How can HR influence Transformation and Change Management?

Hosted by: Nokia

Having recently undergone a significant and high-profile transformation of its business, Nokia seemed the ideal partner for an informative discussion on Transformation and Change Management, the latest in ChapmanCG’s ongoing series of global HR leaders roundtable sessions.

Change… the only constant in life?

The Italian philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli said, all the way back in 1513, that“..there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things”. Approximately 500 years later, transformation and change management remains one of the most challenging organisational goals with a greater onus than ever on staying ahead of the curve to remain relevant and to ensure success.

Transformation and Change Management prevails as a topic widely considered and debated across organisations of all sizes and structures. Organisational transformation by it’s very nature it can be unpredictable, iterative, and experimental, and not something that can solved by a one-size-fits-all solution. As a result, the ability to successfully manage change has become an even more vital asset for organisations with a desire to stay competitive, particularly on a global level.

As part of the wider discussion around Transformation and Change Management, the conversation also turned to the role that Japan plays in global transformation and whether it is more effective as a driver or a passenger. The group considered whether Japan should be setting the HR agenda or simply executing an international mandate, and if indeed Japan can become a hub for global roles and talent, how to implement universal standards in a complex, intricate and culturally sensitive market.

Nokia has been able to thrive and face change head-on, in part because they have fostered a culture that has embraced change throughout its corporate history, but also due to several key factors. The company’s new HR leader, Yoshiko Nakazawa, helped to shed some light on the cultural factors that have helped to facilitate change.

Yoshiko highlighted that Nokia, a Finnish company, is a truly international business that is super matrixed and has no hesitation to change. She described the company as a ‘worldwide home’ where leadership and expertise, are both highly valued, but where there is also a lot of importance placed on and decisions derived from technical expertise. Nokia is a company which favours talent and agility, and encourages self-ownership of personal career development and team relationships are considered vital in driving business.

Creating a culture for change

Naturally, any change comes with unexpected challenges and is often met with some resistance. Yoshiko also lifted the lid on some of challenges that Nokia has been facing. Some of these challenges fell along similar lines to the issues faced in more agile organisations, such as unexpected communities and vagueness in reporting lines and responsibility.

Other challenges to be mindful of in a climate of transformation, as highlighted at the roundtable:

  • Complexities in stakeholder management and workplace environment
  • Talent development and management across an increasingly specialised organisation
  • How to effectively escalate expertise
  • Leadership coaching
  • Understanding the sphere of influence
  • Rating and recognition
  • Increased need to understand individual motivation in an ever-diverse environment

Nokia made for an interesting case study on the subject of transformation and change management, as it has been a change-forward organisation throughout its history and continues to be so, even as its technology portfolio is fanned out to many new industries.

During a guest presentation on the evening, Marcus Ruh, HR Director at Adidas, explained the need for change management at Adidas that occurs every two years and is driven by customers. He reinforced the importance of having a strong and consistent corporate vision throughout APAC and explained how much of their agility stems from having a diverse PMO office, which has been critical in establishing effective workstreams.

Marcus added that HR plays a key role at the top of these workstreams, as they are expected to drive the change and to connect managers, employees and project teams, as well as enforcing the importance of talent development and employee engagement. Tying it all together is strong corporate communication, through both high-level, big picture focused work and more intimate, story-driven personal successes.

Osamu Aihara, HR Head at Pfizer, also spoke on the importance of communication and how to initiate and influence new corporate behaviours. Similar weight was given to the need for strong leadership teams as well as having change champions representative of the entire organisation.

Osamu explained the value of understanding the distinction between top down and bottom down styles and knowing when and how to make use of each. Pfizer also found great success in deploying change agents with an almost grassroots approach that saw many of the staff-level employees embracing, building and sustaining motivated change, which from an HR perspective also served as a very effective tool for identifying high-potential talent.

As the conversation continued, a number of interesting ideas for supporting change management were offered up, including:

Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A)

M&A brings significant change even to those companies and professionals accustomed to frequent transitions, with both internal and external forces exerting themselves on employees at all organisational levels. Simple remedies can involve mixing individuals and teams together from each of the representative companies as early as possible, making use of shared services and having assessments provided from multiple sources.

Internal Promotion

Having an internal system that recognises value and allows for employees to vote for each other allows for recognition and positive cultural reinforcement.

Recognition and reward for non-sales functions

An awards ceremony to recognise successful back office projects can be powerful in showcasing the critical role they play in the organisation – teams could submit project / work examples which are then voted on by colleagues.

In summary

Organisational transformation is going to come with a wide variety of challenges and will strongly impact engagement and the sense of belonging, both for customers and employees. However, by taking an honest approach and being sincere in your communication at all levels, change management can be handled gracefully and with distinction.

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Key Contributors:

Andrew Sipus


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Andrew Sipus


Andrew is a Director with ChapmanCG based in Japan. He works with the team to identify high-caliber HR talent in Japan and across the Asia-Pacific region. His main areas of focus are Head of HR, Senior HRBP, and functional HR leadership roles.

Prior to joining ChapmanCG, Andrew worked as a Team Manager for en world Japan for 5 years and was based in Tokyo. He specialized in executive level search primarily for the pharmaceutical, medical device and cosmetics industries.

Andrew is originally from Toronto, Canada and has been based in Japan for nearly a decade. He graduated from the University of Toronto with a Master of Education in Second Language Acquisition (Japanese language) and Cross-Cultural Communications. In his free time, Andrew enjoys golfing, tennis, reading and travelling around Japan and other countries.

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