With a backdrop of Tokyo Tower and sprinkled cherry blossoms in a nearby park, Neal Walters and Yan Sen Lu, ChapmanCG’s Japan representatives, were joined by cofounders Matt Chapman and Oscar Fuchs at British American Tobacco for a round table session on 'Successfully Managing Change.' This was followed by an afternoon meeting at Microsoft on how companies are using ‘Data in HR’.

Successfully Managing Change

Same-same but different—Japan and Korea are similar in that no one talks or asks questions when they're in a meeting, but right after, around the water cooler, groups gather to complain. Yet there are differences, especially when it comes to each country’s appetite for change.

The key to successfully managing change is steeped in the ability to understand a culture’s response to change. Change in Korea typically happens faster than in Japan—neither speed being right or wrong, but given the Japanese’s willingness to seek solutions that satisfy all parties involved, their process, on average, for absorbing and normalizing change takes longer.

Both Korean and Japanese organizations are undergoing a lot of change at the moment. Transformation and digitization are at the top of the list of many HR project lists. And the need to innovate to stay relevant and gain market share on the global stage is not only key for an organization’s success, but vital for each country’s home economy.

There has been a lot of innovation and giant companies have successfully been built this way but the changes happening doesn't ensure a bright future. The ability for Japan to adapt to these changes on the world stage will greatly impact its economy.

Gaining buy-in from the Japanese usually takes longer given their willingness to seek solutions that satisfy all parties involved. The Japanese education is extremely good at developing teamwork, respect of others, fairness and praising conformity. Not to say the same isn’t true of the Korean education system.

All-in-all, everyone agreed that one of the key components to successfully managing change was communication and HR needed to customize that communication depending on the target group if change were to be effective.

One HR leader said that most employees think of change in terms of ‘restructuring’, but that is not always the case nowadays and it’s important to allay employee fears when they hear the word “change”.

Employees are happier to be in ambiguous situations if they have ‘visible sponsorship’ from management. When they feel safe and protected, they are more willing to experiment and are feel less afraid to make mistakes. And ultimately, this supportive environment is where innovation can flourish and transforms into a place where failures are lessons to be learned from so that future successes are almost inevitable.

Data in HR

Data is now changing the conversation between HR and the business. Instead of ‘intuition’, there's now evidence shining light on why employees leave organizations, how best to retain them, and data that correlates HR initiatives to business performance. This can be powerful as the data can predict employees who are flight risk, allowing organizations to brainstorm solutions to retain top talent. In the future, with the use of AI, computers will not only provide analysis, but also summarize the situation in a form of a story and propose solutions.

It's really an exciting time; however, it’s not without its own challenges. Not all HR professionals have the data-driven mindset. It requires training and potentially hiring technically skilled data scientists who can extrapolate the right data for decision making. Also, subsets of data alone can paint a misleading picture, so it’s important to cross-reference data with survey results, for example, which will help to paint a more holistic picture.

Ultimately, it's called ‘big data’ for a reason as companies have a lot of it. Learning how to parse through so much information to uncover meaningful trends that could impact behavior and change is critical, but it is time intensive and requires non-traditional HR skills. And then how to use that data to track trends that aren’t simply black-and-white (say age or gender trends versus why employees leave) is a challenge as so much of the data collected is situational and subjective.

The use of data is still in its infancy. In the future, we'll be able to identify top performers, evaluate why they were successful, and reverse engineer their performance with others. Talent management becomes fairer if its driven by data rather than potential unconscious bias. It was agreed that we human beings need to define what we're looking for in data and to think about the value it brings. Well, at least until AI does that thinking for us.

Here’s what participants had to say:

I enjoyed the meeting. It was valuable to understand that many companies are working hard to realize the ‘Data-driven HR’ world while also learning advanced practices.

Hajime Kawamura, General Manager, Global Talent Development, Hitachi

It was a useful opportunity to learn how others have successfully managed change.

Gayla Cowie, General Manager, Alliance Talent Management & Asia & Oceania HR, Nissan

It’s a great session! Microsoft is looking forward to continuous partnerships with the Japan HR community for levelling up HR competencies in order to have more impact on the business.

Tuan Nguyen, HR Business Manager, Microsoft