Influencing Change in Japan: Regional HR Successes and Misconceptions
In early December, ChapmanCG hosted an exceptional meeting for Singapore-based regional HR leaders on the topic of HR and talent in Japan. The ChapmanCG Japan consulting team flew in to offer their insights from the market, and a handpicked group of participants in Singapore who either covered HR in Japan, or had experienced living and working in Japan, also attended. The forum was designed to offer a healthy debate around the successes and failures of influencing change and managing talent in Japan, as well as to challenge many of the old assumptions that still linger about how Japan should be treated from overseas. The meeting was hosted by McDonald’s, and was attended by around 25 HR leaders from an A-to-Z of companies such as Accenture, Allianz, Celgene, CooperVision, Dimension Data, Flowserve, Groupon, Kulicke & Soffa, LEGO, Quintiles, Mitsubishi, Nokia, SAP and Zoetis.
As an accompaniment to this meeting, our CEO Matt Chapman interviewed Managing Director, Oscar Fuchs, on his views of HR and talent in Japan, and we include a link below to the podcast in this article. With a decade of experience either living in Japan or covering the Japan HR market, Oscar has seen the shifts in talent and expectations first hand, and offers a fascinating analysis of the HR market from an inside/outside perspective. He was joined at the Singapore meeting by Yan Sen Lu, who was able to complement these big-picture themes with some practical and up-to-date information from the ground in Tokyo.
The key theme of the meeting was that ‘Culture Always Wins’. For some companies, this meant that Japanese culture can sometimes work against the expectations from overseas, and ideas and strategies simply don’t get accepted and implemented in ways that may ‘fit’ elsewhere. However in other companies, there was evidence that it is possible to build a corporate culture that transcends the notion of national culture, in a way that allows for a lot more integration of ideas and actions. There are no ‘quick fixes’ to this, but here are three of the key takeaways.
- Work with Japan’s natural strengths. If Japan has perfected a certain process or strategy, then make sure this gets exported, or at least showcased in other markets. This helps Japan to feel part of the larger picture, rather than just being on the receiving end of corporate direction.
- Help to break silos by rotating overseas talent into Japan, and Japanese talent overseas. The group discussed the many right and wrong ways of doing this, but in all cases moving talent around is time-consuming, organisationally challenging, and not cheap. With the right planning and management, though, the effort pays off.
- Build increased understanding for the Japanese leadership style into your regional decision-making. We tend to define leadership by Western standards of debate and ‘on the spot’ influencing and decision-making. But if you can accommodate a different style of leadership that allows for more consensus-building and less pressure to perform linguistic gymnastics in meetings, then you can build a truly diverse management culture in which Japan can feel more involved.
ChapmanCG CEO Matt Chapman was also in attendance, observing: “Regional HR leaders sharing actual stories and experiences of working to maximise harmony while remotely managing their Japan operations was very useful. This was particularly true, as there were a number of cross-cultural Japanese-born Regional HR Leaders in the room.”
The Japan theme of the meeting allowed the group to have a very focused discussion, while at the same time tap into some issues that have universal application. We thank everyone who took part in such a memorable gathering, and we hope to hold similar market-specific groups at regional and global headquarters locations in the future.
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