Rochelle Kopp: How Great Managers Thrive In Culturally Diverse Workplaces (Ep. #31)

Published on
May 11, 2021
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Building Better Managers Podcast Episode #31:  

If you want to scale your business, organization or company, listen to some very functional ideas to get started with your team. The more time we put into the right systems, the more creative we can be at work.

In this episode:

Meet Rochelle:

  • Rochelle is a management consultant who helps clients increase profitability and employee engagement through improved communication and working relationships in multicultural environments.
  • She is currently focused on helping Japanese companies be more successful in their global operations providing cross-cultural and leadership training, executive coaching, organization development, and teambuilding.
  • She also works frequently with American firms that have Japanese subsidiaries, customers, joint venture partners, and suppliers.

The Importance of Communication

  • Cultural differences (even within the same country)
  • The 3 Levels of Listening
  • Mindfulness

3 Keys to Communication

  • Talk less, listen more
  • Don't let something be vague
  • Don't forget to apologize

Gender Challenges in Japanese Business Culture

Agile Concepts

  • The challenges transitioning from Command & Control approaches to Agile, self-managed teams.

Servant Leadership

  • Servant leadership emphasizes support for team members and creating an environment in which they can perform their best, rather than as you were saying about more the traditional Japanese culture, maybe command and control.
  • Servant leadership offers a really great alternative, particularly now that that so many jobs are knowledge workers, that your servant leadership style is really appropriate for managing employees who have high levels of skill, and don't need to be told what to do, but they need to be coached and encouraged.
  • Being able to learn some coaching skills and standing back and letting people use their strengths is like the coach to an Olympic athlete - the athlete has the talent, they're the one who's performing, but you as a coach are helping to create an environment where they can excel.
  • The framework from servant leadership includes a key concept called conceptualization, which is really all about creating and communicating a very clear vision.

Explain the 'Why'

  • What is our vision? What are we trying to accomplish?
  • In the past this may have seemed unnecessary because of the culture or the nature of the business, but today it is more effective to communicate these very clearly.
  • If your team understands the why, then they can really be more independent and know how to contribute.

Downloads & Resources

Follow Rochelle on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook. or at JapanInterCultural.com.

Subscribe to our podcast on your favorite podcast platform!

Check out our blog articles on Leadership here.

About Rochelle Kopp

Rochelle is a management consultant who helps clients increase profitability and employee engagement through improved communication and working relationships in multicultural environments. She is currently focused on helping Japanese companies be more successful in their global operations providing cross-cultural and leadership training, executive coaching, organization development, and teambuilding. She also works frequently with American firms that have Japanese subsidiaries, customers, joint venture partners, and suppliers.

View the episode transcript

Wendy Hanson  0:24  

I learned a lot from my interview with Rochelle cop, while you learn more about the Japanese culture and how we can work with them as American businesses and vice versa by talking less listening, more apologizing things that you wouldn't know unless you really heard it from an expert in Japanese culture. So enjoy the podcast. Welcome, everyone. The world seems to have gotten smaller and more expansive. So we're so much involved in global markets, no matter what business that you're in. And because we're virtual, it really has made a difference that we at BetterManager have clients all over the world, we coach in 12 different languages. And it really feels like it's a small world now. And we need to understand cultures in other countries to really be effective and be able to help people at their business. So I have a fabulous guest today, Rochelle cop who is going to really guide us in Japanese culture and how we connect be American and Japanese culture. So let me give a brief overview of Rochelle. She's a management consultant who helps clients increase their profitability and employee engagement through improved communication, and working relationships in multicultural environments. She is currently focused on helping Japanese companies to be more successful in their global operations, providing cross cultural and leadership training, executive coaching, organizational development, and team building. She also works frequently with American firms that have Japanese subsidiaries, customers, joint venture partners and suppliers. So welcome, Rochelle. I'm so delighted to have this conversation with you.

Rochelle Kopp  2:10  

Well, thanks so much. It's great to be here.

Wendy Hanson  2:12  

So start off by giving us a brief overview of the kind of work that you do and a little bit more about you.

Rochelle Kopp  2:20  

Oh, certainly. So I've been doing things in between Japan and other countries for basically my whole career and my whole adult life. I've been switching back and forth between Japan and the United States. And before the Coronavirus, spent about half of my time in each place. Currently, I'm sort of hanging out in Japan during the Coronavirus, period. And I'm really focused on helping people communicate better more across the cultural divide. And so I spend a lot of time helping Japanese learn how to be effective working with people from other countries, people from other countries, learning how to be effective working with Japanese. Oh,

Wendy Hanson  3:01  

that is great. Because we we need tour guides for these things so that we are really doing the right thing. And how did you get into this field? Or shall

Rochelle Kopp  3:10  

we know when I was in high school, my hobby was artwork, and I was fascinated by Japanese art. And I took classes in artists studio, there was a Japanese artists there. And she was really interesting. I grew up in Chicago at the Chicago Art Institute. There's a wonderful giloy collection. So I kept getting all these exposures to Japan. And then when I went to college, I decided I wanted to have a career in business. And I thought, well, if I learn Japanese that will be very useful for a business career. But also really fascinating from the culture and art side kind of kill two birds with one stone.

Wendy Hanson  3:45  

Oh, I love that, you know, we never when we look back on our life and figure out how did I get to where I am now. It's lovely to hear someone like you put the pieces together, how it started in art, and then move to business and then combined. Yes. I love By the way, the website, your website on Japan, you know, intercultural consulting, because it has a lot of Japanese words on there and explaining them. So it's a rich resource. We'll have you talk about that a little bit at the end. But I was very impressed with that my pronunciation is very poor on some of those words. So I was not integrating them too much into our podcast. So what what do you see as the key cultural challenges, you know, facing people from the US and other countries because that's interesting, because you've got you're bringing in companies from Europe to Japan, you've got other cultural issues, but what do you think are the primary things that you're seeing?

Rochelle Kopp  4:44  

Well, I think the biggest thing that comes up for people is communication. That for example, for Americans, we are very verbal and how we communicate. We are trained, it starts with showing towel to say what What's on our mind and sort of get it out there. And that's very different from Japanese who are not as verbal, don't always feel as comfortable expressing themselves and communicate a lot more through nonverbal means. And so what that means is that we often kind of drown Japanese people in talk, because we have trouble shutting up, basically. And on the other hand, Japanese may not say very much, and if we're not listening carefully, we might miss really important messages.

Wendy Hanson  5:35  

Yeah. So it's, it's important to listen for the nuance. And that goes for every in every culture, you know, listen to, we, when we teach coaching skills, we teach three levels of listening. And the third level of listening is really about listening to the energy like getting a feel for which means quieting yourself so that you can really listen to somebody else. Yeah, well, I find this even in the United States, you know, I'm on the East Coast now. And California has a different speed of things than the East Coast. And when I would work with clients in the past, down in Atlanta, for instance, you need to like really take your time to get into a conversation and don't rush in and New Yorkers have a bad rap for like just getting on to business. So when you take all those, and then you take all the other global companies and try to think of how do I work in Japan? That is a challenge. Wow. So we really have to understand this. And, yeah, and what are the challenges for the Japanese business people when working with people from other countries? How does that show up?

Rochelle Kopp  6:40  

Well, you know, it's interesting, because it's really, it's sort of the mirror image, because for Japanese, they need to put so much more in words, than they would if they were communicating with a Japanese person. And what Japanese say is that you when they're communicating with each other, they'll say, well, you need to read the air. Or you need to hear one and understand 10. So they have a lot of different expressions for this. And it's basically to us it would sound like ESP, but it's picking up on all those subtle signals. And if everyone around you was really good at doing that, it means that you don't really have to communicate so proactively, that other people will, will maybe look at you. And I'll just give you an example. One time I was visiting a Japanese friend, and I hadn't been to their home before. And I was there for brunch. And I've been there for a while we're hanging out and talking. At some point, I realized I needed to use the restroom. And I realized I didn't know where the restroom was in their home. And we were sitting there and I just my eyes kind of darted around the room. And his wife immediately said, Oh, the bathroom, it's over there. I'm like, all I did was move my eyes. And she read my mind. It was sort of amazing. But you have so many things that happened like that with Japanese because they're very attuned to other people. And so what this means is that they're not always good at proactively expressing things or asking for things. But if they're dealing with people from many other countries like the US that are more verbal, they have to work a lot harder to get their message across. And they often find that difficult.

Wendy Hanson  8:31  

Wow. And that makes me think about people in the US maybe need to use some mindfulness techniques in order to right get ready to have conversations with people so that they are more in tuned, because when you said read the air, that's so much like when I was speaking about read the energy, you know, in a listening way, right, right. It's like you it's it's the story behind the story. Wow, that's fascinating. Yeah. And what are what are like three of the most important things that one would need to remember. So one is really being attuned, and being quiet, like less words. And really,

Rochelle Kopp  9:09  

I always, yeah, I always say talk less, listen more. Right? So number one, talk less, listen

Wendy Hanson  9:15  

more. What's another one? That is that comes up all the time.

Rochelle Kopp  9:19  

Oh, that comes up all the time is don't let something vague. Just sit there don't don't because what'll happen is sometimes Japanese when they're expressing things. They're not very clear. Because again, they're not used to having to spell things out. And a lot of times I see Americans who just they they get some vague information or instruction, and they're like, Oh, well, I suppose it means whatever and then just go with that. But maybe they misinterpreted it. So I always say to clarify or confirm something that seems vague.

Wendy Hanson  9:59  

Yes. Don't make an assumption to sing. Right? Yeah. Don't make an assumption. Make sure that you slow down and check it out. Yes. So that you're all on the same page. Is there another one? So we have talk less, listen more, don't keep things vague. Like clarify, when you hear something, what would be the third one? Okay, this

Rochelle Kopp  10:19  

is gonna sound counterintuitive. But don't forget to apologize.

Wendy Hanson  10:25  

say more about that. That sounds like a lot of stories behind it. Yes, it

Rochelle Kopp  10:30  

has a lot of stories about it in American culture, when things go wrong, we tend to be very defensive. And we start talking about all the things that cause the problem that weren't us, then we're outside of our control. So if we are late getting somewhere, we'll say, Oh, you know, there was terrible traffic on the highway, and not really talked about the fact that probably we could have left earlier. Right. And that is irritating to know and for Japanese. And so they, among Japanese, they apologize a lot. And if you are if you caused a problem, or even if you didn't cause a problem, but you might be causing a problem. It's a kind of a natural, kind of, sort of like the grease of conversations with Japanese and to apologize. And so if I'm writing a business email to someone, I might start it off and say, I'm very sorry, sorry for this sudden communication, or apologies for the sudden request, right? So sometimes I'll get emails from Japanese and it will start apologies for the sudden communication. And they're asking me to give a speech or write an article or do some work, which I certainly welcome, Michael, am I so as American I'm always like, why are you apologizing for that? I'm very happy to hear from you without that, but it's just almost a stock phrase in Japanese.

Wendy Hanson  12:04  

Yeah. And it's what I take from that

Rochelle Kopp  12:07  

is to it.

Wendy Hanson  12:08  

Yeah. is it's very respectful. It's it's not the kind of Yes, apology that I'm sorry, I did something wrong. It's out of respect that I say, Oh, I'm sorry for this sudden communication. And is it? Is it more appropriate to say I'm sorry? Or is it more appropriate to say I apologize? Is there either one that is more?

Rochelle Kopp  12:31  

Either one works? Either one? We're either ones fine? Yeah. Okay. I had a participant.

Wendy Hanson  12:38  

One of my seminars, who worked for a very traditional Japanese bosses said her boss told her picture, you apologize three times in the email? Wow, apologize three times. Okay. That's something that we really do need to be aware of women in the US often get chastised that but my too strong a word for always saying I'm sorry, even when they didn't do it. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. So we're probably that would be a cultural thing. It would be much easier for women to be able to deal with this and be respectful and in those situations. Yeah.

Rochelle Kopp  13:15  

Yeah. Those apologies that American women do are more similar to what Japanese do with themselves. Yeah.

Good sounds.

Yeah, it works.

Wendy Hanson  13:26  

on your website, I really loved that you had the Japanese business etiquette guide. And and you had all of the things that you should really think about that what the first one that I looked at was the joy of giving, you know that that is really part of the culture, it's such a great resource, or what are the highlights from that? And then people can go on the site and look at it afterwards.

Rochelle Kopp  13:48  

Alternately? Well, I think one thing that people always interested in is the gift giving, because they've probably heard the Japanese do that. And you know, now we're not traveling, but when you are traveling again, and if you're going to Japan, bringing gifts is really, really important. And it should be a gift that is representative of your area. So if there is a popular shop that makes nice candies, or mixed nuts, or my us basis, California, so I often get dried fruits, things like that are very welcome them things that are edible, but something that is representative of your area.

Wendy Hanson  14:32  

Okay, great. So it is so interesting that the types of gifts need to really show off the area that you're from and it really is more respectful to be able to do that. And I love that that's that's a great thing like the some of the examples you have in there were see's candies in California, which are very famous and yeah, no matter where you're from, and we started to talk a little bit about Japanese women and what do you say are the challenges that Japanese women are facing now? And there was a piece on the website to about women like behavior, you know, is highly valued in the Japanese culture? And how do you, you know, move up to positions in leadership when you have there's different expectations?

Rochelle Kopp  15:18  

Right? Well, I think it's very important to keep separate sort of water issues for American women with dealing with Japanese versus issues for Japanese women. And when I talk with Japanese women, a lot of the issues for them have to do not so much with sort of outright discrimination, but more of the fact that the workplace is really set up for men. And so if you are a working mother, it's very, very difficult to balance that with a responsible full time job in Japan. Because there are many meetings that start late in the day, there's business entertaining in the evenings. And so schedule wise, it becomes very, very difficult. And so I hear a lot of those challenges from Japanese women. If you're an American woman dealing with Japanese, you know, you're not part of that environment. So that's not so much of an issue.

Wendy Hanson  16:17  

That's so interesting, because, yeah, that you say the, the whole kind of business system is not set up for women, because you would be entertaining, even in the evening is such an important part of doing business. And if you're trying to raise a family, yeah, that's just really tough. Wow. And what about American women that go over there, they may not be held to those same standards. But there's the piece about speaking up and speaking out? How does that show up?

Rochelle Kopp  16:45  

Well, you know, it's a little bit it's, it's, it's, we want to be careful about this. because on one hand, I always tell my clients, you know, you need to be yourself. And if you're there in a business situation, to be sharing your expertise, and there's an issue, you need to be able to talk about it. So I don't ever want to tell people to not not do their thing, right? You need to you need to do your thing, what you're supposed to be there and then be too if you're too worried about, oh, how are they going to act because I'm a female, then then that's going to cause issues because basically, if a Japanese person is working with you, they're much more conscious of the fact that you're not Japanese than the fact that you're female. Right? And so I don't, you know, I don't usually when I'm working with Japanese, I don't usually feel like they're treating me differently, or expecting something differently. Because I'm female, I just get more of their reactions to me as a non Japanese person, right. On the other hand, I will give an example. I had a client that I worked with, who was an American woman, and she had partially grown up in Germany, which has a very, very direct culture. Right. And so I kind of opposite from Japanese in the in the directness of their culture. And when I watched her interact with Japanese, I could see that it just sort of rubbed them the wrong way sometimes that she was so blunt about things. And I think that would have been a problem also if she were a man. But it also I felt like it was maybe even somewhat more of a problem because she was female. Because the being it was it was almost abrasive. And so having a woman be so abrasive was I just felt like that was probably made it extra problematic from the Japanese standpoint. Yeah.

Wendy Hanson  18:49  

Well, that could be problematic in the American business situation, too. If you're too abrasive. You don't always get what you want, especially as a woman, unfortunately, there's a different standard.

Rochelle Kopp  18:59  

Yes, yeah. No, I think it's very similar in that sense. To what we have in the US, we were where there is a little bit of a different standard. The same is true in Japan. Yeah.

Wendy Hanson  19:10  

Interesting. And, you know, you've begun to focus a lot on leadership. It sounds like lately. So how did you start focusing on on leadership in your work, Rochelle?

Rochelle Kopp  19:21  

Well, you know, I'm doing a lot of work with Japanese companies up operations in the United States, and seeing the challenges that Japanese managers have when they came from Japan to the US and we're managing Americans. And I realized that a lot of it had to do with their leadership behaviors. And particularly their I saw a lot of challenges with sharing a clear vision and giving effective feedback. Which if you think about it, those posts relate to the you're expressing yourself type culture in words right? And so I got really interested in how can I help Japanese be more effective when they're outside of Japan, managing people from other cultures. And so then I really got interested in leadership and how leadership techniques can help. I've also more recently been doing some interesting work, looking at how Japanese companies can adopt agile software programming.

Wendy Hanson  20:22  

Interesting. Tell me a little more about that.

Rochelle Kopp  20:24  

And I big did. Sure. So I did a big project with Microsoft a couple years ago, that they had someone on their team who was charged with encouraging Japanese firms to do agile and DevOps, which is a more advanced type version. And he was running into a lot of roadblocks trying to help Japanese companies adopt agile. And he happened to see a tweet by one of the founders of the Agile Manifesto. And that was analyzing which cultures could more easily adopt agile, and Japan was listed as the most difficult culture don't adapt to agile. And so he said, apply better find a cultural expert to help me and someone introduced him to me. And we came up with you kind of some concepts in a workshop, to help Japanese companies address the cultural environment in the firm to make it easier to adopt the technical aspects of agile. And part of this was the leadership approach. Because when you are doing agile, you want to be getting a self managed team. And the traditional Japanese management style tends to be very much micromanager, command and control type approach. And so if you've ever managers managing like that, it's gonna be very hard to get your true agile environment.

Wendy Hanson  21:57  

Wow, that is fascinating. Yes, I can see where that would bump into each other. Yeah. And you've, and you've expanded looking at servant leadership, there was a piece I read on the site to about it's a popular concept in Silicon Valley, which we're talking a lot about it. Now, when you and I prepped a little bit, it was so interesting, because it's been a concept around for years and years, but it's raised its head again. And servant leadership emphasizes support for team members and creation for an environment in which they can perform their best, rather than as you were saying about more the traditional Japanese culture, maybe complaint command and control. So how is servant leadership showing up right now in businesses in Japan?

Rochelle Kopp  22:44  

Well, you know, it's I, I've been doing a lot of seminars and then work on this topic. And I feel that there are a lot of Japanese managers who are looking for a different model for how to be leaders, is they look at the managers that they've had themselves in the past. And they say, I don't really want to be like that. But they're lacking a concrete idea of Okay, what else is there? How else could I manage? And I feel like servant leadership offers a really great alternative to them, particularly now that that so many jobs are knowledge workers, that your servant leadership style is really appropriate for managing employees who have high levels of skill, and don't need to be told what to do, but they need to be coached and encouraged.

Wendy Hanson  23:41  

Yes. What quite a different style, then we tend in the US to be I use the expression to tell a Holic society, you know, we like to tell people what to do. And really being able to learn some coaching skills and standing back and letting people use their strengths. That's a great piece of servant leadership.

Rochelle Kopp  24:01  

Mm hmm. I always tell clients that, you know, it's really like the coach to win the Olympic athlete, that the athlete has the talent. They're the one who's performing but you as a coach are helping to create an environment where they can excel.

Wendy Hanson  24:18  

Yes, yes. Wow. It's so

Rochelle Kopp  24:21  

that's really what alert servant leadership should be doing. Right?

Wendy Hanson  24:24  

Yeah, helping people Excel and helping bring out their strengths. One of the things we talked about a lot of BetterManager and and really one of the foundations that we were built on was a Google project. doxygen, which was a research project for managers, especially an engineering back about 18 years ago, found that what they thought was going to be important that bet your manager needed to have a lot of content knowledge, you know, be very specific in that way. And the most important trait that people were looking for in a good manager was to be a good coach. Which really fits totally into the servant leadership piece? You know, how do we help people that really do good work, excel at what other components are there when you think of it when you're teaching now about servant leadership as a new concept, maybe to the Japanese. So there's the piece about helping people use their strengths and standing back a little bit, doing some coaching Anything else?

Rochelle Kopp  25:24  

Well, you know, I use the framework from the guy who came up with the servant leadership concept. And one of the key things he has in there is called conceptualization, which is really all about creating and communicating a very clear vision. And that's something that traditionally in Japan, Japanese leaders weren't always so good at. Because people in the past always worked for the same company for the whole career, you would just kind of absorb what the mission was through us, Moses. And it didn't need to be stated explicitly in words. And again, that's that Japanese culture of read between the lines and soak it up somehow, right? Now, people are changing firms in Japan more, not as much as the US but more. But also then Japanese firms are hiring people from other in other countries, and they're expanding around the world. And they need to be managers need to be a lot more clear about well, what is our vision? What are we trying to accomplish? So that's something I've really been stressing with people.

Wendy Hanson  26:31  

Yeah, it's, it lines up very well with the, I'll call it the American concept, which which managers need to really work on is always explaining the why, you know, Simon Sinek, co-wrote a whole book on that about the why, if you if you understand the why, and in this case, you're a great example of seeing the vision, then you can really be more independent and know how you can contribute. But if you don't have that, it really is tough.

Rochelle Kopp  26:57  

Exactly, exactly. So yeah. And I find in Japanese culture, that for the vision, and for lots of other things, Japanese tend to leave out the explanation of the why. Because traditionally, in Japan, will just everyone knows it, and it's just kind of in the air. Right. So getting used to explicitly explaining the why and doing it skillfully is a new skill set I find for most Japanese managers.

Wendy Hanson  27:26  

Yeah. Wow. Well, we we still need to work on it in the US and around the world. And, you know, from what I am experiencing, and hearing from all of my coaches, that that why is still a big challenge that people just step over sometimes. And so it's a universal issue that we all need to work on. explain the why, yes. And conceptualization I like that. So is there anything that I should have asked you, but I didn't, Rochelle. If not, I think that people can find so many different resources on the website? Why the if people have questions, or they want to learn more about what you're doing, and the organization is doing, what's the best way for them to

Rochelle Kopp  28:08  

do that? Okay, so they should definitely take a look at our website, we actually redid it recently. So I'm really glad that you'd like it. And we designed it to have a whole lot of resources with literally hundreds of articles. And so almost anything that you can think of that you're wondering about related to Japanese, we probably have something about it on there. Yeah. So and what is the website? Oh, it's www Japan intercultural calm.

Wendy Hanson  28:38  

Japan intercultural caldaro

Rochelle Kopp  28:40  


Wendy Hanson  28:42  

okay, great. And we'll put this in the show notes. But for people that are listening, and they want to get on there, there's, there's a lot of free articles, there's a ebook you can sign up for. It is really a good treasure trove of information, whether you're in the US wanting to do business with Japan. And what's one hint if you are, because we talked about establishing relationships, but if you're an American company, and you're seeking to work more in Japan, is there is there any small piece of advice you would give there?

Rochelle Kopp  29:14  

So this is for someone who hasn't started working there who hasn't started working there yet. Okay. So I would do it for an American company, I would recommend two resources in the United States. And one is there's a part of the Japanese government called Jetro, j e t r o. And they have offices in various cities across the United States, I want to say about half a dozen of them, so sort of one in each region. And so I would look for the one in the region near you, because they have specialists there who can give advice on entering the Japanese market. So they're, they're kind of I don't organization devoted to promoting trade between Japan and other countries, and they really I encourage investment in Japan and for American companies to be becoming suppliers to Japanese firms. So they're a great resource and their help, it's free. So that's nice. Another great organization is across the United States in most major cities, there's either a Japan society, or a Japan, America society. And depending on the city, it only be what what name it is. But those organizations, and I'm on the board of the San Francisco ones, I'm a little biased, but those organizations offer really terrific programming, and a way to network with Japanese businesses in your local area. So it's a good way to start learning about Japan and connecting with people.

Wendy Hanson  30:48  

Oh, those are two great resources, because that's what I thought of as we've gone through this interview, really, if you The first step is really important, because you don't want to mess that up. So really getting some knowledge, you know, and being introduced is probably something that's really important. You know, you've got to be respectful. So Well, thank you, Rochelle. This has been so enlightening. And I hope that our listeners have taken a lot away from this and can go to your website and learn more. So thank you for taking the time with me today.

Rochelle Kopp  31:19  

Okay, well, thanks so much for having me on. Really enjoyed it.

Wendy Hanson  31:22  

Yes. All right, everyone, have a wonderful day and be global out there. There's a big world and a lot of business you don't have to stay local, be global and and understand that our virtual world is really going to help us expand and in so many good, wonderful ways. Have a wonderful day.

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