Blog post cover illustration Preventing the next big corporate scandal with technology
03 Dec 2020

Preventing the next big corporate scandal with technology

The adventures of Codeborne in Japan.

This story is about doing business in Japan. It is also about corporate feedback culture and how the technology developed at Codeborne is used in Japan to prevent the next big scandal like Nissan’s Carlos Ghosn tragedy from happening.

You know about the Nissan scandal? The one that was probably the most reported story from Japan a few months ago. Where the previously god-like CEO of Nissan and Renault Charlos Ghosn is alleged to have mis-appropriated funds and escaped from Japan in a thriller like way in a musical instrument box with several private jets and some ex special forces people orchestrating all this. Quite a crazy story.

But how could things get so far and could anything be done to avoid such scandals in the future? We will leave aside Charlos Ghosn now. We don’t know if he is innocent or not. But this famous example can be used to show why the solution developed by Codeborne for our client - Anonima - in Japan is so important.

One of the reasons why big scandals happen or small abuses can go on for a long time is the lack of awareness. There are always people who know. They see some signs of fishy things happening. But can they speak out? Do they know who to speak to? Can they be certain that there will be no repercussions - bad blood, lost opportunities, or losing their job? Is there a way to share their feedback?

In Estonian business culture it is relatively easy. If for example you would work in Codeborne, you could always go to the people in the leadership and share what is on your mind. If not completely the same, in many cases it is similar in Estonia. The power hierarchies are not too strict and organisations are mostly not too big and people can more easily find who to talk to if they see something fishy happening.

Quite often it is considered a strength if one can constructively challenge their superiors and therefore help with developing a better outcome. In Japan it is very different though. The organisations are much bigger. Toyota - the biggest employer in Japan - alone has more employees than the capital of Estonia. The culture about feedback and challenging one’s superiors in Japan is totally different also.

Japanese culture on the train
Japanese work environment lacks the culture of feedback. Employees are not always giving truthful feedback in fear of challenging their supervisors which can lead to large costs for the company.

What’s the Japanese word for feedback? Fīdobakku. Sounds very similar to english? That’s because Japanese had no word for feedback and they had to borrow it from english in the modern times. Feedback is just something that is not done and contradicting or challenging your superiors also not. Even if you are right. So you can imagine how difficult it is to share information about anything out of the ordinary happening in the workplace before it is too late?

We can even share a story about the big differences from our own experience with another client in Japan. The agile work at Codeborne is based on user stories. Together with the client we define what different users of the software we are developing should be able to do and why. This is the basis for the work of the developers. We use a software solution called Pivotal Tracker to keep track of the work.

After the developers at Codeborne have finished with the story the client can see a green button “Accept” and a red button “Reject.” Pushing the red button sometimes is part of the agile work as it gives the client the ability to give feedback and developers to improve. The goal is that the stories get accepted in the end. With one of our Japanese clients the list started growing and it seemed that stories were not accepted but also not rejected. We then took a moment to ask the client what was going on and the answer surprised us. The client told us that to them “reject” seems so strong of a word that they can not make themselves push this button. Even if they feel there would be a need to improve on things.

To solve the problem of unawareness due to lack of feedback, we developed a tool for our client Anonima for people to give anonymous insights about what is going on in their company. Some would call it whistle-blowing. Enabling the user to send their feedback or tip about potential troubles at the company in an anonymous way without need to fear difficulties. Allowing the companies to set-up independent bodies in-house or with outside counsel to look into the matters and hopefully keep some big scandals from happening by reacting to potential troubles in a timely manner.

You know what is the trickiest factor in developing such an application? It actually is not the technology. We thought it through with the client and developed technological solutions that really can keep anonymity well. The most tricky in keeping anonymity is actually the user. For them not to use their corporate phone number for the identification, write in the feedback something that actually can be traced back to them or in any other way give up their anonymity.

Solving these challenges was a great example of how the topnotch technological skill of the Software Developers and the ability to assume how the minds of the users work by our UX Design team worked together. Providing a solution that hopefully will make it more easy for Japanese employees to voice concerns if they arise and with this prevent corporate mis-treatment from happening.

Read our previous post on working with Japanese companies:

Doing business in Japan

Photo credits: Sience in HD, Cory Schadt

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