The Impacts of Organizational Culture on Knowledge Transfer Between Japanese Managers and Vietnamese Employees in Japanese Enterprises

The Impacts of Organizational Culture on Knowledge Transfer Between Japanese Managers and Vietnamese Employees in Japanese Enterprises

Ngoc Anh Nguyen, Quoc Trung Pham
Copyright: © 2021 |Pages: 17
DOI: 10.4018/IJKM.2021100106
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Knowledge transfer effectiveness is considered one of the most important factors for ensuring the success of any enterprise, especially for multinational enterprises. However, in the case of Japan, the effectiveness of knowledge transfer between Japanese managers and foreign employees is not high. This limited effectiveness is understood as linked to the cultural distance between Japanese managers and foreign employees. The main goal of this study is to explore the impact of organizational culture on knowledge transfer in Japanese enterprises. Quantitative survey research was conducted with 365 respondents, who are Vietnamese labourers working in Japan. Analysis showed that two factors had a positive impact on the effectiveness of knowledge transfer: cultural openness and managers' communication ability. The study draws on these results to make recommend improvements in the knowledge transfer process between Japanese managers and Vietnamese employees.
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1. Introduction

In the knowledge economy, knowledge is a strategic resource for developing any organization. Moreover, for multinational companies, knowledge must be shared and transferred between staff and business units for increasing competitiveness and ensuring the success of the company. Knowledge is a multidimensional concept with several meanings (Nonaka, 1994). This paper positions knowledge as the facts, information, and skills acquired through experience or education which are transferred between Japanese managers and foreign employees.

Recently, Japanese enterprises received a large influx of foreign employees, especially from Vietnam, due to labour shortage. Traditionally, the Japanese government had a negative view on opening labour markets. In 1999, even though the government adopted a policy positive toward acceptance of foreign workers with specialized skills, unskilled labour was not admitted. However, in the 2000s the government unofficially expanded its openness to unskilled labour, and in 2019 the law was relaxed. According to Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare statistics, at the end of October 2018, some 1.46 million foreign labourers were registered, among them 389,000 from China (26.6%), and 317,000 from Vietnam (21.7%). However, the effectiveness of knowledge transfer between Japanese managers and foreign employees is seen as low because of the cultural distance between Japan and the labourers’ sending countries.

Japanese culture – and business culture in particular – is distinctive. According to (Nishiyama, 2000), the long period of continued isolation imposed by the Tokugawa government gave the Japanese a strong and distinctive sense of self-identity. Because of this, the distinctive Japanese style of communication is based on ‘3Hs’: humanity (warm consideration for others), harmony (efforts not to hurt the feelings of others), and humility (modesty) (Kameda, 2005). Modern Japanese culture can be seen as the mutual reinforcing of ancient Shinto, Buddhist and Confucian traditions overlaid with modern institutions. Confucianism is one of the fundamental belief systems undergirding Japanese politeness. Confucianism stresses loyalty, justice, a sense of shame, refined manners, modesty and honor among other values (Stuart, 1987).

Japanese culture is known to be highly complicated with very fine distinctions between what is seen to be ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, and continues to have a strong influence on non-Japanese who live and work in Japan. Unlike in Western societies, the ‘group’ is seen as more important than the ‘individual’. If a group member steps out of line in any respect, this deviance has a strong impact on the way Japanese people perceive that person. This is reflected very clearly in the Japanese language itself, which has both a formal and a casual form.

For centuries, Japanese have been taught from a young age that they need to be responsible members of their families, their organization and their country, and serve others’ needs before their own. As a result, a culture of obedience and relative passivity has developed, as people are used to having their lives regulated by rules.

Since Japan has a high-context culture, the Japanese management system relies heavily on the shared cultural context (Abegglen and Stalk, 1985; Hall and Hall, 1987; Hedlund and Nonaka, 1993). Specific corporate management systems like kaizen (continuous improvement), lifetime employment, multi-skilled labour, eigyo (sales force) intensive marketing, incrementalism, and the keiretsu system (Abegglen and Stalk, 1985; Aoki and Dore, 1994; Asanuma, 1989; Johansson and Nonaka, 1996; Ouchi, 1981). Similarly, Japanese corporates have distinctive features in their international interactions, characterized by the tendency towards ethnocentrism (Bartlett and Ghoshal, 1989, 1999). Organizational culture has long been known to play a very important role in the success of Japanese companies. These values and norms give a clear direction for how things are done in Japanese multinational companies.

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