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Online Seminar


July 28, 2011

April in Japan is closely associated with employees joining new companies.  April is also a time when new expatriate employees arrive atU.S.companies from parent companies inJapan.  Often expatriate management employees’ first responsibility is to evaluate their new subordinates under very different practices thanJapan.  After a few months upon arriving fromJapan, we often receive inquiries, such as “We would like to terminate employees with poor performance”.  When we ask reasons why they would like to terminate an employee, most say, “The employee performs badly.”, “The employee makes the same mistake repeatedly.” or “The employee does not meet the company’s standard.”  We often find insufficient evidence or lack of objective proof showing the employee’s inability to perform the essential job duties.  Likewise we also often uncover that, management has not provided necessary communication to make sure the employee is fully informed of management’s expectations.

Potential Issues behind Employee’s Poor Performance

Generally, it is necessary to consider two main issues when we review employee performance.

First, we should make sure the employee’s job duties are in writing.  If there is no written format clearly describing the job duties (known as “Job Descriptions” in theU.S.), it is very difficult for superiors (management) to identify what performance needs to be improved.   A Job Description is a document clearly written describing essential job functions of each position, job skills, knowledge, physical demands, work environment, education and work experience, and it is also a “tool” to assist communication between management and employees.  However, it is common to find a difference of understanding about job duties between an employee and his/her manager.  Many Japanese companies in theU.S.do not have Job Descriptions or they use old Job Descriptions, which are not consistent with current job duties, etc.  Does your company maintain current clearly written Job Descriptions?

Second, even if a Company has Job Descriptions on file, some explanation and communication between an employee and his/her manager may not be sufficient.  Management should not expect, “He/She should be able to understand without detailed explanation.”  It is the manager’s responsibility to provide a clear explanation of what should be expected and to provide on-going continuous coaching and guidance so the employee has every opportunity to succeed.  It is especially important that if performance needs improvement, management needs to clearly indicate what specifically needs to be improved and how it needs to be improved.  The discussion needs to be as detailed and concrete as possible. 

Also, management should put all information in writing whenever they speak to their subordinates about improving their performance.  This is an opportunity for management to improve communication with their employees.  Do employees and management at your company communicate often and effectively?

When we think back at the time of interviewing and hiring, another possibility is that the position does not suit the employee, and/or the company hired a person who does not possess the background and skills consistent with the Job Description.  When the company does not hire the right person for the job, the company must first consider maximizing the abilities of its current employees effectively in their current job or a different job before considering termination.  Termination should always be a last option.    

Management should ask themselves these points prior to considering discipline

Before providing oral and/or a written warning to an employee, management should ask themselves the following questions.

  • Were employees clearly informed about their job duties and did they understand their manager’s expectations?
  • If the company keeps Job Descriptions, does the company keep them up to date, distribute and review them with employees?
  • Was an explanation and guidance of an improvement plan clearly communicated with the employee?  How do I know the employee clearly understood the improvement plan?


To consider terminating an employee because of his/her poor performance is an employer’s choice.  However, we recommend making sure first if there are any potential issues contributing toward the employees’ poor performance.  For example, “What are the reasons the employee continues to repeat the same mistake?” and/or “Are there any other causes not in the employee’s control such as, internal inefficient procedures and systems?”  To minimize these issues, employers can take actions immediately by preparing Job Descriptions for each position reflecting job duties accurately or updating existing Job Descriptions. 

There are other various ways for employers to prepare and take measures.  We are planning to review the subject in the near future. April/May 2011.

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