Micro-managing is a delight or a crime?

Who wants to be pampered in a ryokan or having fine sushi, lovingly crafted by the masters at Jiro? (Answer: Everyone)

Jiro is meticulous in preparing his sushi, from selecting the finest fish at Tsukiji market to using only the most premium of rice — rice that even the Four Seasons Tokyo cannot get their hands on. Let’s not forget that he massages his octopus to make them soft and tender. And here I thought only humans (and their pets?) get massages…

Now many of you will be thinking of the almost food-pornography-like sushi that you watched in Jiro dreams of sushi. I’m going to burst your bubble.

This attentiveness and meticulousness that the Japanese has, has its drawbacks. Micro-managing is the norm in the Japanese corporate world and with that comes a whole host of problems.

I’ve personally worked at a Japanese IT Consulting firm and trust me — getting micro-managed to the point of this. Yes, literally “this shouldn’t be in bold” was what I was told when I submitted a draft of the report to be reviewed. Instead of looking at the content and overall flow of the draft, the first thing my Senior Consultant pointed out was the style of the text. And not just the text styles that the Japanese are concerned with, they’re also concerned with your choice of color for powerpoint decks.

Many of my friends have similar experiences. During summer where the ground is scorching and the cicadas are screaming, you can only wear short sleeves shirt to work when your company announced it via email. Wearing one day earlier is unacceptable. Shocking isn’t it? The only time when you were told what to wear was probably in primary school by irritating Mrs Lim :)

It is no wonder that they’re missing out on the big picture for they’re too busy micro-managing you. By big picture, I mean Japan’s economy being in doldrums, Japanese companies being unable to compete in the world stage and famous brands like Sony losing their cachet. But that is another post for another day.

The big question here is: To micro-manage or not to micro-manage.

My insight, as a foreigner who has worked at a Japanese consulting company is to do both! You can micro-manage all the small details in order to bring delight to your customers. I certainly love it when my full name was hand-written on the welcome board of my ryokan.

But please skip the micro-managing internally. Try not to do it on your employees. Instead, empower them to do tasks autonomously and with ownership. You can usually expect work of a higher quality in that way.

Micro-managing is a double-edged sword. A delight or a crime? I’ll stop here and leave it up to you to figure it out. *Tries hard not to micro-manage you*

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