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Japan's Place Within the International HR Matrix: What's Working and What's Not?

Hosted by: General Electric

The Chapman Consulting Group and General Electric today co-hosted an HR roundtable discussion for 15 select HR Heads. Japan HR leaders from high-profile multinationals in the Financial Services, Consumer Goods, Retail, Industrial, IT & Telecommunications, and Life Sciences sectors met over lunch at General Electric’s Japan headquarters in Akasaka to discuss the topic of “Japan’s place within the international HR matrix: what’s working and what’s not?”.

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The group enjoyed a lively conversation about what HR leaders can do to help ensure that their company’s Japan business reaches its full potential both in a domestic Japanese context, but also in a regional and global context. Some interesting ideas emerged from the discussion, most notably in regard to opening up lines of communication that enable workers on the ground in Japan to truly understand what the company stands for in other parts of the world.

By far the most successful strategy was to put Japanese executives in a position where they could begin to influence other markets in the region, so that they could experience how it feels to be in a directing role rather than always ‘on the receiving end’. In one example, a product launched successfully in Japan was being rolled out in other markets, and the Japanese team was given responsibility to act as consultants to oversee the marketing of this product across a number of countries. This gave the executives in Japan a newly-found respect for the difficulties of regional co-ordination, as they were able to experience for themselves the complexities of certain markets, as well as the natural inhibitions of senior management teams to do things in ways to which they were unaccustomed. The next time they were part of a global or regional coordination project, they found themselves being much more open to new ideas, and much more collaborative with their counterparts in other offices.

In another example, an HR Director gave an example of how communication between Japan and regional headquarters must move slowly and incrementally for this to work best. Working at a supermarket retail company, he remembered how in the first year of operations, global headquarters had no idea that it is popular to eat eel at the change of the seasons in July. But by the second year the company had matched their competitors in terms of eel sales during that season. And by the third year, the company realised that it could pair together eel with a great French wine, and had made record sales of both products by offering them jointly discounted.

While the issues affecting HR in the variety of industries represented were very different, the group was able to find many similarities in the way that results could be achieved. And at heart, it came down to instilling a ‘company’ culture in the Japan office that supersedes any notions of ‘Japanese’ culture. So long as during office hours employees have a ‘company first, the rest comes second’ attitude rather than a ‘country first, other countries second’ attitude, there’s nothing stopping Japan becoming just as global in their attitude as any other country.

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