Boosting HR as a career path and developing HR skills and expertise in Japan was the hot topic at last month’s ChapmanCG HR leaders meeting in Tokyo, hosted by HSBC’s Head of HR, Noriko Ono. ChapmanCG’s Oscar Fuchs and Yan Sen Lu were in attendance, along with HR leaders from Barry Callebaut, Fidelity, Huawei, KPMG, L’Oréal, Merck, Microsoft, Millennium Capital, Nomura, Procter & Gamble, Sanofi and others.

Is the HR career path defined by the company or the individual?

In a traditional Japanese company, career paths are controlled by the company through a series of job rotations creating “jack-of-all-trades” talent. But recently, companies are starting to release their authority and allow people to take more ownership of their own career development. Overall, this is a positive development, but some people still think that they are only ready for promotion when they are 100% ready. HR’s role should be to give them encouragement and to reassure them they can do the next role even if they’re not 100% ready. At the same time, the reality is not everyone can be promoted. So as a secondary role, HR needs to be able to discuss the career development benefits of lateral moves, where employees can develop other specialisations that broaden their expertise.Fighting the good HR fight

There’s talent shortages for almost every profession as the population in developed countries age. Looking for HR professionals with critical thinking, succinct communication, and relationship building skills sounds easy, but is becoming more difficult every year. Companies need to think about how to attract the best graduates into the HR field and how HR departments can attract good talent from other departments.

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The missing piece for HR in Japan

For the most part, HR professionals in Japan are very strong operationally and technically, in terms of knowing labor law and HR procedure. What’s often missing is the ability to influence and lead. Leadership means positively emotionalizing the goals to convey the priorities across to colleagues so they will follow. Everyone has mountains of work and information overload with the technological advancement. By appealing to people’s human side, you can make sure you have the kind of impact that gets your agenda followed.

It was apparent from all those in attendance that companies, regardless of industry, were having trouble increasing the capabilities of their HR organizations. Creative recruiting and talent management strategies and the strong initiative for cultural change try to tackle this problem from their respective angles. And despite it being said that Japan has the highest percentage of the population working in the HR profession, the lack of HR capabilities is highly emblematic of the gap between the demand on talent and what’s available.