Change Management in Japan: What's Working

The Chapman Consulting Group’s recent Asia Pacific Series of HR Leaders Sessions included meetings hosted in Tokyo by AIG, AT&T, Bristol-Myers Squibb, HSBC, McDonald’s, Philips, Philip Morris and Tetra Pak, and in Osaka by Astra-Zeneca. With an overall theme of HR Transformation and Change Management, very different discussions emerged in each of the nine meetings, but there was a consistent positive energy throughout.


We were very happy to welcome a large percentage of the Japan HR Leadership community across these nine separate meetings, and it was clear throughout the discussions that most HR and business leaders see the country as a future hub for high-knowledge, high-stability, high-quality roles. More companies, both international and Japanese, are trying to either outsource or offshore the more administrative and operational roles, leaving these high-quality roles in Japan. Of course, this has resulted in some changes within Japan, and it was interesting to take a closer look at how Japanese companies are handling this.


Storytelling and Repetition

Two key factors in the success of change management practices in Japan were singled out as storytelling and repetition. Organisations found that it’s much more effective to explain the reasons for a change by using a personal story that can help to describe one individual’s experience of a change management process. This kind of personal heart-to-heart communication is not something that has been particularly encouraged in the workplace in Japan to date, so it requires a few brave volunteers to help push this forward.


After the story is communicated, it’s important to use repetition to reinforce the change. If, for example, a company wants to change behaviours to encourage open communication, it should be openly stated at every meeting that this behaviour is now expected. Otherwise, it’s all too easy to give ‘lip service’ to a new behaviour, while employees cling to traditional practices.


Coaching Change

One global company discussed their use of ‘performance coaches’ from within the organisation to help gain faster acceptance for change. The company asked for volunteers from their middle management teams to go through a week’s training course to become ambassadors for behavioural change within the organisation. Japan was the first country to pilot this programme, and it has since been rolled out globally. The success of this change management practice was attributed to the evangelisation of new behaviours through motivated co-workers, alongside the more conventional ‘top-down’ approach from the senior management team.


Ditching the 360

In another case study, one company decided to ditch its 360 degree appraisal, and switch to a 180 degree process, where line managers were only assessed by their teams ‘from the bottom up,’ rather than by superiors. Leaders were given workshops on how to handle the process, where they were trained not to react in a knee-jerk’ way to the feedback they received. The HR leader made herself available if the manager wanted her to attend and/or moderate the meetings. This allowed for a more open dialogue between co-workers, and action plans were created after each meeting, which resulted in many tangible successes.


It was evident in all discussions that Japan is experimenting with many new ways to incorporate change in organisations. One company, uniquely, used the job description as the starting point for their change management exercise. By simply changing job descriptions to include an increased focus on sales performance and other quantifiable performance targets, employees received a very clear message on reinvigorating their lethargic sales culture. Naturally, communication was needed before and after the re-drafting, but the document itself was the ‘centrepiece’ of the change strategy.


In each of these meetings, attendees shared best practice in implementing and managing change within their organisations. This topic is likely to remain a high priority for Japan HR Leaders, as we enter 2014 and the market continues to develop. Many thanks go to our hosts in Tokyo and Osaka, and we look forward to reconnecting and taking a gauge on how the market evolves.


Here’s What People are Saying…

“I really enjoyed sharing knowledge. This forum gives us a great chance to get connected with other HR people, so I hope it will be continued.”- Masato Mizukami, Japan Head of HR, Philips

“It was a very good opportunity for us to network and learn from the HR leaders of various industries.” – Nozomu Ikeda, Japan Head of HR, AT&T

“I really did enjoy the event. Having the chance to hear the varying issues that HR professionals across the industry spectrum face, and discuss solutions and ideas, is informative and thought provoking. I hope the others gained as much as I did.” – Jeffrey Peel, Japan Head of HR, RBS

“I was impressed with the quality of people who attended, and enjoyed our discussion. I learned a lot from the rich experiences and insights everyone brought to the session.” – Takehiko Aoki, Japan Head of HR, McDonald’s

“I very much enjoyed the meeting and I appreciate the opportunity to meet so many HR professionals. The set up was very open, relaxed and informal; thus, we could speak up freely.” – Miyuki Kawakami, Japan head of HR, Ace Insurance

I enjoyed exchanging opinions with diversified people there, which enhanced my capacity to change my own mindset.” – Masateru Kawanishi, Japan Head of HR, EMC

“I really enjoyed sharing and exchanging experiences and insights on HR transformation. It is interesting for me that many companies are applying a similar model, while there are different choices made in details. I am definitely looking forward to the next session and having further valuable discussions with HR leaders.” – Keisuke Suzuki, Japan Head of HR, Adidas

“As a new HR leader in Japan, the HR roundtables have been an excellent opportunity for me to network and meet the HR community in Japan. The discussions have helped me to learn about the business climate in Japan, and how avoid potential mistakes. I now have resources from multiple industries to benchmark with.” – Patricia Miller, Japan Head of HR, FedEx

“It was a very good networking event, as Kansai is a special market so exchanging ideas on HR topics is actually even more crucial. Therefore the first meeting of HR professionals in Kansai, initiated by The Chapman Consulting Group, was very helpful.” – Markus Dressel, Japan Head of HR, Henkel

“This was a precious opportunity for us to share best/worst practices with each other. Everybody was open and learnt a lot from eachother. We promised to keep in touch with each other.” – Katsuyoshi Sugita, Japan Head of HR, AstraZeneca



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