Japan HR Leaders Learning Series Vol. 1
Date: April 13, 2018
Host: Nissan Motor Corporation
Speakers: Laura Gillespie and Anish Baijal (Nissan); Luis Souza (Fujitsu)
Theme: Identifying and Closing Gaps in the Global Talent Pool
On a crisp Friday afternoon in April, nearly 30 HR Leaders representing a wide range of industries gathered at Nissan’s global headquarters in Yokohama to kick off the Japan HR Leaders Learning Series. Organized by Human Future, this series aims to address the collective need of HR professionals in Japan to stay equipped with emerging talent strategies in the face of dramatic transformation underway in the global business landscape.
The theme chosen for the event was “Identifying and Closing Gaps in the Global Talent Pool”. While this topic may appear on the surface to lack freshness, in our age of digitization and uber-connectivity, it has taken on a new level of urgency. The attending group focused the discussion around two excellent presentations, first by the Nissan team and secondly by the HR leader attending from Fujitsu.
Nissan is part of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance which collectively sells 1 in 9 vehicles worldwide. The alliance has more than 470,000 employees and 122 manufacturing plants. The Nissan LEAF is the world’s best-selling electric vehicle with more than 270,000 units having been sold since 2010.
Beyond the disruptive trend from gasoline-powered to electric vehicles, the commoditization of automobiles is erasing pricing power and forcing industry players to look for new ways to extract and deliver value from their core expertise to their customers. Nissan’s approach is to view their products as a highly-connected mobile platform which will enhance passengers’ digital experience and provide them new ways to enjoy their journey in a safe and secure manner. And while the starting point for this platform follows a global standard, the range of services customers receive must be tailored to their local environment.
With this landscape in mind, what are the requirements for its talent? In summary, Nissan needs its current and future leaders to be able to do the difficult and different, blending local requirements with global standards in an era where the shelf life of knowledge is rapidly diminishing. This requirement puts Nissan in the position of needing a reliable way to not only analyze their current talent needs but predict and then prepare for needs in the future.
Nissan has approached this by developing a strategy to ensure that local talent has the right experience, exposure, and expertise to take on leadership roles in their respective countries. To do so, two tactics were deployed. The first one was to converge the disparate HRIS systems into one which provided a common language and platform for defining, assessing, and tracking talent across the company. The second was to develop a propriety tool which they have called the “talent supply chain”, which helps the company’s leadership look at the talent supply, the talent demand, and pinpoint the gaps. These gaps are then addressed with a “build, buy, or borrow” approach which is aimed at having a unique successor identified for each key role who will be ready to move at the right time.
While Fujitsu is also a global company of Japanese origin, its set of business challenges and subsequent talent issues contrast with Nissan. Fujitsu is among the world’s largest ICT (information communications technology) companies as measured by revenue, and a Fortune Global 500 company. Yet its traditional business of producing super computers, PCs, networking systems, and mobile devices now account for only a third of its business, with the other two thirds coming from services.
Fujitsu has over 150,000 employees on its payroll and provides products and services to customers in over 100 countries. Yet remarkably two thirds of both its headcount and its revenue is based in Japan. While Fujitsu continues to enjoy strong market share in Japan even as it shifts from hardware to services, it is clear that the update for the company domestically is limited and it must look overseas for growth. This need to pivot raises two serious people challenges which its leadership is now addressing in earnest.
The first issue is the ability of its leaders both in Japan and abroad to manage businesses across borders. This is not just a Japanese problem. Fujitsu’s experience having a track record as a leader in one’s home country – be it in Germany, Mexico, or anywhere else – does not automatically guarantee that one will be equally successful abroad. However due to the unique management style in Japan, the gap is bigger for Japanese leaders when they go abroad.
The second issue is around reskilling a large workforce which still fundamentally sees Fujitsu as a hardware maker even if the business model has evolved. While the digital age brings a huge opportunity, there is a threat of equal magnitude that the employees on which the business depends to drive and deliver innovation will not catch up quickly enough.
To address these two issues, Fujitsu has heavily invested in its talent strategy and infrastructure which includes the direct involvement of its senior leadership in developing its next waves of organization leaders. In Japan, the focus has been on going deeper down in the company to identify and develop talent early enough in their career to be on par with their counterparts abroad. This includes giving young talent not just “shadow assignments” but roles where they have real responsibility where they are allowed to make mistakes and learn from them.
Both the Nissan and Fujitsu presentations provoked discussion and debate among the event’s attending members. A running theme in the closing Q&A was around the need to have employees who are adept at and motivated to develop themselves. While company employees in Japan remain well known for tending to wait to be told what to do, some participants observed that the younger generation shows a positive trend towards being curious about what is important to themselves and what they want to do in the company. How to instill a similar mindset in the middle layers of an organization was an issue which was well recognized but was left for future events to examine more thoroughly.
In summary the group left with some new ideas and perspectives on how to close the gap
between the talent supply and talent needs in the companies they are supporting. Moreover, a shared purpose for this series was felt which will carry forward to follow-on events to be held in the near future.
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