To generalize or to specialize? This is one of the age old questions of career planning and personnel development, with strong advocates on both sides. Where does Japan tend to lean? Here, the generalist approach is typically favored, and there is a Japanese expression ‘Jinji Ido’ (personnel reshuffling) that’s common practice, especially in larger firms.
Jinji Ido is the practice of rotating positions, usually from as short as two, to as long as five years. These can be quite drastic, for example shifting from frontline sales into human resource management, then into product management and so on. They can also include sudden moves to different cities, countries or rotations into subsidiary or joint-venture companies. Often, the employee has little say in the direction of their next rotation, and is not aware of what the upcoming move will be until a couple of months or even weeks before their new assignment. On top of this, the rotation schedule follows the HR department workflow rather than project schedules, hence rotations happen en masse at one time in the year, which leads to personnel changes across key positions in projects.
The logic behind this practice is deeply rooted in Japanese corporate and employment culture and linked to the practice of lifetime employment. By having employees become exposed to different functions and sections within the company, they can better understand each moving piece, communicate cross-functionally. And when moved up into leadership roles, have a more rounded view of the business and respect for differences.
For prospective employers looking to hire Japanese talent, this system naturally presents both advantages and disadvantages. Below, I’ll share a few of both, as well as some tips on what to look for when hiring a generalized Japanese professional.