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OM in the News: Harada–How America Can Fight Against Low-Cost Labor in China

November 1, 2011

Norman Bodek has visited Japan 78 times to study the Japanese continuous-improvement philosophy. On his most recent trip Bodek met with Takashi Harada, who has developed the ultimate recipe for competing against low-cost labor in China and India. The Harada Method, reported in IndustryWeek (Oct.25,2011), is one part monozukuri (or product excellence) and one part hitozukuri (or people excellence), and is steeped in respect for people. The Harada Method is designed to help shop-floor workers develop their skills and capabilities–on their own.

The key, says Bodek, is “self-reliance”, where “you, the worker can make a decision for yourself and your company and for your customer that is right. This is missing in so many American corporations. You call a company and the first thing you get is ‘ This call is being recorded’ . Why are they recording it? They don’t trust their people, and they don’t empower them to be trusted”.

The Harada Method, already taught to 55,000 managers at 380 companies in Japan, is enormously popular there because Japan (like the US) is struggling to compete with low-cost labor in China and other emerging economies.

Through the method, workers are encouraged to pick a skill that they’d like to master, and to set goals to help them accomplish it. Employees write down their goals, create a step-by-step plan to attain them, measure themselves against their goals and receive feedback and guidance. To achieve hitozukuri, managers provide lifelong training and mentoring of employees. “What I’m trying to do is get American mangers to focus on their people — recognizing that developing people doesn’t even cost you anything. It doesn’t”, says Bodek.

Discussion questions:

1. Compare the Harada Method to some of the  quality improvement philosophies used in the US.

2. How can ordinary people become heroes in their own lives, and how does this apply to the factory floor?

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