Random Sauces From All Around The World
“Ho-ren-so” stands for Hokoku (report), Renraku (communicate or touch base), and Sodan (consult or discuss). This abbreviation refers to one of Japan’s fundamental business communication techniques and is taught to new hires as soon as they join the Japanese workforce. Foreigners who have business dealings with Japanese also find it ideal to educate themselves with the concept of ho-ren-so.
The Concept of Ho-Ren-So
Just what is ho-ren-so all about? It is a collaborative process between two people for the duration of a project. For example, this can be practiced by a subordinate and an employer, a client and a supplier, a manager and an employee.
Ho-ren-so generally begins with a request, which is the foundation of the assignment. The requestee, who is designated with completing the task, may start by creating an initial proposal, outline, or a rough draft, and shares it with the requestor. The requestor analyzes the presented information and provides feedback and critique to the requestee, who then takes the input in consideration and further refines the draft or proposal. He then presents it again to the requestor. This collaborative process goes on until the project has been fine-tuned and finally completed.
The Difference with American and Japanese Business Customs
Ho-ren-so is an innate practice within the Japanese workplace and the Japanese find it natural and even necessary for a project to be passed back and forth between requestee and requestor, from its conceptualization all the way to its completion. People from many other countries, such as the Americans, may find this process unnatural and think of it as micromanagement.
In an American business setting, a project request usually provides explicit instructions, and the worker or requestee feels he has enough to go on in completing the project without having to keep consulting the requestor. The requestor may not also feel the need to keep checking on the requestee since he would have given clear and detailed instructions.
This goes to show the big difference in business customs between the Japanese and the Americans. The Japanese rely on teamwork while Americans focus on independence. Of course, neither is “better” than the other since it is all a matter of perspective and how it is implemented in a scenario. But for Americans and other foreigners who are interacting with Japanese in business endeavors, it would be good to understand ho-ren-so, and perhaps even practice it to a certain extent if it can further improve the work relationship and standards of the project.
I guess the concept is to keep polishing/fixing things by discussing it with your peer or boss instead of trying to solve it alone; which a lot of time ends up with the problem being worse and not resolved. Or when training is taking place, you have to apply it so that your supervisor can assess what you know and do not so they can help you keeping up and work as a team.
Another insight by Rochelle Kopp
Recently I have been working on a book for a Japanese publisher, with a rather demanding editor. Each chapter has gone through at least one round of revisions, and on one particularly tricky one I’m working on my third round.
When I described this process to a group of participants in one of my recent seminars, everyone in the room groaned and I was asked “how can you stand it?” and “why don’t you just give up? Sounds like the editor will never be satisfied!”
However, the back and forth I am experiencing on this project is completely normal when working with Japanese, and tends to be viewed by them as something positive rather than as a negative. The key is understanding the different approaches to working superior/ subordinate or requestor/doer that are common in Japan and the U.S.
In the U.S., we are trained from the time we are children to “work well independently.” We expect to receive a detailed briefing from the person who is giving us an assignment, and then we will “take the ball and run with it” until completion and delivery. It’s not typical to do much checking in mid-way, and asking too many questions could make you look like you don’t really know what you’re doing.
In contrast, the method taught to most Japanese during new employee training is called ho-ren-so, which is short for hokoku-renrakusodan— in other words, report, touch base, and discuss.
In the ho-ren-so way of working, the initial instruction given is typically rather general or vague. The person who has received the request then goes and does some initial
research, thinking, or planning. He then returns to the requestor with a plan or an outline or a first draft. The requestor then reacts to this with some input, usually in the form of corrections or other negative feedback. In some cases, this can be a myriad of corrections in red ink, or as in the case of my book project, a request to go back to the drawing board.
Then, over the life of the project, this pattern repeats itself. The person doing the work approaches the requestor to bounce something off of them, ask a question, or get their input. The back and forth occurs multiple times over the course of the project, so that the entire process is truly a collaboration between the two.
Japanese take it as a given that ho-ren-so is a good way of working and that it is common to people from other countries. They often expect their American colleagues to do ho-ren-so, without realizing that it’s not natural to them. They also fail to recognize that for many Americans, the back and forth of ho-ren-so can feel like micro-management,
and that going back and forth multiple times to perfect something can feel excruciating.
A Training Technique
From the American perspective, the multiple corrections in the ho-ren-so process can feel like demeaning criticism, or a form of torture. However, from the Japanese perspective they are a training technique. It’s similar to the karate teacher who demonstrates a correct way of doing a certain kick, then walks around the room monitoring the students, giving corrections to those who haven’t done it correctly. The person with the more knowledge gives the person doing the work a chance to do it on their own, then reacts to what they present.
This way of working is how young Japanese typically learn how to do their jobs. So it’s second nature for Japanese to work in this way. For example, many Japanese companies use a special format for reports called an A3, after the extra- large paper size that they are prepared on. Fitting all the necessary information into one page in the proper way is something of an art form. The way that young Japanese learn to do it is not by taking a course as might be done in an American company, but rather by trying to write them and then have them corrected by their supervisor, and repeating this process over and over again until they have absorbed how to do it.
The fact that someone would take the time to look at one’s work multiple times and make detailed…