The HORENSO breakdown
The first day in a new company is always very busy.
You are introduced to your new colleagues but 10 minutes later you have forgotten all names but one. Then someone else will show you the company facilities like meeting rooms, showrooms, warehouses, kitchenettes, restrooms, and obviously the most important one, your desk. Next stop, speak to the accountant. Last but not least, a manager will explain you the company rules.
This sounds like a normal first day in every company in the world - except that during the company introduction meeting I was asked the following question:
“Do you know what HORENSO means?”
Being familiar with Japanese I immediately thought - “is he asking me if I know spinach?”
What a strange question for the first day at work.
But maybe if you eat spinach like Popeye you will be healthy and be able to work longer and better??
Obviously, as I was to find out later, I had completely misunderstood the meaning. HORENSO (報・連・相) refers to a very important concept of information flow. In particular in the IT sector, numerous projects are always underway and daily technological advance demands high quality feedback and prompt action. In such an environment, I believe HORENSO is an extremely effective method.
(In this case the word HORENSO is the combination of 3 different words and stand for Hokoku (report) -Renraku (communicate) -Sodan (seek counselling).
It seems so fundamental - yet this idea is very difficult to put into practice not only for foreigners but also for Japanese.
Previously, I worked for a distributor of industrial inkjet printers and I was in charge of marketing it in the Asia market. When a machine broke down or a quality problem occurred, I was the key link between our company’s R&D, the manufacturer, our engineers, my overseas managers, and of course the client.
As you can imagine, speed of response is essential in customer service, and I quickly learned that the secret to keeping everyone happy is keeping everyone informed. And informed doesn’t always mean sending an email - a follow up phone call is at times essential to ensure you get the message across.
HORENSO often breaks down when
- You try to solve the problem by yourself: Either because you want to impress, or because you are too shy/embarrassed to report to your seniors. Beware, this undermines the whole system.
- You have not “communicated” properly: Sending an email does not conclude your communication. Did you call to follow up to ensure the person has read your email and agree on an action point? My colleague recently wrote an article on how the younger generation tends to rely on emails - don’t fall into this trap!
- You have made your own judgment before seeking advice: “This is a small issue and doesn’t require reporting.” No, a minor complaint can escalate very quickly into a big one if not dealt with properly. The key here is to share ALL information.
HORENSO is most commonly preached in Japanese companies, but as a formula for efficiency and professionalism, gaishikei companies can benefit from it, too. After all, they have just as complex projects, place just as much emphasis on quality, and have just as much need to focus on customer service.
Non-Japanese professionals hired by Japanese companies should definitely be aware of this, and Japanese job seekers moving onto gaishikei companies should be confident in applying the same principle in their new environment.
So….follow the “Horenso” eat Horenso and enjoy your new job!