Nemawashi – The Art of Negotiation and Change
As we have mentioned in other posts, continued change in organisations is a given. Every leader has, at some time in their career, been involved with or implemented change. Most of those leaders refer are competent ‘Change Agents’ – so why do so many change initiatives fair badly? The answer primarily relates to inadequate or the wrong type of consultation. It may sound obvious, but the people who are ultimately impacted by the change need to be consulted. At Imparo we refer to this as consulting with the ‘grass roots”. This ‘grass roots’ cohort are people who will ultimately make or break the change initiative.
Even though a CEO may endorse the change, it will not happen without the support of the ‘grass roots’. Those implementing the change need to be to know with certainty that they have sounded out the grassroots about the proposed change to ensure that it aligns with their interests. This process is true participatory management and collective decision making.
The Japanese have a great word for sounding out the grass roots. It is called Nemawashi which refers to an informal process of quietly laying the foundation for some proposed change or project. This is essentially an activity to build support for a project or decision through communication, in advance, mainly to gain the consent of everyone involved
The term Nemawashi comes from the gardening activity of nurturing and preparing the ground prior to planting or transplanting. It comes from two words, Ne meaning roots and Mawasu meaning to go around. This process of negotiation is deeply embedded in the Japanese culture. Japanese leaders say that without a proper Nemawashi approach, a plant transplanted to new location may not survive. An English version of the term is ‘spade work’. The dirt around each root is carefully moved so that the act of transplanting does not shock the plant. This is an act of care and attention working and preparing the soil so that whatever is planted has a better chance of survival.
You can see from the gardening analogy that Nemawashi is a technique to get everyone on board from the beginning of any proposal. Through informal meetings, teams are encouraged to find the root cause of any issues and productively resolve the issue. They are also encouraged to make choices and explore alternative solutions. Yes, it takes time, yes, it is a slow process, seeking input and getting people to the same level of understanding. However, the input leads to mutually acceptable solutions, reduced conflict and delays in process and above all reduces big egos fighting for their own ideas and outcomes.