Japanese work practices have possibly been responsible for more research studies than cars or computers. One recently published by Sussex University and Roffey Park examines which Japanese techniques do and do not work in the West. The study of 1,000 managers and staff at five electronics plants in Japan, Hong Kong, the US, and UK found that one eastern element is key in achieving quality - and it is easily transferable to the West. That is good planning and support at the supervisory level. This includes ensuring the right flow of raw materials, anticipating problems and being alert to new procedures. Work circles, which encourage worker input, are one means to this. But not all techniques transplant well. Peter Smith, of Sussex University, found that applying pressure on workers improved productivity in Japan, but had no effect in the West and, indeed, made the workers less co-operative. However, "pressure" in Japan is a subtle hint, and the culture such that the workers willingly submit. Here it can be a rough "pull your socks up" and the reaction unprintable. This is unlikely to change but does not mean the West cannot match Japan's productivity by other means. Besides, says Smith, quality is the key to out-performing - and we, too, can achieve this.
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