Japan's Leadership Challenges in Globalization

Part 4: Why are onboarding programs under scrutiny?
How can companies help newly hired executives become productive quickly?

White Papers | April, 2015

By Tokyo

In this, Part 4 of our white paper, “Japan’s Leadership Challenges in Globalization,” DHR International (DHR) asked corporate executives: “What should companies do to help newly hired executives become productive in a short period of time?” This paper profiles companies who have put successful onboarding programs in place and details the significance and benefits of those programs.

Japanese companies often have well-crafted, standardized orientation programs in place for recently graduated new hires. The objective of these programs is to make sure the newly hired, young associates “adapt” to the organization and become familiar with the business world. Following the company-wide orientation programs, the new hires are assigned to various departments and are expected to continue familiarizing themselves with their responsibilities and the performance of their duties.

However, the concept of onboarding senior executives hired from outside is an entirely new one in Japan and there are few well-organized programs in place to quickly familiarize these new, higher level employees with their new organization. As a result, we have seen many cases in which gaps are created, and widened, between these executive and their new organizations, even if they successfully recruited a capable, experienced professional as head of a division or a business unit.

Foreign companies often recruit CEOs and other senior executives from outside and onboarding programs are an integral part of their recruiting and performance management processes. Those programs are fine-tuned based on job specific responsibilities and functions and include follow-up sessions to further ensure successful onboarding. As a result, their onboarding programs are integral to promoting teamwork and help the newly hired executive become productive in a relatively short period of time.

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DHR researched onboarding programs at various companies, conducted interviews and in this paper profiles successful efforts and initiatives.
 

Case Studies of Onboarding Programs

Case 1
Mr. Y, Head of Sales at a leading Japanese manufacturer (Previously, Head of Sales and Executive Officer at a major foreign IT company and, prior to that, worked for another major foreign IT company)

“I believe that one of the most effective tactics that a newly hired executive can employ to deliver results in the new company is to build a good human network within the company as quickly as possible. I think generating support internally, including from higher-ups, subordinates and other relevant departments is more important than external connections or sales capabilities.

The first time I changed jobs I joined a leading foreign company with a thorough onboarding program, which helped tremendously.

The program was based on one-on-one meetings within the company, rather than a broad focus on the organization or its products. During the first month of my employment I was scheduled to meet one-on-one with as many people as possible. Those meetings were carefully planned and organized, and I quickly met all of my peers and heads of all relevant departments.

After these meetings, Happy Hours were arranged from time to time and it didn’t take long for me to establish an internal network of helpful colleagues and associates. As a result, I was successful in increasing sales significantly in a relatively short period of time with the company.

I left that foreign company for my current position with a major Japanese firm, and I was the first executive the company had hired from outside. They did not have a well-organized orientation practice, including onboarding programs, to help executives from outside become familiar with the organization. Based on my great experience at the previous company, with some help from HR, I initiated one-on-one meetings with many people in various relevant departments to develop a new human network.

I believe that a company must develop and implement well-organized policies and procedures to help newly hired start their successful career in the new organization smoothly and effectively.”
 

Case 2
Mr. U, Head of HR at a leading Japanese manufacturer (Previously, Head of HR at a foreign consumer products company)

“We actively recruit executives for key leadership positions from outside and our CEO has ensured that HR thoroughly and completely supports those individuals.

As Head of HR, I support executives newly hired from outside the company to build an internal human network by focusing my efforts on ‘in-house communication.’ I schedule introductions and meetings with key in-house stakeholders in all divisions, while sharing information on their background, work styles and personality.

I always keep in mind that the newly hired executives have proven themselves within other organizations, so I’m always respectful in my approach and remain flexible in terms of helping deepen their understanding of ours, what makes us unique, our business, culture and people. Doing so, and as quickly as possible, helps them in successfully starting their new position in our company.

As an HR professional, I also try to stay close to the newly hired executives to get to know them and offer advice as required. Depending on circumstances, I meet with them either in conference rooms during the day or casual settings in the evening.

Even if a company has succeeded in recruiting top players, they will have difficulties achieving great business results within a short period without such support in any onboarding process.”
 

Case 3
Mr. M, Director of Business Strategy at a Japanese manufacturer (Previously in a similar position with a foreign manufacturer)

“Four years ago I was recruited by the CEO of my company to ‘lead our change.’ At that time there was no onboarding program and, although I was close to CEO, I needed lots of information about the company and business and had to gather that, myself, during the first months of my career here.

A newly hired executive in our legal department, who joined the company soon after I did, took almost two years to feel at home and start contributing to the business in a meaningful way. I believe he could have shortened this orientation period to less than a year, if a well-organized onboarding program had been put in place.

My previous experience with a foreign manufacturer was quite different. When I was considering joining the company, one of their executives sent me a letter with a clear job description. The letter helped me understand fully my responsibilities and the company’s expectations in advance and gave me a real incentive to work for them.

After I joined the firm, quite a few meetings with relevant parties were set up. The company explained various routes and channels in-house to obtain information needed for the job. In three years, I found myself in the position where I could provide information and a ready network to help other newly hired executives.

The company implements the same onboarding program throughout all locations. Therefore, all employees are enabled to fully support and encourage each other, with the same culture and incentives to achieve goals. I really feel that an onboarding program is an effective means of delivering a clear message within the company that employees are valuable assets. It is also an important tool in leading any company to success.”
 

Case 4
Mr. A, Head of HR at a foreign financial services company

“When a company brings in a new leader from outside, it is important to make sure there is a clear understanding between the new leader and existing employees in terms of work style, communication and work priorities, and at as early a stage as possible. I cite as an example our own successful onboarding program, which has achieved measurable results.

The program is called ‘Leaders Integration’ or ‘Assimilation,’ which is popular among foreign financial services companies and manufacturers. ‘Assimilation’ refers to the process of adapting or adjusting to the culture of a group.

 

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Usually this program takes four to eight hours. The purpose is to establish a cooperative relationship between the new leader and the subordinates, creating a single team to affect fast and effective responses to business needs. This exercise is simple but dynamic in that it creates real cohesiveness among team members and aligns new leader’s goals with the subordinates’.

I think Japanese companies would be well served by implementing such a program when a new leader starts working with a new team as a result of promotion, transfer or external recruitment. It would help all stakeholders understand each other and accelerate the building of new relationships.

Also, I think this program would be useful in promoting mutual understanding among the leader and the team members when someone is assigned a top leadership position with a multinational, and multicultural team as a result of the globalization and/or M&A by Japanese companies.”
 

Conclusion

Even a seasoned professional with an excellent track record may find it difficult to deliver business results after joining a new organization, and for reasons unrelated to individual competencies. In such instances motivation may be the issue and leaving the new company may result.

Onboarding initiatives can optimize new leaders’ readiness of and support their purposes for joining the company in the first place. DHR believes that the implementation of effective onboarding programs is crucial for Japanese companies planning to actively recruit its leaders from outside.

Interestingly, the effectiveness of onboarding programs depends not only the capabilities and adaptability of a new leader but also on the entire workplace, including mentors, senior management, colleagues and subordinates. That support makes a real and significant difference. Usually a company’s onboarding program is developed by Strategic Planning or HR. However, in order to be effective, it is imperative that all relevant stakeholders, including the front office and the back office, be involved and cooperate to develop and send a consistent messages that help new leaders launch successfully with the company.

DHR helps clients attract and retain the best talent and offers consulting and coaching to help new leaders smoothly transition at their new workplace. Plans are underway for seminars and roundtable discussions with subject experts to further promote the relevance and impact of “Onboarding” programs.

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In our four-part series of white papers, “Japan’s Leadership Challenges in Globalization,” DHR examined various case studies and presented proposed solutions related to challenges that Japanese companies face in hiring executives from outside.

There are many ways for a company to improve its competitiveness, value and business results. Employees, or human assets, are the key asset of any company and, needless to say, it is through the human assets that a company is able to produce excellent products and services and distribute them globally. Companies and the individuals that comprise them must grow together by responding to change and by placing the right talent in the right roles. Companies must continuously strive to succeed in a culture of globalization, and in the best possible way.

DHR, in our global executive search practice, help our clients recruit business leaders who are core members of client’s growth strategies. At the same time, we fully support Japanese corporations facing the challenges of globalization by offering our insights and recommendations around market trends.