Language & Globalization:
“Englishnization” at Rakuten 2013
The issues, options & recommendations for Rakuten
Language & Globalization: “Englishnization” at Rakuten 2013 Issues
Accepting change: It was very difficult for most of the Japanese employees to adapt to this policy of changing organizational culture through cross border communication. They never realized that they have to learn a completely new language for the sake of globalization.
Performance linked with payment: The payment of Rakuten employees was linked to the TOEIC score. Moreover if they couldn’t score a particular score level, they will be demoted. This imparted a shock to the employees.
Less relevant: English would affect the promotion of sincere and hard working employees for whom English was of less relevance. Some employees who had to deal with locals (merchants etc.) like salesmen, even if they were good in their job and worked very hard for long hours, but if they didn’t learned English, they won’t get promotion.
Learning capability: Except for the minorities, all members, especially the senior members who were in their 40’s (and mid 40’s) felt that it was quite a tough task to learn a new language at their age. They felt some animosity towards English. Some felt humiliated that in their own country they had to learn a foreign language.
Poor negotiations: One of the major problems was that the
Englishnization led to poor negotiations within the company. One party’s relatively better English and 2nd party’s inability to express their
arguments in words led to acceptance of ‘not-so-good’ opinions
Demotivation and inferiority complex: Employees from all the departments like Human Resources, Finance, Developer, started suffering from inferiority complex, while others felt demotivated. Some employees thought that this just another way of laying off workforce.
Do-It-Yourself: Because of this policy in Rakuten, there was little individual guidance to the employees from the managers regarding 2
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Language & Globalization: “Englishnization” at Rakuten 2013 the learning of English. So, most employees had no idea where to start (either grammar or vocabulary) because they had no idea about their level.
Decreased productivity: All of these reasons directly affected the productivity of employees and Rakuten as a whole. Employees took much more time to compose a simple English mail instead of a Japanese mail. This increased the time and cost input and hence reduced productivity.
Englishnization has found some supporters in the form of enthusiastic & ecstatic younger workforce, exited foreign staffs and native speakers. Rakuten’s options were now increased, as the global knowledge was shared easily and the merchants were empowered. The executives in Japan could better comprehend the competitor’s strategies in U.S. Englishnization also gave Rakuten options to hire global talents because they incorporated English in every group they acquired. Some managers who were reluctant at first, later got to understand the motive behind Mikitiani’s vision. They understood that if Rakuten has to excel in the world, it has to adapt as it is positioned globally. Moreover, Rakuten got more media attention than ever because of the steps chosen by Mikitiani. The company got an image makeover in a good way in the market. Rakuten can easily encash the options that it had now for its long term planning of becoming no. 1 in Japan (and in
world). The start was good, but this has to be sustained by the endeavors of the employees of Rakuten. Only then can the company can achieve its goal.
Develop thinking capabilities: The long term vision of Mikitiani for Rakuten (and Japan) is justified, and so are the means to achieve it, i.e. by adapting organizational culture by cross border communication. Learning a new language, the one which is global, is the best way towards it. But the means of testing the acumen of English is wrong. Mikitiani gave every employee a deadline of 2 years to achieve a certain level in English. But the mental ability of every person is different in learning and adapting new things. The TOEIC score doesn’t necessarily justify the level one has in English. More importantly, the ease with which one can communicate one’s ideas and opinions across the table should be better criteria. For 3
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Language & Globalization: “Englishnization” at Rakuten 2013 that, one does not need to learn everything in a language. The thinking capability has to be developed.
No deadlines: Keeping a strict deadline would not help much; rather, this would only keep the employees in a constant state of tension. As the work hours and responsibilities of employees vary, so does the efforts put in by them. Not all employees can extract time from their schedule for English. The idea of deadline should be dropped. The employees should learn the language by will and not by force. Pressure can hamper the very basic fundamental of
Continuous motivation and practice: The employees should be
constantly motivated by the immediate managers. Instead of
leaving the employees to learn English on their own, the company should organize collective classes, where they can learn and understand in a group. The workforce should try and communicate in English whenever they are free or at job. Regular negotiation workshops and sessions should be organized by
Rakuten, where employees could gain confidence and become motivated.
Connect with the vision: They shouldn’t feel oppressed (as 31% of the native Japanese speakers felt as shown in exhibit 3) about learning English. Every employee should relate to (feel connected to) Mikitiani’s vision of globalization. Then only they will put their best effort to learn. As long as there are employees who are learning English just for the sake of staying in the company (survive the demotion/layoff), the objective wouldn’t be complete.
TOEIC score & demotion: This link should be banished as soon as possible. The ability to communicate during meetings should reflect the understanding of language and not the TOEIC score. The fear of getting demoted if the threshold score is not crossed will constantly be a matter of fear for senior employees.
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