HŌRENSŌ is a basic rule for business communication which is employed by companies throughout Japan to ensure an efficient system of information sharing. The term is an acronym built of three words and stands for Hōkoku (報告) which means “report,” Renraku (連絡) which means “communicate,” and Sōdan (相談) which means “consult”. For Japanese people HŌRENSŌ is very effective as a mnemonic device, because it is also happens to be the word for spinach!
HŌRENSŌ is generally taught to new employees at Japanese companies as part of their orientation training, and for most Japanese people it is second nature to employ this system in their daily business dealings. If you are planning to work at a Japanese company or work with Japanese people, then it is a good idea to remember this rule, as it will facilitate a much smoother transition to Japanese working practices. Let’s take a look at each of these terms in turn and see how they are applied in practice.
HŌ – 報告 (hōkoku) – Report
Hōkoku is concerned with the regular reporting from subordinates to their superiors on the progress of each job. Junior employees, while dealing with a task set by a senior colleague, must keep their boss or manager regularly updated on the status of that task. How a job is going, when a job is done, if a problem occurs in the course of that job – all of these things should be reported to an immediate superior and any other colleagues whose work may be affected. In particular, any mistakes or problems that arise must be reported as soon as possible, because it is the senior colleagues who will assume responsibility for them.
REN – 連絡 (renraku) – Communicate
Renraku is concerned with the proper communication of simple facts between colleagues regardless of their status or rank within the company. This type of communication is not concerned with personal opinions, analyses, or speculations, but with important details that may affect the work of your team. Unlike hōkoku which is reporting from a subordinate to a senior colleague, renraku is the free sharing of important information between colleagues of all ranks. For example, if any problems or project delays arise, or if you are going to be late for a meeting, then you should immediately contact your colleagues and apprise them of such facts. That way they can quickly reschedule and adapt their own working itinerary to the new situation and there will be less disruption to the team as a whole.
SŌ – 相談 (sōdan) – Consult
Sōdan is simply consulting with senior colleagues when you have to make decisions in the course of your work. Although you may feel like the onus is on you to deal with each situation by yourself rather than bothering your superiors, Japanese business philosophy takes a different approach. Consultation between junior and senior colleagues is an essential part of group efficiency, which can be educational for subordinates and also deepen trust between colleagues within the hierarchical system. By asking for advice and for another opinion on a matter of concern, you will also cut down on time spent worrying about it! Of course if you feel capable of making a decision by yourself that is fine too, as long as you keep your superiors properly informed on that decision and on how it turns out. However, if you are not sure what to do, or if there are a variety of options open to you, then the proper course of action is to seek advice.
For non-Japanese workers who are not well-acquainted with the HŌRENSŌ method, it may seem time-consuming to have to report and communicate so much detail to your colleagues and superiors. Furthermore, when the HŌRENSŌ method is applied to problem-solving and decision-making, the emphasis on seeking advice rather than taking your own initiative may seem unnecessary and frustrating. However, in a Japanese business context collective decision-making is the norm, keeping people properly informed is essential, and being able to cooperate with the group is rated more highly than personal resourcefulness.
If you work at a Japanese company, then employing the three principles of HŌRENSŌ in your daily working practice will not only help you to carry out your work efficiently, but it will also ensure good working relations with your Japanese co-workers. So for your working life and general amity, remember HŌRENSŌ – and keep people informed!