In a panel discussion on how companies can create growth through future styles of working, representatives of leading Japanese organizations provided insight on how to empower individual employees in ways that motivate them to innovate and drive a business forward. Key takeaways included:

  • innovation needs to occur at all levels of an organization in order to continuously create value for customers
  • organizations need to innovate quickly and continuously to keep up with the rapidly changing business environment due to advancements in technology, which calls for them to rethink how they organize to get work done
  • innovation should no longer be the sole responsibility of an individual or a single department; instead, organizations must create a culture that empowers their employees to contribute to value creation

The New Role of Leaders

These and more are the keys to success in the digital age, according to members of the panel, which was comprised of Shigeki Mishima, general manager of corporate strategy at Panasonic; Yoshihisa Aono, President of Cybozu, a Tokyo-based software company that provides web-based groupware services; and Sachiko Fumoto, a research fellow at Nikkei Business Publications.

Nikkei Business Publications Sachiko Fumoto

Moderator Sachiko Fumoto, research fellow at Nikkei, noted that according to a recent survey on employee engagement conducted in the US, only six percent of respondents felt involved in their work in a meaningful way.

"While the command-and-control approach to leadership was effective in the past, it may not be the optimum way to lead an organization into the future," said Shigeki Mishima, General Manager, Corporate Strategic Headquarters of Panasonic. "Instead of being problem solvers, leaders should take on the role of pathfinders or change agents," he added.

Leaders are therefore required to equip their staff with the relevant skills and knowledge, and provide them with opportunities to collaborate with others to spark innovation. "It is only by nurturing such an environment that innovation can thrive, and companies can continue creating value for their customers," said Mishima.

While Aono agreed with Mishima's point on the need to empower individual employees, he stressed that teamwork is equally essential to the success of a company. "Our employees must work together toward the same mission, or the business will not succeed," he said.

Encouraging Diversity

Given the multifarious and ever-changing demands of customers, an organization needs to innovate on all fronts to provide a positive customer experience. In the case of Cybozu, encouraging its staff to pursue their interests has even led to the acquisition of new customers. According to Aono, some of its customers were introduced by employees engaged in farming on the side.

What's more, by accepting varying viewpoints from employees of different backgrounds, organizations will stand to gain a better understanding of their customers and innovate more successfully. "We have to escape our monocultural mindset if we are ever going to succeed at innovation," said Fumoto.

This is why Panasonic regards the promotion of diversity as crucial to its business strategy, and provides a range of opportunities for ambitious employees. Mishima shared that the company is working toward having 20 percent of its managerial posts filled by women.

Enabling a New Way of Working

"One way of enabling diversity to thrive is to incorporate flexibility into the management philosophy," said Aono. "Instead of insisting on a fixed way of working, leaders should listen to the needs of individuals and help them to create better, personalized working environments." He said that by allowing his staff to work in their preferred manner--such as leaving the office early to pick up their children from daycare centers or not working overtime--his company saw improvements in employees' happiness and productivity, which ultimately enabled the organization to slash its staff turnover rate from 28 percent in 2005 to 4 percent in 2017.

Panasonic's Mishima outlined a company initiative called "A Better Workstyle," launched last year, which aims to encourage the cultivation of an environment rich in diversity. Employees are allowed to work from anywhere, which empowers them to be more productive and innovative while catering to their personal needs.

Summing up the panel discussion, panelists reiterated the importance of empowering employees to do their best work in ensuring the success of the business. "Whether your business is B2B or B2C, if your employees are satisfied with their work, they will contribute to making your customers happy, which will then lead to improved business outcomes," Mishima said.

[Leader Session] Creating new growth for companies with "Future working style" - strengthening "individual power" as a management strategy -
Date and Time
October 30, 4:30 p.m. -5:50 p.m. JST
Ms. Sachiko Fumoto, Fellow of Nikkei BP Intelligence Group, Nikkei Business Publications, Inc.
Mr. Yoshihisa Aono, CEO and Co-Founder of Cybozu Inc.
Mr. Shigeki Mishima, Corporate Human Resources Strategy Department, Corporate Strategy Division, Panasonic Corporation

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