The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

Crossing into a different corporate culture can be the cause of growing pains, and Japan’s unique way of doing business makes it one of the world’s toughest markets in which to survive.

Like many international companies, Colt Technology Services Group Limited, a data and network provider serving Asia, Europe, and North America, knows that clear lines of communication are key to building the most capable teams. But simply knowing something does not always equate to being able to put it into practice.

After nearly 20 years in the Japanese market, Colt believes it has worked out the nuances separating an organization that truly enables communication from one that merely talks about it.

“We have around 450 employees in the APAC region, hailing from 23 countries, who contribute to all areas of the business,” said Kjell Yadon, a senior account executive for Colt.

“This amount of diversity can present a challenge in itself, as a lot depends on our leaders’ abilities to really know their teams and get everyone to work together. It’s not unusual to have, say, a team of six where the majority doesn’t share a common culture.”

Colt’s vision is channeled through team leaders who are charged with communicating strategies to small groups.

“It’s the sort of challenge that also becomes a strength, since we tend not to devolve into cliques and it forces you, in a way, to get to know your teammates more to get things done,” he said.

Insight into communication has helped Colt overcome some challenges of competing in the Japanese market.

“A lot of what we do here involves sales, and we rely on our account executives to be more proactive in their outlook and attitude,” said Mayumi Yamagishi, an HR specialist at Colt Tokyo.

“A lot of younger people in Japan have not been brought up with that mindset and, at many Japanese companies, sales staff are on a pure base salary with zero linked to commissions—a practice that can be a real disincentive,” she explained. “We work really hard to nurture new Colt members and encourage attitudes that help them align with our goal of shaking up the market and achieve more on a personal level.”

Yamagishi—who was brought up in the Netherlands and the United States, and has spent time working in Singapore—also recognizes that there are differences between employees who have experience living and working overseas and those who have worked only in Japan.

“Another way we seek to engage our people—and keep them engaged—is to provide international assignments at our offices in Europe, the United States, and other parts of Asia,” said Yamagishi. “We believe it is really important for our employees to see the world and interact with colleagues overseas who they would not normally get to meet face to face.

“After a two-year posting abroad, without exception, our teammates come back with a whole range of new skills, including a better mastery of English, more confidence, and—perhaps most importantly—a broader perspective to share with and enrich our local teams.”

Closer to home, communication is extended beyond the workplace to employees’ families. Children take part in company events such as the annual Halloween party and are welcome at the summer barbecue. “Nommunication” is also an important part of interaction throughout the year, especially at the year-end bonenkai gathering.

“We feel that it is extremely important for people from all areas of our operations to meet up and interact with those they might not have the opportunity to interact with on an everyday basis,” said Yadon. “We’re all people, and it helps to know that your teammate is somebody you can just talk to—whether it’s work-related or not.

“Our mantra is ‘connectivity matters’—whether we’re talking about technology, taking care of customers, or working as a team.”


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