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    JR West to rethink re-education

    JR West, having done some deep thinking, is going to reevaluate its re-education camps…uh, program:

    JR West, after last month’s derailment disaster in Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture, unveiled the full contents of its new “Plan for Improved Safety” on 28 May. The plan serves as notice to the Ministry of Land, Transport, and Infrastructure what JR West’s fundamental policies regarding safety will be from here on. After a comprehensive review of its reeducation program for drivers “Education for Daily Service,” which is regarded as “punitive,” the company devised a plan the main pillars of which include the generation of consistent internal safety criteria, revision of the qualifications required of those who sit for driver certification exams, and improvements to its packed train schedules.

    Alert readers who know the usual line about Japan may be wondering about that “consistent internal safety criteria” part. Japanese corporate culture is highly regimented and group-oriented–doesn’t JR West (and everyone else) already have a company-wide set of standards? The answer is no: the Nikkei article goes on to state that the company plans to create its first such manual as a result of the accident. People identify very strongly with their companies, but often there’s little horizontal communication within them when doing day-to-day business. Rotations for management trainees expose them to different facets of the operations, but once they start in their designated departments, for example, marketing people may nearly never communicate even with the salespeople in order to coordinate strategies and approaches.

    Policy is often set from the details up. You think about all the little things you have to do and problems that might arise and make rules for dealing with them. What it all adds up to kind of becomes the company’s set of basic principles by default. Of course, this avoids the Dilbert-style inanity of meaningless mission statements foisted on the rank and file by out-of-touch top managers. But it also creates massive duplication of effort and the frequent possibility that critical information may escape the notice of people who would know what to do about it. There’s always the possibility that JR West’s new set of standards will end up turning into nothing but an empty gesture, but if the company seriously rethinks how it trains and supports the people running the trains, it will obviously be a good thing.

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