The Chapman Consulting Group’s Asia Pacific Series of HR Leaders Meetings has moved on to Japan, with six meetings in Tokyo over three days. These meetings each brought together around 20 HR Leaders from a wide cross-section of industries, and were held at the Japan headquarters of Siemens (Osaki), Symantec (Akasaka), Givaudan (Meguro), McGraw-Hill (Marunouchi), Nomura (Otemachi) and Salesforce.com (Roppongi). The meeting at Givaudan included a very interesting tour of the company’s flavours laboratory. In order to preserve the anonymity of the information shared from these sessions, we will not be reporting on all the findings discussed. However, included below is a short summary of some of the presentations and discussions raised.

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Day 1

The first meeting on Day 1 was hosted by German conglomerate Siemens at their Japan headquarters and our second group met at the Japan headquarters of the U.S. software firm Symantec. Attendees at these groups included HR Leaders from companies such as adidas, Analog Devices, Carl Zeiss, Chevron, Citi, DHL, Dow Chemical, Electrolux, Fonterra, Google, ING, LIXIL, New Balance, Owens Corning, Pfizer, Puma, Saint Gobain, Takeda Pharmaceutical, Tetra Pak and Xilinx. Listed below are the key points raised during these meetings.

The Japan HR Leader at one company talked about their organisation’s restructuring and downsizing efforts in what has become a necessary move in an increasingly competitive environment. They have found this has had an understandably adverse effect on morale and there has been no magic wand to make the process easier on those involved. The group discussed this and all agreed that this is a difficult time for all involved and that constant communication with all employees is of utmost importance. This means keeping employees abreast of the situation and future plans, as well as ensuring to time these communications after they have been fully discussed with HQ. It is important that the plan is in place to avoid confusion with the employees. Overall, three main communication points to help facilitate this difficult time were identified. Firstly, there needs to be consistent communication, secondly, there is a need to anticipate responses and be ready to cover them in the communications and thirdly, reward good behaviour for those managing and accepting the change.

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An HR Leader from the retail industry presented how their need to strengthen Succession Planning and Talent Development has led them to establish a new Talent Development Program in the region. With this program, there are 20 participants from the region and also 20 assessors. Participants are assessed on different skills through events and projects throughout the year such as presentation, communication and leadership. The benefit of having the same amount of participants and assessors has been to ensure that the different views and ratings from people from each country, which often differ, can then be calibrated for a consistent overall rating around the region. This system has delivered results of strong talent for succession planning though there is still the challenge of being able to have real and matching assignments for those graduating from the program to avoid attrition.

The HR Leader of a manufacturing firm talked about how they have brought a marked increase in their engagement scores to become one of the top 10 firms to work for in Japan. They have been using a much quicker and simpler employee engagement survey, which asks individuals just twelve key questions to give the rating. They have seen a solid increase in scores over the last three years in Japan, which has been much higher than the global average in the firm. Part of it is down to an emphasis on communication, making sure the management team and employees understand the global strategy and are on the same page. This has been accomplished by several offsite meetings and workshops, as well as by the use of a professional engagement coach. Also promoting Health and Safety in the working environment, engagement actions such as morning teas, birthday cards, open door policy and frequent recognition on small successes, to show that the company does care, has been a boost for morale and commitment reflected in the increased score and positive work environment.

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Day 2

The European fragrance and flavours company Givaudan, which also included a very interesting laboratory tour, hosted the first meeting on Day 2. Our second group met at the offices of U.S. media and information services company McGraw-Hill. Attendees at these groups included HR Leaders from companies such as AbbVie, Alcatel-Lucent, Amazon.com, General Electric, Hilton, IBM, Intel, International SOS, Maersk, Marsh, Nikko Asset Management, Philip Morris International, Ralph Lauren, Reckitt Benckiser, Red Hat, Teva Pharmaceuticals and Triumph. Below are some of the key points raised during these meetings.

The HR Leader for an international retail company talked on the topic of successful on boarding of new employees. For them, cultivating culture is very important and they are guided by around fifteen principles that all employees are assessed on. To aid in instilling this core ‘DNA’, they introduced a new first 90 days on boarding program to integrate the new hires into the company. Key aspects of this program are the Day 1 new hire orientation, the day 30 Coffee with the President and days 45-90 training on Business Principles. This final section included having the opportunity to have direct experience with various aspects of the business outside of their permanent role, such as listening in on customer calls and spending time in the logistics and warehouse centres. The success in this program has been reflected in better turnover statistics and quality of hires during performance reviews.

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An HR Leader for an international healthcare company discussed how their firm has had the challenge of establishing a new culture for the organisation that is focused on customer centricity. To help develop and facilitate this new targeted culture, they used the ‘World Café’ concept to focus on group interaction and conversations. During this process, they had end-user patients give presentations on their experiences, which were then used to inspire the employees to think more about their ultimate customers. At the end of the process, employees created a symbol of this new focus by writing their own personal commitment to the company on colourful objects. The colourful objects were kept after the offsite, and are now on display at the company’s offices. Consequently, employees are reminded of their participation in the culture building exercise when passing these objects every day in the office.

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An HR Leader from an international conglomerate company talked about HR business partnering, where HR is often stretched thin to the extent that there are questions about how they can serve their clients effectively. For this, the concept of “Uncommon Service” was used. Taken from marketing theories, this is about identifying what parts of HR service customers don’t really care about and then prioritising the things that are most important to them. HR asked the business what is important and what is not so important so that they could then prioritise and focus on great service in key areas, while still giving satisfactory service in low importance areas. This concept is similar to how budget airlines work, where the company offers an ‘adequate’ service where expectation levels are only moderate, allowing HR the chance to give customers a good experience with good a price. They can then offer a business class or first class service where expectations merit it.

Day 3

For our third and final day of group meetings in Tokyo, the first roundtable was hosted by Japanese financial services company Nomura, and the second group was with US cloud computing company Salesforce.com. Attendees at these groups included HR Leaders from companies such as Agfa, Allianz, Avaya, Bausch & Lomb, Bloomberg, BP, Coca-Cola, Club Med, Energizer, FedEx, Firmenich, Jetstar, Lenovo, McDonald's, Metlife, MSD/Merck and QVC. Some of the key points raised during these meetings are listed below.

The HR Leader for an international retail company presented on their challenge of male/female diversity in the workplace. They have the ambitious goal of attaining a 50/50 split in all positions as currently they have less than 20% of female employees in Director and Manager roles. They have developed a Japan Women Leadership Network and started activities for learning, mentoring and developing staff to drive the diversity effort. Added to this, and to encourage more females in the workplace, they have a three-pronged diversity strategy. Firstly, a focus on work life balance, encouraging people to leave at 6pm, which helps female employees take care of families (and indeed encouraging male employees to be more involved in family raising). Secondly, there is a clear target for recruitment, development and promotion for females. And finally, the company is instilling a Mindset/Paradigm shift to help females show greater and more ambitious career aspirations. All of this will take time and we will be watching as they head towards their goal.

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The HR Leader for an energy company talked about how HR have been working on developing their own skills, and have come up with a new HR Professional Development Model. The two main purposes of this are to develop new HR skills and capabilities required for the continued growth of the business, and to take the opportunity to develop internal resources instead of just buying in the skills from other industries. While this implementation is still in early stages, the organisation has developed four key areas that will be central to HR capability and this in turn has created a feeling that there are clearer expectations for HR and development. These four key areas are: to be Technically Savvy about HR functions, being Commercially Savvy with strong knowledge and understanding of the business model, being Organisationally Savvy, knowing how to get things done and being a trusted advisor, and lastly being a Role Model for the company’s values and behaviours.

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An HR Leader at a technology company presented on how they are trying to be more social by engaging their employees via customised social networks. The company developed a system where employees can comment and interact using a platform that provides transparency and collaboration, while also a level of anonymity to allow for opinion sharing and debate on various posts and topics in real time. The tool has also been used for engagement, accountability and recognition, since employees can post goals and make them public for everyone to see. Thank you notes can be posted on the system openly, and people can ask for feedback from their peers which can all be posted. All of this information can then be collated and reviewed during performance evaluation periods. The idea has been well received in some markets, although markets such as Japan were taking a little longer to fully embrace the system.

We look forward to sharing more information from Asia Pacific HR Leaders as the series continues.