Glocalization 2: Global thinking is best done at the local level

Reylito A.H. Elbo

Reylito A.H. Elbo

TOKYO: Globalization theorist Roland Robertson argues eloquently about glocalization—a genius blend of words between “globalization” and “localization” which attracted the attention of many Japanese business people in the late 1980s. This buzzword refers to the simultaneous application of global thinking with the local tradition. After more than two decades, Robertson’s timeless strategy is still engraved in the hearts and minds of the vertically oriented and highly structured Japanese.

A case in point is Honda Motor—that prides itself for innovating with Asimo—the most advanced humanoid robot. In our visit to its headquarters in Minato-ku this week, we were told about Honda’s age-old management policy of glocalization that revolves around four major strategies: localization of manpower, localization of investment, localization of manufacturing and localization of management.

Clearly, glocalization is on the blueprint of Honda Motor’s key management strategies. That is, Honda continues to develop robust schemes to address key issues on generating local employment, reinvesting local money where it is sourced, building products close to the customers, sourcing of local raw materials, and hiring more local managers who understand the culture.

I’m pretty sure that Honda is not unique with its glocalization strategy. Like many businesses on this planet, Japanese or non-Japanese alike, adapting a global policy to harmonize with the local custom has become a remarkably persistent theory that applies to everyone regardless of one’s business or orientation.

There’s even cliché that tells us “when in Rome, do what the Romans are doing” except that many of us are still perplexed why the person who invented it has chosen Rome. Why not, Italy, France, Germany, the United States or Japan?

Anyway, you know what I mean if you’ve tried McDonald’s butter soy sauce fries. But I like Big Mac best when it is flavored by Kikkoman soy sauce, among the many applications of glocalization just to suit the taste, mood and spirit of Japanese people who are the basic target market, anyway.

One thing about glocalization is Nestlé Kit Kat. I’m not Japanese, but the mysterious thing is that I’m hooked to Nestlé’s Kit Kat Uji-Matcha—made of “finely milled, shade grown green tea powder used in tea ceremony.” I bet you can ask many foreign tourists, including my extended family circle, that they too swear by Uji-Matcha.

This is one thing I like Japan. They like their culture best than anyone on this planet. And they make their culture harmonize with the current dictates of the time or whatever should serve the customers best. Japanese businesses, like restaurants for instance, are often manned by happy and productive workers who multitask—greet customers, wait on tables, do cashiering, wash dishes and refuse tips.

Yes, Virginia, there’s no such thing as tipping in Japan for you to experience its hospitality. This is pretty close to heaven for a tightwad like me.

While this is not exactly shocking to me as this is my nth visit to Japan, still every visit gives me a refreshing experience as I come from a less developed economy where customers are expected to befriend their waiters and prepare to give generous tips in the hope that they won’t spit on your food.

Japan is predictable with its excellent service to customers even without tipping. They are impeccably clean, reasonably priced, and insanely simple . . . only if you follow the rules in English.

This is the second time that I’ve written about glocalization just to explain to you the meaning of “2” in our buzzword title. Yet somehow in the Philippines, despite the many success stories of organizations and their famous brands, many of us are having difficulties on how to do quality and productivity improvement. Maybe they are relative terms to different people.

But I guess the trick here is to define what a high- or low-quality strategy is to your target market. This means you have to be better than what the market could afford and understand along with some dimensions, including how to reconcile a global mindset with the local culture.

Being good to reconcile the best of both worlds—global thinking with the local custom often opens up new opportunities. Glocalization can help you to understand where the opportunity to do something different when the existing solutions are not helpful in providing mutual beneficial solutions.

Editor’s Note: This columnist is part of a 22-man delegation from seven countries who honored the invitation of the Japanese government to study its current labor-management relations system on the auto industry. The November 17 to 23, 2013, international program was done in partnership with the Tokyo-based Asian Productivity Organization and Japan Productivity Center in collaboration with the Development Academy of the Philippines.


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