The ideal of a leader varies by country. World Business Culture observes that leaders in China are seen as paternal figures who expect loyalty and obedience from their subordinates. In the Netherlands, on the other hand, the manager is not always “the boss,” and Dutch company structures are typically relatively flat, encouraging open and transparent communication. In some of my client work, I came to realize that this disparity in leadership styles brought about by local cultures and customs is also relevant to leadership in business and corporate social responsibility (CSR) practices.
I recently undertook some research for a client seeking to understand the CSR landscape in Japan and came away with a renewed sense of Japanese societal intricacies, as well as how they influence CSR practices. Core principles in Japanese society, such as longevity, resilience and harmony stand in stark contrast to traditional Western values like individuality and entrepreneurship—changing the way industry leaders are expected to add value to society. Here are few key takeaways regarding CSR leadership in Japan:
- It’s what’s on the inside that counts: Companies that actually reflect a value or a cause internally and externally are far more believable than those that just issue statements of support. If a company claims to value the LGBTQ+ community, and even markets its products and services to an LGBTQ+ audience but doesn’t take concrete steps to support their LGBTQ+ employees, that’s worse than doing nothing at all. IBM Japan, for example, not only claims to be an ally, but also established an “LGBT+ Ally Championship Practitioner” badge system for employees who actively promote LGBT+ awareness and understanding. This helped IBM Japan be featured in the 2018 best practice case study by work with Pride, a voluntary organization that helps companies promote and establish diversity management for the LGBT community.
- Focus on the local community: Global programs are exciting and bombastic, but if you want the program to be memorable, then it’s better to scale down to a more local community. Limiting the scope can often deepen the impact of an activity, yielding more tangible results. Those who benefit from an organization’s program are also more likely to become a champion of the organization and its CSR practices. In 2016, Lockheed Martin launched an education initiative to encourage female students to explore STEM through model rocketry as a hands-on approach to scientific experimentation and practical application of theoretical knowledge outside of the classroom. Now about to enter its fifth year, the initiative attracts more and more applicants every year—with some repeat applicants! Some students and teachers even continue their model rocketry activities beyond the initiative, resulting in more local coverage of Lockheed Martin’s activities. Lockheed Martin is an APCO client.
- Stick to what you know: The best CSR stories are those that link social responsibility programs to the company’s core business. The closer and more aligned they are, the more they resonate with audiences, both internal and external. Toshiba Tec supported sustainability by developing a product that also encouraged their customers to practice sustainability. Its award-winning, innovative printer sought to reduce paper usage through a process that decolorized ink, allowing users to reuse printer paper.
Ultimately, fundamental differences between cultures have significant impact on the way industry leaders are expected to take part in active CSR leadership. Although the principles mentioned above are not exclusive to Japan by any means, they are a product of the numerous cultural and economic characteristics unique to the market.