Client Success Stories
Helping People Connect and Communicate Better in Pakistan
Mitsubishi Trading conducts training at its domestic and overseas offices and group companies to foster a better understanding of the Mitsubishi Group’s corporate philosophy, culture, and values. Called the Gateway Program, more than 500 people participate in the training each year. PFC delivers it in both Japanese and English, and 2,600 people have participated in it since its inception in 2010.
We recently spoke with Akihide Ando, Mitsubishi’s Country Manager in Pakistan, to learn how Mitsubishi rolled out the corporate Gateway program in Pakistan.
I know there are often many challenging aspects to running an office abroad, but what are the specific difficulties you’ve seen in terms of internal communication?
I like to characterize our company not as a multinational firm, but instead as a “Japanese company with global presence.” There still aren’t all that many companies with local managers, and we’re different from multinationals like P&G and Nestle where cross-cultural communication is integral to their every daily interaction. We are, in essence, a Japanese company. Instead of focusing solely on cross-cultural communication in the classical sense, we’ve made a point of instead teaching local staff about management and communication practices that are uniquely Japanese. This creates a stronger starting point for true mutual understanding and appreciation. I think the cultural gaps that we see are largely the same as those at any other Japanese company doing business abroad.
So, it’s cross-cultural communication, but with a strong focus on fostering true mutual understanding.
Exactly. Traditional cross-cultural communication programs tend to start with the assumption that one party’s culture is the “main culture,” and through training people from other cultures learn not only to understand that main culture, but also to style-switch and adopt it as their own. This highlights the differences and creates a sense of distance between people. Our approach encourages more of a two-way understanding and respect. Participants lean in and try to understand one other’s culture while also making efforts to help others understand their own way of doing things.
In addition to general cross-cultural communication concepts, the Gateway program gives Japanese participants hands-on practice explaining concepts such as enryo – things that come so naturally to the Japanese but are often very perplexing for non-Japanese. The program also allows participants to discuss their local practices for giving feedback, managing time and other common communications-related topics.
What do you feel are the benefits of bringing local participants to the Gateway programs run in Tokyo?
It can be hard for our local staff to feel like they belong to something bigger. Inviting them to the program in Tokyo provides them with the opportunity to experience the greater organization first-hand, learn our company’s history, and really start to feel like part of the Mitsubishi team. After completing the program, participants often comment that they didn’t realize what a great company they work for, or that they finally understand why they struggled with their colleagues in Japan. Hearing this made me want to bring other local staff from Pakistan to Tokyo for the program.
Since there is a limit to the number of people who can travel to Tokyo, Mitsubishi decided to roll out the cross-cultural part of the Gateway program locally at their offices in Pakistan. Justin Hollingworth, a senior consultant at PFC, facilitated the programs with a mixed group of local staff and Japanese expatriates. PFC tailored the global program to factor in challenges specific to the Pakistan offices.
I’ve lived a good part of my life abroad, so I don’t feel the cross-cultural challenges as much as other people might, but having local staff in Pakistan better understand how their Japanese counterparts think and how their local offices are appreciated by the Japanese has made business run so much more smoothly. They learn things like the importance of reading between the lines with the Japanese. Learning the reasoning behind Japanese concepts like uchi and soto and nemawashi and how they work in the real world seemed to explain a lot of past confusions for local staff.
The localized version of our corporate cross-cultural program focuses mainly on helping local country staff understand the mindset of their Japanese counterparts at headquarters. In the future it would be useful to develop a reciprocal version to teach Japanese staff how to better understand local country staff culture and business customs. Headquarters and overseas offices are often thought to be at odds, but the difference is actually just that they are looking at the business from different perspectives: headquarters views the business through a product strategy lens and the local offices view it through a partnership strategy lens. They’re just two teams digging the same tunnel from opposite sides. To that end, I think it’s important to have overseas staff become accustomed to Japanese business practices, learn how the Japanese think, and expand their network of connections within the company
PFC also heard positive comments from many of the local staff who took the program in Pakistan, such as: “I learned a lot about cross-cultural communication and found that the program offered many very applicable best practices that I can use,” and “When Justin left to return to Japan, I felt like I was saying goodbye to an old friend.”