In the movie Gung Ho, a Japanese corporation reopens an American car factory; however, working side-by-side is harder than expected due to differences in culture. Differences in the workers levels of collectivism and individualism negatively influence the working relationships by creating conflict, lowering employee performance and satisfaction, and lowering organizational commitment. The Japanese workers expected American workers to conform to their ways and value the corporation over themselves. However, American workers expected their daily routines to be the same as they were before the factory closed.
At first, there was slight tension when American workers hesitated to perform team-building exercises before starting work. Conflict rose as American workers were told to do their jobs differently, not to listen to music, and not to smoke cigars. Employee performance, satisfaction, and organizational commitment are usually lower when individual and organizational values do not align. This is certainly depicted in the movie when an American worker receives a demotion due to a defect in the car he made.
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The worker says that every car cannot be perfect and it is the dealer’s problem. The Japanese disagree with him and explain that a Japanese worker will work all night, without pay, in order to fix a problem because he is loyal to the company. This concept is foreign to individualistic American workers because working for the good of the company is a collectivist value. One American worker suggests implementing an incentive program. This is more likely to motivate an individualistic American worker because the reward will benefit him personally.
Neutral vs. motional is one of the dimensions included in Trompenaars’ model that influences the working relationships between the Japanese and American workers. In Japanese culture, emotions are not openly expressed and do not play a large role in communication. On the other hand, American culture is emotional. It is important to understand differences in culture when conducting business in order to interpret behavior correctly. For example, when Hunt Stevenson traveled to Japan in hopes of persuading them to reopen the factory, his lack of cultural awareness lead him to conclude they were not interested because they showed little emotion.
America is a low-context culture and relies on spoken and written words to convey meaning while Japan is a high-context culture. This explains why Hunt was disappointed that the Japanese were silent after his business proposal. The difference between high and low context styles is also illustrated when Hunt and his wife Audrey join the Japanese executives and their wives for dinner. The Japanese women excuse themselves from the table when the men want to discuss business, even though they are not directly asked to leave.
Audrey is unaware that the men wanted her to leave and asked if anyone minded if she stayed. Since there was no response to her question, she assumed that they did not mind. This misunderstanding reveals how low-context communication styles differ from high-context styles. I believe cultural stereotyping and exaggerating cultural differences in cinema or other forms of mass media can negatively affect individuals’ understanding of culture. This is especially true for people that do not research other cultures and do not educate themselves on the topic of diversity.
Relying solely on mass media for cultural understanding can cause people to be less accepting of other cultures, form biases, and lead to discrimination. However, in order to contrast the differences between American and Japanese culture, the movie Gung Ho relied heavily on cultural stereotyping. By exaggerating cultural differences to the extreme, Gung Ho proved more entertaining than educational. For that reason, I do not believe this movie had a negative impact on individuals’ understanding of culture.
I really like well written business fables. In fact, the more of them I read, the more I like them. The messages are concise and easily remembered. The “story” element makes for a quick read. In simple terms, a good business fable has all the “sticky” elements that make a message last. Gung Ho! by Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles (of Raving Fans fame) is a shining example of a good fable at work.
The premise of the story is this:
Rising star Peggy Sinclair is tasked with the near impossible – turn around a struggling factory in less than six months. Enter Andrew Longclaw – a Native American plant foreman who teaches Peggy management lessons based on the key characteristics of three animals. In doing so, the duo is able to turn around the struggling business unit and spark a revolution that sweeps the country.
Sound far-fetched? It is, a little. But it’s also brilliantly written, loaded with “ah ha!” moments that are destined to revolutionize your life or business… if you give them a chance. That’s the wonderful thing about fables, of course – they encourage you to suspend disbelief and open your mind just long enough to capture a crucial lesson.
I would suggest there are nine core lessons in Gung Ho!, all addressing some form of engagement – getting yourself (and those around you) inspired in their daily activities. Gung Ho! teaches us that a winning attitude comes from being actively involved in worthwhile work with the right goals and values and the right recognition.
One great reminder in particular came out of this book…
The Big Idea
Who Comes First?
"Customers came right after the team members. The work of an organization is to look after customers, but the reason the organization exists in the first place is to serve the people who work there, as well as the community they live in."- Gung Ho!, page 54
Any activity you’re involved in (work in particular) is about the people who do it first and foremost. Customers are important, suppliers are important, but the mental shift should be towards providing an environment that empowers and instills passion in the people around you. Customers and suppliers are drawn to Gung Ho cultures. Build an environment that fosters motivated teammates and the success will follow.
The animals tie in like this…
Squirrels Have Worthwhile Work
"One of the fastest and surest ways to feel good about yourself is to understand how your work fits into the big picture. When you feel good about yourself, well, that’s the beginning of Gung Ho."- Gung Ho!, page 35
Squirrels gather nuts all day because they inherently understand that if they don’t, they won’t survive the winter. Their lives, and the lives of their families depend on them. That gives their work purpose.
What does your work provide to your life and the lives of the people around you – your family and community? Forget about dollars and cents for a minute. What are you and your organization contributing to the world? How do your specific actions factor into that purpose? If you don’t have an answer right away, I encourage you to take some time to discuss this with your co-workers, friends and family.
Blanchard and Bowles suggest that every job provides value to mankind in some way. What would happen if your role didn’t exist? If your industry didn’t exist? In Gung Ho!, the example used is of a dishwasher at a school cafeteria. Imagine that was your job. You could focus on the fact that you have a never-ending pile of dishes to clean, or you could focus on the fact that without your role the students would run a higher risk of contracting bacteria or disease from unclean dishes and utensils.
Every role has its purpose. What’s yours?
No Boss Beaver
"Grandfather said the Great Spirit painted a picture in the beavers’ head of what a perfect dam looked like, gave them a stream and some trees, and then put them in charge by leaving them alone."- Gung Ho!, page 80
Beavers are pretty cool creatures. If you ever have the opportunity to see them build a dam, I encourage you to take a few minutes to watch them in their work. There’s no “boss beaver” – no one giving direction or dictating how things need to be done. Instead, there’s a group of individuals, each working in their own way towards a predetermined vision of excellence. The next time you’re in a team setting, spend some time clearly defining your values and your goals, then get started. Don’t worry about precisely how you’re going to get there, and certainly don’t try to dictate it to your team (if you have one). People often times get too wrapped up in planning specific “how to’s” and procedure. Teams are best utilized when everyone is contributing, in their own way, towards one specific outcome. Most rules and regulations are simply second rate alternatives to a clear, collective vision.
There was one last animal in the fable that is absolutely worth a mention. The “Way of the Goose” is the third piece to the puzzle. Ultimately the way of the Goose is about encouragement and reward for committed people working on worthwhile tasks towards collective goals. While we don’t have time to go into it here, you can learn more about the “Way of The Goose” here.
I could spend the next six months talking about Gung Ho!, and if you’re in a leadership position, I absolutely encourage you to pick up a copy. For today’s purposes, we’ll end our discussion on two points:
- People are meant to be impassioned in their work. It’s part of our DNA to want to contribute to something larger than ourselves. There’s a good chance you’re already doing meaningful work, you just need to spend a minute reconnecting with what it is, and what you’re working towards.
- There are some great lessons in books out there, and we’re committed to bringing you the best of them. One of the best teachers, though, is the world around us. Go out with open eyes – really stop and watch a flock of geese, a tribe of beavers or children at play – and you’ll see there is an incredible lesson to be learned in virtually everywhere you go.
I wish you all the best in finding those lessons yourself.