Wednesday, March 23, 2011

This is Scary

Read this: Fukushima Engineer Says He Covered Up Flaw At Reactor #4 (Bloomberg News)  There are two interesting but diametrically opposite Japanese business concepts here.  One is the hardworking, obviously intelligent and well-trained engineer "company man" who goes above and beyond the call of duty to save his employer from imminent disgrace and bankruptcy, thereby resulting in much-sought-after recognition (and a big bonus) from same.  The traditional Japanese "salaryman" concept at its best.  The other concept is the much vaunted Japanese "circle of quality" management technique that we heard so much about in the 1980's.  (Some friends of mine literally made millions teaching it to western business leaders back then.)  "Japanese managerial style and decision making in large companies emphasizes the flow of information and initiative from the bottom up, making top management a facilitator rather than the source of authority, while middle management is both the impetus for, and the shaper of, policy." (Thanks, WP)  Thus, as I understand it, information from the trenches is supposed to ensure top quality, and the lowliest employee can halt things if they go awry.  So what happened here?  This is not so much a story of personal blame and personal redemption (the engineer fessed up after the Chernobyl debacle, and certainly wasn't the only employee involved in the cover-up) as it is a story about management failure.  And if this can happen with a nuclear reactor, it can happen with any product.