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In Search Of A Global HRD Methodology Originating From Asia

In Search Of A Global HRD Methodology Originating From Asia

It has already been 20 years since I began to take on global human resources development as my main assignment in Mitsubishi Corporation (“MC”). With a new mission to develop Asian HRD (Human Resources Development) on a consolidated basis ever since 2009, I have been situated in Singapore for 6 years now. Over the years, I have obtained many valuable lessons through the following:

  1. HRD consulting for Offices and Group companies
  2. Grade-by-Grade Management Seminars
  3. Retention & Utilization of High Potential Staff & Managers
  4. Management Seminars for RS or Rotating Staff ( Expats ) from TOK-HQ.

In this article, I would like to share with you my personal views on how “global HR practices are able to survive in Japanese companies”, and invite candid and valuable comments and opinions from my dear readers.

Over the 10 years between 2000 to 2009, I had been deeply involved in improving the HRD systems in offices throughout the world by interviewing more than 1,000 overseas employees from over 20 countries. This process started by determining individual positions for employees through matching perspectives of job value and human value for HR retention. We then proceeded to revise salary levels under the newly adopted grading system so as to reasonably reflect their true market value in the industry. With such a process, I managed to retain a majority of high-caliber non-Japanese staff in our offices (hereinafter to be referred to “national staff (NS)”) but failed to keep some tens of high fliers.

I am sure you may have come across similar cases in the past yourself. I still vividly remember all of them and how each of them reached their decision to leave the company. If I dared to caption it similar to a weekly gossip magazine article, it would be a “Memoir of NS who passed through my life”. Up till today, I still wonder if I could have retained them if I had talked to and treated them any better and differently. With such experiences in mind, I have ever since been pursuing the development of individual career management systems on a trial-and-error basis. As of today, I feel that I have learnt some good lessons by analysing each case from my “Memoir of NS who passed through my life”.  

(1) The problems of HRD awareness and skills of Japanese expatriates

Japanese expatriates in general have low interest in career management of NS as well as insufficient skills in performance evaluation. This may be partially due to how personnel replacement practices in the head office usually follow a chain-reaction (automatic). Some problems also arise from poor communication with a lack of English linguistic ability, while others may face cultural gaps and difficulty in understanding the unique Japanese culture. Like “hear one, and know ten”

(2) Japanese factor(s)

When I look back to compare and understand what made the difference between NS who decided to stay and NS who decided to leave, I found that it could be related to the so called “Japanese factor(s)”. These include having some past experience living in Japan, having Japanese spouses, or even just loving and having an interest in the Japanese society and culture. Those NS who once had such ties with Japan are likely to remain in office.  

Although other elements were likewise discovered, we are currently implementing training programs such as HRD training for Japanese expatriates, Japanese language programs as well as secondment assignments and business training at the head office for NS mainly based on the above two points.

I have prepared a diagram for our Japanese companies trying to recruit non-Japanese professionals who have high potential to become more than a simple “right-hand” or “left-hand” man to Japanese expatriates in a specific region or country. Please take a look at the figure below (“Individual HR Analysis”) for your reference.

For the issue of NS retention at the overseas offices of Japanese companies, I started by delving into the cause of the “Japan-Passing” phenomenon (Tendency of promising non-Japanese staff to avert joining Japanese companies) widely seen in the 1990s. To address this issue, we need to face the following: (1) low HRD awareness which is common to Japanese expatriates as employers and (2) high expectations of CM (Career Management) on the side of job applicants as employees.

In other words, we must firstly recognize that our own weakness in performance and career management skills as Japanese companies could be blamed to some extent. With this, our sincere efforts to improve this situation could only offer infrastructure for retaining high-performers. Secondly, we also need to pay close attention to the HRD mind and its underlying philosophy of life of the employed. Having these in mind, I personally insist that we should try to recruit bilingual HR personnel with high cross-cultural adaptability, and who hopefully possess the Japanese factor(s).

In this report, I like to give some brief explanation about one approach for discovering high-caliber HR, using the following figure.   

The right and left parts of ① (ie. ①-1&①-2) are respectively related to the HRD mind and philosophy of life. It means good performers, regardless of nationality, are strongly career-oriented, always trying to envision themselves as professional HR (or candidates) in 3 to 5 years. Furthermore, they are usually well equipped with self-development skills to constantly hone themselves. These are valuable qualities that may develop to medium- to long-term HRD infrastructure.  It is essential to figure them out.

② emphatically shows the need of maintaining the good balance between business skills and HRD skills, as drawn above like the former held by right hand and the latter by left hand. Both Japanese expatriates and NS are particularly weak in the left hand. As a rule of thumb, it is true and correct. 

Meanwhile, it is known to us that those who developed a habit of self-insight through periodical appraisals since their early career stages are highly likely to be good managers with HRD skills. Next is a mission in ③. It is regrettable how overseas assignments that are too long have been implemented without clear missions in the past. This has resulted in new expatriates simply following the old paths of their predecessors, where they repeat such rotations after several years of valuable assignments, leaving NS as they were and depriving the NS of opportunities to become real managers. Clear indication of correlations between organizational missions and individual ones is the ABC of management for global enterprises. As you see ④, it is also important to understand the HR system of a specific organization. Especially understanding the levels of skills and competencies required for each grade, established based on job evaluation and grading systems. This constitutes an essential element to construct a job matching mechanism for motivating high-grade staff. To keep this concise, I will avoid giving a lengthy explanation but lastly, ⑤ covers understanding of required job performing skills to become a real expert from the viewpoints of expertise and professional skills by type of business.

In my opinion, I firmly believe that the above pointers are widely applicable to any place beyond borders, whether you may agree or not.   

ThriveInAsia Update #007

ThriveInAsia Update #007