July 1, 2007｜Russia
Interpreter / Lecturer, Irkutsk State Linguistic University
With its fast pace of economic development of late, all manner of things have been entering Russia from the leading industrialized nations. Even with that, it is clear that the production plants most affected by the long period of economic crisis and instability after the collapse of the Soviet Union are far below the international level. The young managers who had training abroad, naturally enough, through to the veteran managers who experienced the Soviet era also, have accordingly turned their attention to foreign styles of production systems. Production management systems to raise production efficiency are also attracting a lot of attention, not to mention things like the necessary ISO international standards in the area of marketing and sales activities. Of these, Japan’s production management systems, known worldwide, have gained popularity, and even in ordinary bookshops there are certain to be five or six such books on display translated from the English. I often go on factory tours in my work as an interpreter. These books also adorn the offices, there are also signs bearing slogans in the corridors, and even on the factory floor there are many indications of the introduction of Japanese production management systems.
In nothing more than my own individual impressions, however, it often seems to be the case that this activity is being undertaken only for the self-satisfaction of the managers and the employees are reluctantly going along with it with little interest, or otherwise it’s not actually being carried out, and doesn’t go any further than the signs put up. Why don’t the employees turn their attention to management production systems which have such a pleasant ring and have the effect of increasing production efficiency? Although in actuality I think there are a variety of complex reasons, I think this is because the roots of the “system,” for want of a better word, have not been understood.
In the employees’ way of thinking, the measures for achieving the objectives of the system raising production efficiency and lowering costs will make them work more, and will end up with the unnecessary people being laid off. In addition to that, there is also the notion that working your hardest, for wages which are anything but high, will be to no effect.
Under such circumstances, however forcibly the managers attempt a top-down introduction of a system, it will doubtless end in failure. Often when the managers talk about their troubles, they say, as not very well articulated reasons, things such as “It’s because Russians’ culture and mentality are different” and “It’s because the Japanese are a hardworking and sensible people”: yet here, I think, is where the managers’ own lack of knowledge seems to reside. Basically, even if improvements are undertaken, the “5S” methodology is employed, or some other in-vogue system is adopted, “improving the workers’ environment” has become one of the goals. Despite the workforce of Russia’s many factories being permanent employees, however, they are in a situation where they won’t be able to make ends meet if they don’t work part-time jobs or at the dacha. In such circumstances, even if they are told by their superiors to make improvements, they probably can’t follow through. Additionally, the sense of the importance of the workplace, or the sense of pride in the workplace, can be considered much weaker than in Japan.
I think it a good idea to regard not just the surface successful production, but also those things which sustain such production. By doing this, Russians will be like the Japanese, in that families will be able to live on their monthly salary for a month (at the least), and if they have the peace of mind of their company covering them in the case of the unexpected, they will probably be able to concentrate on their work, value their company more, and yield some leeway for making improvements.