Hourensou – It Does a Business Good

Heather Gill on Unsplash.com

When you look up “hourensou,” the Japanese dictionary points you to “spinach.” But there is another reference that applies to business, and it is an acronym that stands for three words:

Hou: 報告 (ほうこく) houkoku —> report

Ren: 連絡 (れんらく) renraku —> communication

Sou: 相談 (そうだん) soudan —> consult/discuss

This way of thinking is important not just in a Japanese company, but in business overall. Basically, when you are working with anyone on anything, whether it’s work, school or a side project, you want to make sure you have good communication on things like what to do, who is responsible, how to do it, and by when you want to complete it.

What is good hourensou?

You can google your heart out about the meaning of hourensou, (and there are plenty of articles!), but I will summarize it as “effective communication.” 

This means: 

  • knowing expectations for your project’s final product (confirming the deadline, understanding the bigger picture to see how your project fits in the grander scheme of things)
  • reporting on your progress succinctly and before it’s asked, a.k.a. houkoku (whether you’re in an actual meeting, stopping by your supervisor’s desk, or walking together to the next meeting)
  • communicating on important things that come up, not just to your boss but to other team players, a.k.a. renraku
  • seeking advice (which can also be seen as mentoring opportunities), a.k.a. soudan

Good hourensou also means that sometimes you submit your outline or incomplete draft in advance of the deadline in case you’re going in a direction that is wildly different from the expectations.

What is it not?

Hourensou, however, is not giving a running summary of your daily responsibilities at every hour on the hour. Your boss is not employed just to receive hourensou from all employees, and frankly, they probably don’t have that much time.

Good hourensou is not creating progress reports just to list items to prove that you’re working on something.

It is not gossip, nor an opportunity to talk about topics that are irrelevant to the matter at hand. It is also not opinion-based, although this depends on what kind of project you’re working on and your position in the company. 

Hourensou is a good communication system in which everyone is aware of the top priorities and works together smoothly. It’s like a well-oiled and well-maintained machine with good running parts and no squeaks or hiccups.

Hourensou vs. micromanaging

There is a fine line between these two concepts. I argue below that if hourensou is done properly, micromanaging can naturally go away.

Of course, there are bosses who love to micromanage. Here I would tell the micromanaged employee to try some good ol’ hourensou towards them. By providing good hourensou, you are proving to your boss that you are trustworthy and that they have nothing to worry about. It may take time, but try it.

Yes, there are also articles galore criticizing hourensou and how some Japanese companies focus too much on it. However, I have had such good experiences with hourensou that I believe good hourensou absolutely exists. When it works nicely, it really makes everything flow.

Here’s an example of hourensou

On Monday, your boss asks you to get an assignment done by Friday. Since you’re swamped with other deadlines through Thursday, you leave that until Friday. Of course on Friday, other things pop up and you’re racing against the clock. Your boss, however, starts to ask right around lunchtime if you remembered that project. That question sets off a flare of annoyance in your head, which doesn’t help the stress you’re already feeling. Why must your boss be such a micromanager?

Well, here’s the thing. The chances that you could have forgotten do exist. Your boss also has a boss, and you don’t know how important your work was to your boss. Perhaps they needed your piece of the puzzle in order to send a bigger project on to the next person.

Solution? Take 5 seconds as you’re walking past your boss on Wednesday to say, “By the way, that report will be on your desk on Friday!” On Friday morning, take another 5 seconds and remind your boss that you haven’t forgotten, and – better yet – state the time you will have that report on his/her desk. In a fraction of a minute, you’ve given your boss an update and prevented your boss to worry or remind you. Situations like this will show your boss that they don’t need to micromanage you since you know your priorities.

If you are being asked for the status of projects, that means you may need to increase your hourensou. Put yourself in your supervisor’s shoes. By thinking about what other responsibilities they may have, and considering how you may ease their concerns about your projects in particular, you can end up becoming a very valuable employee if you master the art of hourensou. What does that do for you? It shows you are trustworthy, dependable, and truly on top of your game. 

Here’s another example (but switching sides)

You spend so long preparing a project, and you send the final version to your boss. Then… crickets. No response, no acknowledgement. Did you do something wrong? Did it not go to their mailbox? Is your boss ok? Well – here you are experiencing a lack of hourensou in a sense. I’m not saying that people should reply to every e-mail that is received, but for those big projects, it’d be nice to get some sort of acknowledgement, right? (Alas, here is where I personally struggle…)

Status update meetings

If you and your boss have the privilege of time to sit down on a regular basis to have status update meetings, then that is a great way to stay on top of your hourensou. Whether it’s 5 minutes or half an hour, take that opportunity to provide a succinct overview of your projects and when you will accomplish them. Instead of interrupting your boss every few hours, save your questions for this meeting. 

Further, confirm what you believe the answers to your own questions could be. For example, don’t ask “what do you want to see in this report?” Ask instead a more detailed question such as, “In this report, I will write about X, Y and Z. Is that what you are expecting?” By asking your boss questions that can be easily answered with a yes or no shows that you are thinking on your own AND are respectful of their time. 

If you don’t have such meetings, then it doesn’t hurt to ask your direct supervisor if you can get something on the calendar. A regularly scheduled meeting will allow you to summarize your updates and questions succinctly, and in the end may save both of you lots of time.

Top takeaways – at a minimum, do the following:

  • Give information in advance instead of waiting to be asked for it. I’m not saying to be a mind reader, but when you know what is important within your department and regarding your responsibilities, then you can provide good updates. (If you don’t know what is a priority, then I suggest that you have a good discussion with your boss about what is important in your role.) 
  • Respect everyone’s time. You don’t want to babble on and on about updates just because you think you have to give updates.
  • Keep your updates to your one top priority of the day. 
  • Don’t be afraid of good communication! Technically, you could pitter patter through life without much communication with others and hope that things work out – but what a waste of time and stress! Wouldn’t it be easier if people were open and honest, and shared information that was important to the common goal? I understand that verbal and/or written communication can make some people queasy, but give it a try.

Have you ever gotten so lost in a project that you were so focused and time just flew by? They call this situation a state of “flow.” I believe that when you have good hourensou, your team reaches a state of “flow” that really pushes your group to the next level. It can be really exciting to work with such a team, so see what you can do to get some good hourensou juices flowing on your team.

Let me know if you have questions or comments!

Heather Gill on Unsplash.com

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