January 2002
Japanese Cultural Training
Preparing for Visitors from Japan
The learning curve in preparing to meet with Japanese visitors can be quite steep, especially if the visit is imminent, many people are involved, and the outcome has significant business implications. The task can be even more daunting if this is the first Japanese interaction for many of those involved. Our experience in preparing for a Japanese Inspection highlighted to us the importance of providing our staff with Japanese cultural training.
Our company is now preparing for a Japanese Good Clinical Practice (GCP) inspection from one of the Japanese Ministry of Health and Labor Welfare's (MHLW) scientific review bodies - Pharmaceuticals and Medical Devices Evaluation Center (PMDEC). A number of factors influenced our approach to preparation activities. Not only are the PMDEC inspectors inexperienced in overseas inspections, but not all are expected to be fluent in English. In addition, this will be the first Japanese involvement for some of our staff that will participate in the inspection. A Core Team was formed to prepare for the visit. Major issues were identified very early and included expected outcomes, documentation, logistics, support staff needs, and the cultural training needed to ensure optimal communication with PMDEC.
What do we want the visitors to be thinking when they have completed the inspection and returned to Japan? We expect them to feel that their queries were answered with honesty, openness, and transparency, that our staff was helpful, committed, had an interest in Japan, had prepared meticulously for the inspection, and had great respect for the purpose of the visit. This will be demonstrated early on by ensuring that top level management will greet them when they arrive and exchange business cards (meishi).
Cultural Issues
The Core Team quickly recognized the need for a contact person to understand the Japanese regulatory environment, the value of a visit to our office in Japan to become familiar with the inspection process, and to start formulating a clear vision as to how to satisfy what the inspectors will want. This was also an excellent opportunity to ask our Japanese colleagues for some help with cultural issues and to start to develop a profile of the inspectors... their training, background, and accountabilities in the MHLW hierarchy. Some social interactions with our Japanese colleagues also provided an invaluable forum for introduction to expected norms and etiquette, and this has been continued with on-site training for all those involved with the inspection process.
The cultural training includes creating an awareness to keep the language simple, and avoid idioms, slang, and jargon so that clear communication can be facilitated. An interpreter has been contracted for the inspection sessions in English, and another interpreter for the sessions in our German site. Both interpreters were screened and interviewed to make sure that the medical terminology and phrasing expected would be familiar to them. Training also includes setting the scenario of the meeting so that the time available is used efficiently and inspectors' issues can be addressed fully. The inspection will be completed in one day, so preparation is critical.
A considerable amount of care has been taken with arranging the inspection logistics in accordance with advice received from our Japanese colleagues. Each session will be attended only by those directly involved in the summary presentations or queries. This is expected to result in expert input in an environment comfortable to the inspectors since they will not be outnumbered by company personnel. A seating plan has also been drawn up so that everyone will know where to sit as they come into the meeting rooms (important for the visitors not to be split up in the seating arrangement). The meetings will start on time and be kept to schedule as provided on the agenda.
Transferring between different buildings on the site will take time, and travel time has been allowed for. During each session, water and juice will be provided but eating is not appropriate. A person to take minutes will be designated, and it will be made clear at the beginning of the inspection that the minute taker is expected to interrupt for clarity. No interruptions will be allowed during the meeting, and mobile phones will be switched off.
Expectations of the PMDEC visitors will also include prompt responses to queries during the inspection. Queries should be anticipated and answers readily available, or the promise of a prompt reply. The inspectors will expect documents to be well organized, available or readily retrievable, correct, and easily referenced.
Company Training Programs
Preparation for the PMDEC visit described above required a dedicated, focused initiative requiring a co-ordinated effort that involved more than 50 staff across multiple clinical disciplines. Fortunately, our company has an extensive network of contacts with our Japanese office and an active secondment policy. This facilitated the rapid deployment of required support personnel to prepare for the inspection. Our company also has a continuing relationship with an outside consultant who regularly conducts a Japan Orientation Day program. This program 'Doing Business with the Japanese' includes some background on Japanese history and geography, anecdotes on the real business world in Japan from the trainer's extensive experience, and some role-playing for Japanese business etiquette, exchange of business cards, and social etiquette.
Many mergers and acquisitions fail to reach their optimal potential for cultural reasons. It may be that many companies do not consider interactions with Japan as a major issue, and underestimate the value of bringing in consultants. If your company does not have in-house experience in working with Japan, or if you do have experience but no dedicated training resource, then you may want to consider help. Five references are listed for training. The selection of a consultant depends on your immediate or forecasted needs. Do you need to develop some networking with Japan, or need 'total immersion' training for a secondee going to Japan, or do you need one-to-one hands-on training? One suggestion for determining your cultural training needs is through mapping - matching expected outcomes with gaps in skills.
Cultural awareness and training is not just about cross-cultural mapping though. Culture is also about empowerment and economics. Knowledge of other cultures is important to help you to understand and predict the way things work and the way people behave in other countries. Companies are now starting to recognize that employees are people, not human resources. People's behaviour should not be taken for granted. Prepare well for your interactions and negotiations with Japan, and the result should be a long-term relationship of trust and better understanding.
Training References
1 JNH Rice Associates
Cross Cultural Strategies and Business Briefings
47 Brockhill Road, Hythe, Kent CT21 4AF
Tel: 44 (0) 1303 266320
E-mail: jo@riceassociates.co.uk
Specializing in cross-cultural training and consultancy on organizational and national culture issues.
2 The Centre for International Briefing
Farnham Castle, Farnham, Surrey GU9 OAG
Tel: 01252 721194
website: www.farnhamcastle.com
This is a leading school/training centre for cross-cultural briefings. Clients include big multi-nationals across market sectors.
3 International Circles Ltd
121 Meetinghouse Lane, Balsall Common, Coventry CV7 7GD
Tel: 01676 532386
E-mail: info@intcircles.com
This is a smaller private cross-cultural training company also closely involved in language training. They do a lot of general cross-cultural training 'Working with the Japanese' and also 'Working with the British', for returning ex-patriots to come to terms with their own culture.
4 SIETAR International
E-mail: tm1@artemis.anglia.ac.uk
website: www.sietar.org
SIETAR stands for the Society for International Education, Training and Research, and is a loose alliance of all professionals who are involved in cross-cultural issues.
5 The Delta Intercultural Academy
website: www.dialogin.com
This is a German-based website for all sorts of intercultural issues - mainly academic, but also business oriented.
Jim Parker, Gillian Lamond, Amanda McCloskey
Pfizer Global Research & Development, Sandwich