Embrace change and do your research = Nemawashi

70543C47-98F8-4542-91F1-E67B830D3D02You are in the business of change. In fact, we are all in the business of change. We try to get customers to accept our offer. We try to get colleagues to support our cause. We try to get friends to join our Saturday dinner. Making change happen is what most of us do, most of the time.

But change doesn’t come easy. Change takes people from the familiar to the unknown. And perhaps the familiar isn’t that bad. So why take the risk?

Getting people to change takes effort. You can’t make important change happen by email. Instead, you have to pack your bags, walk the halls, talk to people, gather feedback and build support.

I am interested to Japanese way of networking, of building ground up support. In my journey to learn these from the Japanese, I came along the word Nemawashi. Nemawashi is a very important word in Japanese.  It is made up of two words “ne” which means root and “mawashi” which means to wrap around. Or wrapping up the root. A good translation however is “groundwork”, usually associated with a decision or a meeting.  In Japan they can move 15-20 meters tress from one location to another.  They dig down, cut the tap root, bind up the root bowl, get a big crane and put the whole tree on a truck and transplant it to another place.

Nemawashi as an informal process of quietly laying the foundation for a change or – in the Western world we might see it as getting ‘buy-in’. The primary difference is that Nemawashi is done quietly – almost covertly – before the idea or desired future state is formed. The process includes talking to others who are related or interested in your idea and gathering their support, thoughts and feedback before any formal steps are taken.

Nemawashi can be used in various ways but in a commercial sense it can be useful for gathering information about your new industry and identifying ways you might work with and add value to people already in it, or navigate it more effectively once you’re in it.

Nemawashi is about laying the groundwork for change:


    A. Identify the people impacted by the change. Identify the people impacted by the change. Ideally, the people impacted by a certain change are also involved in the actual decision-making, but that’s not necessarily the case.
  B. Once you have broken people’s trust by shutting them out of the decision process, anything you will try to do to diffuse the situation after the fact will be considered suspect.
  C.Spend time listening at the coffee machine and informal settings to really understand concerns. Have you thought of reaching your modern problem solvers through social media? What better way to do Nemawashi than using social media to engage your creative problem solvers?
  D. You can also use ‘Nemawashi’ to lay the foundations of change. If you start slowly, communicating & getting feedback on aspects of the proposed or expected change in phases, you can lower resistance substantially. In fact, if done well, it is possible to get people motivated to change. This is especially relevant when the change may prove to be unpopular, but does require care.
  E.Be flexible to change and new ideas. Building consensus doesn’t mean everyone always agrees. Instead it means listening to all perspectives and then analyzing all of that data to make the best possible decision — even if it isn’t the same idea as you originally had.
 F. Once support has been achieved from the people in authority, call for a formal meeting to make the decision official. If possible full change will happen, but otherwise gradual change will begin.

So in the context of Japanese business, “Nemawashi” in Japanese means an informal process of carefully “cultivating the roots of relationships” amongst co-workers and one’s superiors at the office, by holding one-on-one discussions and small meetings to quietly lay the foundation for some proposed change or project. This is done by talking to the people concerned, listening to their needs or concerns, addressing any issues, gathering support and feedback, all with the aim of getting group “but-in” before the official decision-making meeting.



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