In June 2015, Mr. Yoshikazu Oshimi was promoted to the position of President and Representative Director of Kajima Corporation, Austin’s parent company. Mr. Oshimi has 30 years of experience within Kajima, starting in construction and moving into project management and then management. In his message, “My Commitments as President,” published in the 2015 Corporate Report, Mr. Oshimi reflected on two slogans he used when he was managing a branch operation. The first is, “Think safety! Make today accident free!” This slogan is, of course, critically important, if not predictable.
The second slogan is less predictable and merits more reflection: “Building with the heart and soul of a craftsman.” These are now Kajima’s companywide slogans, forming the foundation of the management philosophy of Kajima for the near future. His theme is that in Building the Future of the Kajima Group, “Our Journey Begins and Ends with Craftsmanship.”
Craftsmanship. Interestingly, a common theme between Kajima and Austin is that both founders, Iwakichi Kajima and Samuel Austin, were carpenters. As such, they built their business not by doing average or common work, but by performing work that they were proud of. Clearly, as evidenced by their success, their craftsmanship pleased their clients. They held themselves to high standards.
Some suggest those standards can become harder to maintain as organizations grow, when the standards of a craftsman and the business come in conflict. But do they? He states, “The very heart of our business is providing our clients with high-quality buildings and structures, constructed safely, and finished on time.” It is not just the finish that reflects craftsmanship, it is the whole project, and every aspect of the project.
I believe this is about how you first approach your work, the goals you set for its execution, and the objective of being able to look at the work you have accomplished, whether it is a drawing, a specification, a foundation of a building, a spreadsheet, or a letter to a customer – and being proud of the finished product. It is about maintaining a high standard of quality in the work each of us does, always endeavoring to do it most efficiently, but without the shortcuts that affect value and quality.
As an example, my first boss, Charlie Vogel, gave me a memorable lesson in writing a business letter. As I was relatively fresh out of school and new to the formalities of business writing, he had me write a draft letter to a prospect, thanking them for a meeting and outlining what our plan was in response to the meeting. I am guessing he had me rewrite that letter six or seven times before he approved it to be sent.
He always referred to a good letter as one “well crafted.” By that, he meant it was clear, concise, well thought out, strategic, and executed. It was efficient, written with the reader in mind so that the value proposition was well presented and easily understood. That the time spent by the reader was not wasted, but valuable. It was empathetic of the reader’s position. Note – some 35 years later, it is a learning experience I still remember.
In a way, I think that is Mr. Oshini’s challenge to all of us. Be empathetic to our customers’ needs and seek to fill them in a way that is most valuable to the client by being strategic in our approach, endeavoring to find the optimal solution in an efficient manner, and delivering on a solution we can take pride in. Make sure that whatever your “craft” is, your product is well crafted and of value to the customer.
Look to take pride in your work. When it is well crafted, you will be recognized for those high standards, the way Messers. Kajima and Austin were. Work becomes a vocation. A journey. Not an end in itself.
“Thank you for how you put your heart and soul into this table.”
Letter to a Shaker furniture craftsman
Do your work with your whole heart, and you will succeed - there's so little competition.
“A craftsman/craftswoman is someone who pursues excellence in their work. They develop their craft by working hard year after year, showing up every day and focusing on the work in front of them. They see themselves as an artist dedicated to their craft with a desire to get better. They put their heart and soul into every aspect of their job and/or product. They are always learning and growing and seeking ways to improve and master their craft. People should seek to become a craftsman because we were never meant to be mediocre. We are meant to learn, grow, and thrive. We are at our best when we are improving, mastering our craft and sharing our gifts with others.”
John Gordon, author of The Carpenter: A Story About the Greatest Success Strategies of All