Understanding the Business Concept of Ho-Ren-So

Ho-ren-so” stands for Hokoku (report), Renraku (communicate or touch base), and Sodan (consult or discuss). This abbreviation refers to one of Japan’s fundamental business communication techniques and is taught to new hires as soon as they join the Japanese workforce.  Foreigners who have business dealings with Japanese also find it ideal to educate themselves with the concept of ho-ren-so.

Japanese business meeting | Robert Sanzalone

The Concept of Ho-Ren-So

Just what is ho-ren-so all about?  It is a collaborative process between two people for the duration of a project. For example, this can be practiced by a subordinate and an employer, a client and a supplier, a manager and an employee.

Ho-ren-so generally begins with a request, which is the foundation of the assignment. The requestee, who is designated with completing the task, may start by creating an initial proposal, outline, or a rough draft, and shares it with the requestor. The requestor analyzes the presented information and provides feedback and critique to the requestee, who then takes the input in consideration and further refines the draft or proposal. He then presents it again to the requestor. This collaborative process goes on until the project has been fine-tuned and finally completed.

The Difference with American and Japanese Business Customs

Ho-ren-so is an innate practice within the Japanese workplace and the Japanese find it natural and even necessary for a project to be passed back and forth between requestee and requestor, from its conceptualization all the way to its completion. People from many other countries, such as the Americans, may find this process unnatural and think of it as micromanagement.

In an American business setting, a project request usually provides explicit instructions, and the worker or requestee feels he has enough to go on in completing the project without having to keep consulting the requestor. The requestor may not also feel the need to keep checking on the requestee since he would have given clear and detailed instructions.

This goes to show the big difference in business customs between the Japanese and the Americans. The Japanese rely on teamwork while Americans focus on independence. Of course, neither is “better” than the other since it is all a matter of perspective and how it is implemented in a scenario. But for Americans and other foreigners who are interacting with Japanese in business endeavors, it would be good to understand ho-ren-so, and perhaps even practice it to a certain extent if it can further improve the work relationship and standards of the project.