Do you want to work at a Japanese company or live in Japan? Are you curious as to what are common practices in a Japanese business setup? Have you ever heard of Horenso? This is your cheat sheet for learning Japanese culture and etiquette.
This article is for you, if you are:
・Looking for work at a Japanese company
・Want to impress your Japanese colleagues
・Learn Japanese business etiquette
・If you are preparing for a Japanese job interview
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What is HORENSO?
Ho-Ren-So is a common term you use in the world of business in Japan. It’s a great basis for getting into the highly unique world of Japanese business etiquette to understand further why things are the way they are. It’s one of the first things you are taught when you are a fresh-graduate and first-time employee for Japanese graduates.
HORENSO is actually an acronym of a 3 Japanese word; Houkoku 報告 (ほうこく), Renraku 連絡 (ほうこく) and Soudan 相談 (そうだん).
These 3 Japanese values are practiced by most companies to ensure an efficient system for information sharing is executed for better productivity and teamwork.
According to this system, when a problem arises, employees should share details of it to their superior or teammates rather than keep it to themselves, and consulting for the opinion of others is highly encouraged.
Who invented Ho-Ren-So?
This concept is said to have been developed by the CEO of Yamanata Security, Tomiji Yamazaki. He wrote the implementation of HORENSO in his company in the book published in 1982, ‘Strengthen Your Company with Ho-Ren-So’. At that time, the exchanges between bosses, subordinates, and the entire company were strengthened, and it was truly revolutionary.
Let’s now talk about the meaning of each word and how you can use them!
Houkoku – 報告 – Report
Houkoku means to inform or to report. It simply means that whenever you are given a certain task, you are expected to take ownership and always report on progress of the task assigned to you.
In Japanese companies, practicing ‘Ho’ by trying to be more active, especially during workplace meetings is highly encouraged and expected.
How a job is progressing, when a job is completed, and if a problem arises during the course of that task should all be reported to an immediate superior and any other colleagues whose work may be affected.
‘Any mistakes or problems that arise must be reported as soon as possible.’ Always keep this in mind when you are working on a task assigned to you.
In Japan, risk aversion is highly regarded. According to Hofstede’s multicultural measure, Japan scored very high on the risk aversion index. Continuous reporting on the status of current tasks or assignments helps managers control the progress of tasks. This is very important for project management as delaying important tasks affects the completion of the entire project.
HOUKOKU will also help managers to spot major mistakes made by subordinates in the middle of a job, and call the shots on adjusting timelines and tweeking project direction, and ensuring the quality of results at the end of a job.
Reporting and information exchange can also strengthen relationships between subordinates and leaders and build trust within the team.
If you’re working or plan to work with Japanese teams in Japanese companies, make sure your boss knows as much as possible about what’s going on. This is the first step to building your credibility as a team player.
Here is a quick example on how HOUKOKU can be used on your day-to-day:
Tanaka-san has a new project given by him, a particular task was supposed to be completed by tomorrow, but the third-party vendor had gotten the dates mixed up and inform Tanaka-san it will be pushed back to the following week.
(Furigana) あんけん の しんちょく じょうきょう に ついて、ほうこく させて いただきます。
あす まで きじつ が せってい されていた ていあんしょ ですが、こちら、べんだー の ほそみ さん から れんらく をいただきまして、らいしゅう まで に きじつ を えんき して ほしい との こと でした。
ですので、さいしゅうてき な たいむらいん では、に しゅうかん ほど の えんちょう の みこみ です。
(Romaji) Anken No Shinchoku Joukyou Ni Tsuite, Houkoku Sasete Itadakimasu.
Asu Made Kijitsu Ga Settei Sareteita Teiansho Desuga Kochira Benda- No Hosomi San Kara Renraku Wo Itadakimashite Raishuu Made Ni Kijitsu Wo Enki Shite Hoshii To No Koto Deshita.
(English) I would like to update you on the project’s progress. We received a request from Hosomi-san to extend the initial deadline for the proposal from tomorrow to 1 more week. This would push the projected completion date to about 2 weeks.
(Furigana) りょうかい です。ほうこく ありがとうございます。では、ほか に できる タスク から すすめて ください。
(Romaji) Ryoukai Desu. Houkoku Arigatou Gozaimasu. Dewa, Hoka Ni Dekiru Tasuku Kara Susumete Kudasai.
(English) This is noted. Thank you for letting us know. If there are other tasks that you can start working on, please work on them.
Renraku – 連絡 – Contact
RENRAKU means ‘Contact’ or ‘To Contact’ is concerned with the proper communication of basic facts among colleagues regardless of their status or rank within the organization. This type of communication is concerned with important details that may affect your team’s work rather than personal opinions, analyses, or speculations.
Unlike HOKOKU, which is reporting from a subordinate to a superior, think of RENRAKU as the free exchange of important information among colleagues or teammates.
For example, if any problems or delays arise, or if you are going to be late for a meeting, you should contact your colleagues and notify them right away. This way, they can quickly reschedule and adapt their work schedule to the new situation if necessary, and there will be no disruptions. This also applies to avoiding similar mistakes or happenings in the future, if other workmates would also be dealing with a similar matter.
REN is also a basic business practice to share and update information among all those involved in business activities. In most Japanese companies, a project cannot be carried out by one person and most likely requires teamwork. Since Japan is a collective society, it’s very important to identify and connect with groups, and great emphasis is put on teamwork.
Changes also need to be shared to anticipate unexpected results. Examples of this business practice are sending emails to colleagues involved in a project to let them know that a problem has occurred that could cause a delay on other aspects of a project.
Let’s see a quick example of a typical scene where you can use RENRAKU:
Kevin is on the way to work, but there has been an accident on the way, and will delay your arrival and will be late for work.
(Furigana) やすださん、つうきんちゅう に じこ が あったため じゅうたい です。しゅっしゃ が さんじゅっぷん ほど おくれます。たいへん もうしわけ ございません。
(Romaji) Yasuda-san, Tsuukinchuu Ni Jiko Ga Attatame Juutai desu. Shussha Ga San Juppun Hodo Okuremasu. Taihen Moushiwakegozaimasen
(English) Yasuda-san there’s an accident on the road now that caused heavy traffic, I will be late for work today by about 30 minutes. I’m sorry for the delay.
(Furigana) りょうかい です。もんだい ありません。れんらく ありがとうございます。では、めんだん を りすけ します。
(Romaji) Ryoukai desu. Mondai Arimasen. Renraku Arigatou Gozaimasu. Dewa, Mendan Wo Risuke shimasu.
(English) I see. No problem. Thank you for your immediate contact. I can reschedule the meeting.
Soudan – 相談 – Consult
SOUDAN simply means consulting with senior colleagues and team members when you need to make a decision. Although you may believe that it is your responsibility to handle each situation on your own rather than bothering your superiors, Japanese business philosophy takes a different approach.
Active consultation with your boss and colleagues is a commonly used problem-solving method for Japanese companies and is deeply connected to the idea of KAIZEN. This allows an organization to have an idea of a problem at the first moment it presents itself, generate the most appropriate solution to the problem from experience, and take steps to prevent similar problems from occurring in the future and in effect improving work process.
Before a meeting, you can use the method of personally consulting with a key member or your supervisor in advance. This is typically called 根回し (ねまわし Nemawashi) or “digging the roots”. Sharing problems personally is also a way for your supervisors to keep this in mind in advice and make necessary preparations.
Example of Soudan
Let’s look at a scenario where SOUDAN can actively be used:
You want to go on a 3 week leave in the next following months. You want to consult this with your supervisor beforehand, so they can find someone who can fill you in.
(Furigana) らいげつ に さん しゅうかん の ゆうきゅう を いただきたい と かんがえて います。その あいだ に たんとう していただく かた の そうだん を させて ください。げんざい かんがえている の は、いま でも あんけん で いっしょ に 近く うごいています の で、おおた さん を かんがえて おりました。ほか に たんとうしゃ の こうほ が います でしょうか？
(Romaji) Raigetsu Ni San Shuukan No Yuukyuu Wo Itadakitai To Kangaete Imasu. Sono Aida Ni Tantou Shiteitadaku Kata No Soudan Wo Sasete Kudasai. Genzai Kangaeteiru No Wa, Ima Demo Anken De Issho Ni Chikaku Ugoiteimasu No De, Oota San Wo Kangaete Orimashita. Hoka Ni Tantousha No Hou Ga Imasu Deshouka?
(English) I would like to take a 3 week leave next month. I would like to consult with you who will be the person-in-charge during this time. What I was thinking as of now, was to have Oota-san take over since we work closely on the project. Is there any other PIC you are thinking of?
(Furigana) そうだん ありがとう。おおた さん と さんにん で いちど みーてぃんぐ を せってい して はなし あいましょう。
(Romaji) Soudan Arigatou. Oota San To Sannin De Ichido Miitingu Wo Settei Shite Hanashi Aimashou.
(English) Thank you for asking. Let’s first set a meeting wih Oota-san and discuss this.
When you are consulting with your supervisor or colleague, make sure to prepare a couple of options or scenarios. This will help your superior to see a better view of where you are coming from, and leave a good impression for the fact that you are prepared and given the topic much thought.
Cultural Differences and the Bright Side
Some may perceive Horensou as a method of micromanagement. However, there are also advantages with this method, and let’s look at how Japan’s intensive reporting helps you in two ways. First, it presents a friendly environment for asking questions. Rather than asking questions as being seen as a nuisance, your supervisor or colleague will most likely appreciate that you are making the effort to understand.
Another advantage is it’s easier to report mistakes. The reasons are the same as above, but the frequent communication makes it easier to reach someone if things don’t go as planned. If you do this religiously, you seldom need to apologize for any major mistakes. With regular consultation, small deviations can be addressed and fixed immediately.
New Alternative For The Future?
Recently, several trends have brought about a new form of information sharing, or 情報共有 (じょうほうきょうゆう Jouhou Kyouyu).
One of them is the change from HORENSO to KAKURENHO (確 連 報 かくれんほう) which consists of familiar reports RENRAKU and HOUKOKU but also includes KAKUNIN (確認 かくにん) instead of consultation SOUDAN. It is intended to encourage employees to think and act independently.
Another approach is to completely get rid of Ho-Ren-So and adopt a more American model of problem solving in the workplace. Many who are familiar with both systems find it ideal to balance the American and Japanese approaches.
Things are changing, but HORENSO is still firmly rooted in Japan’s working life and will be here for some time to come.
Why Is HORENSO Important?
Japanese business culture places high importance on teamwork. And for effective teamwork, communication is essential. HORENSOU is the Japanese recipe for ensuring fluent communication and building your own credibility and reliability in the workplace.
What greatly differentiates the West and the Japanese way of things in the corporate world is, in the West results are given utmost importance. The faster you give the right results, everything else would be considered as secondary. In Japan, the most you were able to contribute to the team and the results are equally seen as important.
When an employee practices Ho-Ren-So diligently, it makes them more trustworthy. The managers believe if something happens, their employees will report to them quickly. Similarly, each team member is also seen as a reflection of its collective group, and each team member works hard not to stain the reputation of their group or its other members.