Globalizing Japanese HR Talent

Hosted by: Suntory

The question of how to best globalize HR talent is a crucial consideration for many HR leaders in Japan. At our recent ChapmanCG roundtable in Tokyo co-hosted by Suntory, around 40 heads of HR convened to share experience on how to support Japanese HR talent to transition to global opportunities.

Suntory’s founding principles and roadmap to becoming truly global

Suntory was founded on the tradition of family, and still remains a very family-oriented company to this day. They strongly believe that this sense of family has been at the core of their success, and as they expand globally the importance of this principle only grows stronger.

Another founding principle of Suntory is the phrase: Yatte Minahare! This roughly translates into ‘Go for it!’ and is a cornerstone of the cultural belief to always dare to think big, to imagine and to keep growing.

With rapid overseas expansion through multiple acquisitions, including the most recent acquisition of Jim Beam, maintaining the core identity of the company could appear to be particularly difficult.

At the core of Suntory’s acquisitions, however, was the need for the companies’ cultures to also strongly match Suntory’s core values. With these values in alignment, the next step was to then define what globalization meant to Suntory and to set out on the roadmap to achieving it.

Growing for Good – Laying the Groundwork to Become Truly Global

Suntory has set out a very long-term roadmap with a timeline of 10 years in order to achieve a global presence.

For Suntory, globalization or a ‘global mindset’ can be defined as ‘a prioritization of business fundamentals and success regardless of working location, individual function, or make up of one’s team’. This definition acknowledges that English is understood as a business language and is a requirement in understanding global business models and innovative business frameworks.

This ‘global mindset’ definition has been the springboard for transformation in HR within Suntory. New and invigorated efforts have been poured into the likes of overseas MBA programs, intensive English-only ‘boot camps’, short-term overseas business school or business assignments, and a professional development focus on creating individual career autonomy. While all these initiatives seemed to be impressive in theory, the real tangible value could be found in a successful case study of our guest speaker;

Advice to HR Leaders Seeking to Globalize their Japanese Talent

Tatsuo Kinoshita, a highly-recognized global HR leader, also shared his experience of working in local and regional capacities in Japan, the US, and throughout APAC. Tatsuo has more recently returned to Japan to take on the role of CHRO of Mercari, a Japanese founded e-commerce company looking to tackle global expansion.

His advice to the HR leaders in the room based through the lens of his own experience could be summarized in four steps:

  • Talent identification: As an organization, ensure you know how to identify those who are open to go outside their own country for career progression. Accurately and consistently take stock of these individuals so you know who they are.
  • Support this talent pool to network: Host global talent forums quarterly, leadership awareness training sessions, cross-cultural training – anything that will  keep these individuals in the mindset that overseas assignments and global mobility is within their reach.
  • Start small: Don’t immediately put someone who is on the fence about a global assignment on a 3-5-year long-term assignment. Start them off on ‘bubble assignments, which might be anywhere from three to six months, to allow them to get a taste for working in a different environment and facing different challenges.
  • Progress to long-term assignments naturally: After several short-term assignments, then it is time to transition these individuals to more long-term assignments. They will now be more comfortable operating with a global mindset, and will not simply be an expat passing through, unaware or unwilling to adjust to the cultural sensitives of the new country or region they are covering.

This cycle will slowly unravel itself and allow the concept of globalization to flow more organically in your organization over the long run.

Sticking to the Roadmap

There are some very real challenges that HR leaders in Japan face in regards to globalizing their Japanese talent. As long as the mission of globalization is tied into the overall goal of the business, following the advice above and taking a long-term approach on this critical issue will be the key to success.

Perhaps the most challenging thing to do in this era of instant gratification is to take a step back and understand that good things take time, and that ‘growing for good’ is not an overnight process, but a natural and organic one that can only happen with the aid of time. HR leaders need to stick to the roadmap and trust that the change will come.

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