Competing on Productivity - the Japanese Way

By Stainer, Alan | Management Services, April 1993 | Go to article overview

Competing on Productivity - the Japanese Way

Stainer, Alan, Management Services

One of the overriding impressions that is revealed on any visit to Japan is the emphasis on developing individuals to their full potential through education and training. There has been a tendency, amongst Western media and managers, to caricature the Japanese workforce as unthinking servants of great corporations. This is just not true.


Japan has one of the most highly educated workforces in the world. For instance, it has 94 percent of its people in full-time education up to the age of 18, compared with a mere 35 percent in the United Kingdom. Even more revealing is the fact that the percentage of top managers with university degrees or equivalent in Japan is 85 percent compared with 24 percent in the United Kingdom. However, Dr Yoshio Sato of the Mitsubishi Research Institute stated that Japanese higher education does not have the same standard and breadth as the West. He also expressed the view that the Japanese have a lack of basic research and creativity.

In addition to being better educated before their first day at work, Japanese employees tend to receive significantly more on-the-job training than their Western counterparts. It is estimated that Japanese companies spend around 1.5 percent of their turnover on training, which is ten times greater than in the United Kingdom. One of the primary corporate aims is to keep and develop skilled workers. This is because corporations know that, having invested in new facilities and technology, they require skilled and qualified people to operate them effectively.

The vocational emphasis is also different in Japan. For instance, there are only 6,000 qualified accountants, which is one twentieth of the number in the United Kingdom. Japanese universities have a far greater thrust in engineering rather than business oriented studies. There is a decided absence of MBA programmes. Indeed, it is clear that postgraduate management education is shunned by the Japanese who prefer to train their staff into their own corporate cultures.

Japanese universities have an outward look in approach. They are extremely keen on international collaboration and research as well as having a very good understanding of both American and European industries. Examples of such collaboration are the reports on the Factories of the Future(1) comparing the United States, Japan and Europe in operational strategic attitudes. These are co-authored by Professor Jinichiro Nakane of Waseda University.

There is a considerable momentum in the industrial engineering area, embracing productivity and quality. The University of the Air, Japan's equivalent to the Open University, has programmes on both productivity and quality management, directed by Professor Kazukiyo Kurosawa.

So much interest was shown in the writer's two presentations, that his curriculum vitae was prepared in Japanese. The first was on 'Productivity Practices in Europe' to the Japan Institute of Industrial Engineering where the audience consisted of professional engineers and managers. The second was on 'Productivity and Quality in Operations Strategy' to invited guests, students and faculty of the department of industrial engineering and management, Waseda University. From the subsequent questioning after both presentations, it was clear that their main concern in relation to productivity and quality was in improvement programmes and the comparison with the West.

Since 1945, the Japanese have bred a more equal industrial society. For instance, in Autumn 1992, an industrial manufacturing employee in Japan earned 11.4 times less than a chief executive officer, compared to 16.8 in the United Kingdom and a massive 26.0 in the United States. This is partly due to culture, and partly to the fact that they have had the opportunity of starting afresh.


The well known American writer on productivity management, Dr David Sumanth(2), states that there is a productivity cycle, which is a continuing process:

(Productivity cycle omitted)

But the Japanese place a greater emphasis on productivity improvement. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Competing on Productivity - the Japanese Way


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search


    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.