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Internal communication in Japan.



Right after the end of the war in 1945, labor-management relations in Japan were in utter confusion. To save the situation, company executives held earnest discussions with company labor unions and directed vigorous communication activities toward individual employees to recover order and peace inside the company.

These internal communication efforts bore fruit, probably because Japanese labor unions are usually not organized by craft, but are organized individually within each company. A more fundamental reason may have been the traditional feeling of co-prosperity. Still another important reason was the management philosophy of respecting employees' rights.

Thus, both labor and management tried together to attain the goal of improved productivity which resulted in the high economic growth. It has now become commonly agreed by both labor and management that the fruits of increased productivity should be distributed in the form of higher wages. I believe that this common understanding is the result of continuous internal communication activities.

Internal Communication Philosophy in Japan

Japanese companies carry out their internal communication activities in the belief that "PR should start first within" and "Well-informed employees are good employees." Companies should give information to their own employees before supplying it to the outside. When employees are better informed about their company, they will have stronger loyalty to the company and greater pride in their position and work. Then employees become good PR people for their companies in the community and among consumers. They also become good antennae for collecting information. In other words, they will become the most effective medium for external PR activities. This is the basic reason that internal communication is important.

Media Used Internally

Internal communication activities of Japanese companies include three media--that is, interpersonal media, print media and audio-visual (electronic) media.

The communication activities by interpersonal media include "labor-management councils," "workshop meetings," "small group activities," "suggestion encouragement," "career interest reports," "grievance committees" and "employee morale surveys." These interpersonal media are as follows:

Labor-management councils discuss administrative policies, production plans, employment rules and conditions, welfare programs, etc. About 70 percent of major companies in Japan have these councils. The main subjects at these councils are welfare plans and programs, work hours, holidays and paid leave, industrial safety and hygiene, salaries and bonuses, etc. Most of the companies report that the councils have brought fruitful results.

Workshop meetings give workers and supervisors a way to carry out their own jobs and to improve their own work-place environments. Of the major companies, about 80 percent practice this system. The main topics are on matters dealing with routine work and industrial safety and hygiene.

Small group activities are organized by small groups of employees within workshops; each group decides its own target and maps out plans and programs for materialization. More than 40 percent of major companies have this system.

Suggestion encouragement allows employees to propose new ideas and measures for operational improvements. The proposals striving for improved efficiency of production and paperwork topped the list, followed by industrial safety and hygiene. According to a recent survey, the number of proposals submitted for a year amounted to about 4,000 cases per company and 12 cases per person. The accepted proposals were 2,500 cases per company and seven cases per person, or an acceptance ratio of 60 percent.

Career interest reports require each employee to submit a report stating his or her own career development interest as well as self-appraisal of his or her own performance. Of major companies, 45 percent practice this system.

Grievance committees consist of members representing labor and management. They endeavor to help solve grievances posed by individual employees about wages, placement and day-to-day operational matters, etc. Of major companies, more than 30 percent have this system. Matters of day-to-day operations topped the list, followed by those concerning wages and work hours.

Employee morale surveys are used to determine the level of satisfaction and loyalty of employees toward their companies as a whole.

Print Media

The print media of internal communication include periodic employee publications, pamphlets, brochures, handbooks, letters and bulletin boards. Among these, employee publications (internal publications) are both popular and effective in Japan.

The first internal publication in Japan appeared in 1903 with the title "Kanebo Steam Whistle" published by Kanegafuchi Spinning Co., Ltd. The first US publication of this kind was "The NCR" by National Cash Register in 1807, and Kanebo followed this precedent. However, it was after 1945 that we saw the rapid development of internal publications in Japan. As Japanese industries grew, the number of internal publications also increased.

Today about 6,000 Japanese companies have their own internal publications, that is, almost all large companies and a considerable number of medium-sized companies. The readers of these internal publications total 12 million and, if we include family members, more than 30 million people are possible readers of internal publications in Japan.

Japanese Publications at a Glance

The overall situation of internal publications in Japan is as follows:

1. Format

Magazine type--70 percent

Newspaper type--20 percent

2. Frequency

Monthly--50 percent

Bimonthly--40 percent

3. Section in charge

General affairs dept.--40 percent

Personnel and labor

relations dept.--22 percent

PR dept.--20 percent

4. Number of persons in charge

About 80 percent of the companies

have 1-3 persons, many of

whom have other duties.

5. Distribution

Mostly distributed at the places of

work, and mailed to outside readers.

In general, there is no charge.

Articles emphasized in Japanese internal publications are about business activities, information about the company, new products and techniques and opinions from employees. Hobbies, entertainment or labor problems are not emphasized. The company's business activities are treated with special emphasis because the management wants employees to fully understand the company's situation and to express their opinions actively, and then to ensure that management and employees work together as a single body for the prosperity of their company. Results of readership surveys show that efforts of editorial staff along this line have achieved great success. I am convinced that internal publications are effectively fulfilling a role to serve as the driving force of a company's progress.

If the management and employees exchange opinions about the company's outlook and operation through the forum of internal publications, they certainly serve their inherent purpose. I want to call such internal publications "participating internal publications." I believe that this kind of internal publication will be one of the ideal publications in the future.

Audio-visual Media

Audio-visual media include videos, film, slides, telephones, electronic mail and satellite TV. Recently videos have become more popular. The method of using videos in Japan for employee communication is to produce a video tape about once a week, running for 10 to 20 minutes. Communicators record company news, information related to business and training and recreational information, and run the tape at morning meetings, lunch time, or after office hours. An increasing number of companies now have their own studios for producing video tapes, and are equipped with video cameras and editing machines. They also have specialized personnel and carry out their programs very actively.

What's Ahead?

Last, I should like to share my thoughts on how communicators should prepare themselves for the coming years.

Communicators should actively promote communication activities, with presidents as heads, so that they will play the part of a driving force for the progress of the company. Communicators must acquire sound knowledge about the management of the companies to which they belong. They must properly anticipate the trends of the times with foresight and the ability to collect information. They must cultivate planning capability as well as the ability to express and energetically engage in their job.

To achieve all this, it is important for communicators to associate with those of different companies, to educate themselves by attending seminars of various kinds, to read books and to improve their own professional skills.

And communicators should enter into the public, observe lifestyles, collect opinions and pass on requests to the company. Then communicators should attempt to influence the public. This way of "walking together with the public and informing about our position in the world" will become more and more important in the future.

The greatest joy of a communicator is to see his or her communication activities received with responses that will spread to larger areas. Such response-motivating communication activities are indeed what business communicators are all striving for.

Tamotsu Murabe is chairman, The Society for Study of Corporate Communications, Tokyo, Japan. He is an IABC Chairman's Award recipient.
COPYRIGHT 1990 International Association of Business Communicators
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Title Annotation:includes related article on Japanese female corporate presidents
Author:Murabe, Tamotsu
Publication:Communication World
Date:Dec 1, 1990
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