The implications of Japanese management theories for educational organizations

Yui Kin NG, Keung Fai Joseph WU

Research output: Contribution to conferencePapers


In recent decades, there has been a significant growth in the literature about educational management (West-Burnham, 1994). Why do educators bother about the management theories? Is management an appropriate conceptual framework to apply to education? Will educational managers really benefit from adoption or adaptation of commercial management practices and techniques? These are the questions that we will address in the first section. Japan's overwhelming economic performance in the world market makes many managers in the business and industrial world believe that Japanese management must be doing something right (Clayton, 1992). Starting from the 1980s, business enterprises have looked at Japanese management theory in order to help enhance their performance and corporate executives became enamored with Japanese management techniques. Literature in Japanese management area has mushroomed. Following this new wave in management theory, it is not surprising that the educational managers reveal a rising tide of lessons drawn from Japanese management principles. But what are the characteristics of Japanese management? An overview of Japanese management theory in the second section is followed by a linking of some of its essential notions to the management of change in educational institutions. The implications of Japanese management for educational organization will then be discussed in the third section. In their famous book, The witch doctors, Micklethwait & Wooldridge (1996) ask: 'how can an academic discipline which matters so much be so unrespected? Management theory, even its foremost thinkers admit, is still far from respectable.' (p.13). According to them, there are four charges against management theory: (i) Management theory is constitutionally incapable of self-criticism; (ii) Its terminology usually confuses rather than educates; (iii) It rarely rises above common sense; (iv) It is faddish and bedevilled by contradictions that would not be allowed in more rigorous disciplines (Micklethwait & Wooldridge, 1996). Are these charges against management theory tenable? Micklethwait and Wooldridge have also claimed that 'management gurus often throw out intellectual grappling hooks to older discipline, such as economics, philosophy and history; other academic seldom return the favour' (p. 14). Education is certainly one of the few exceptions. Does it mean that the academic status of education is much worse? These are important issues that we must face if we are going to apply the management theory in educational institutions and a subsidiary objective of this paper is to shed light on these issues.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Nov 1999


Ng, Y. K., & Wu, K. F. (1999, November). The implications of Japanese management theories for educational organizations. Paper presented at the Hong Kong Educational Research Association (HKERA) 16th Annual Conference: Exploring New Frontiers in Education, The Hong Kong Institute of Education, China.


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