They call these factors "soft S's" which have to do with human element. Pascale and Athos stress the importance of managing people as key resources and the importance of superordinate goals, sense of spirit, or company philosophy. They draw conclusions from a limited number of case studies and their approach is less theoretical and more didactic (Schein 1981).

From a human resources perspective, Hatvany and Pucik (1981) offer a model of Japanese management in which they define three interrelated strategies: (a) to develop an internal labor market securing a labor force of desired quality and to induce the employees to remain in the firm; (b) to articulate company philosophy based on concern for employee needs and cooperation and teamwork; and (c) to engage in intensive socialization. …