The purpose of this paper is to trace the origins of “Japanese management” and explain how it was institutionalized. This historical overview aims to help readers to better understand and evaluate recent events and reforms.
The paper reviews the major literature of management history in Japan and conceptualizes these works into a framework of four main paradigms characterizing the production systems, behavioural elements, organizational structures and strategy of large Japanese companies.
Japanese management thought evolved in a developing nation and primarily in the manufacturing sector. The scientific management paradigm was dominant from the start of modern industry in Japan and its endurance is explained by its profound embeddedness in the Japanese business system. The need for change (e.g. in strategy) is identified, but as Japan has proved reluctant in the past to shift away from the efficiency concept, effecting reforms may remain difficult in the future as well.
The paper challenges readers to consider the future of longstanding Japanese management practices in an economy that is undergoing rapid change and is increasingly moving toward service and knowledge‐intensive industries.
The paper highlights the need to follow closely the current reforms and management trends in Japan, as they may lead to a decisive redesign of the traditional system more‐or‐less preserved since the Second World War. Following its logic on strategy, firms may reinforce their reorientation from pure cost‐leadership goals.
This paper deals with management history in Japan as the emergence of four basic paradigms, where the fourth is newly identified here. The paper will be helpful to academics who study management history as well as current management practices in Japan. Practitioners will benefit by understanding the roots and applicability of methods being currently used.
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