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Time to Review Relationships with Organizations. Three “Approaches to Work” that Business People Will Need Going Forward

Companies have promoted transformation to adapt to the environment but I believe that we also need to review our relationships with companies.

"Time to Review Relationships with Organizations...." is published on Forbes Japan

We often hear that lifetime employment has collapsed in recent years. What lies behind this is the recognition that the steady economic growth that occurred after the war cannot be expected in the future. I also believe it is due to changes in the environment surrounding companies such as globalization, reforms of working styles, and a focus on diversity.

In response to these changes in the environment, new working styles such as performance-based work, job-focused work and gig work are rapidly emerging and gaining a foothold in Japan as well.

It can be said that these concepts transformed the employment system in order to respond to the rapidly changing economic environment and were designed to enable companies to acquire resilience to respond flexibly to these changes. If so, this can be considered as a perfectly natural process for companies.

As you can see, companies have promoted transformation to adapt to the environment but I believe that we, the workers, also need to review our relationships with companies.

In this article, I would like to introduce some of the approaches to work that I believe will be necessary for those who will be working with companies going forward, based on my past experience.

Work Based on Pursuing Something Interesting

Until now, I have just been pursuing “interesting” work.  I have never drawn a career path before and so I have never had a career goal. I have always thought that there are two ways of approaching work—“voluntarily” and “involuntarily, by being forced by someone”—and two kinds of results from work—“success” and “failure.”

The best combination of these two ways of approaching work and two results is to “work voluntarily and succeed” and what we want to avoid the most is to “work involuntarily and fail.”

Also, I feel that a career is not something that one creates but something that remains as a result of pursuing interesting work. This is why I never thought about my career from the beginning but have rather always been thinking and learning about what kind of expertise and skills I need in order to do the next interesting job.

This way of thinking has not changed today. I am still not that much interested in my career and I am pursuing interesting work. I don’t think this will change going forward. This is simply because I cannot stay highly focused and work with a sense of speed unless the work is interesting. And as a result, I will not be able to contribute to the company.

Another aspect of why I have been pursuing interesting work is the reality that I cannot control my own career. At companies, employees are given roles that are decided by the company. So, even if you have career aspirations, your career will be decided based on various circumstances on the part of the company.

In my case, I have never chosen my job for career development. It has been a repetition of someone evaluating my expertise and experience and giving me my next job. This applies to internal relocation and also when I was given a job offer from another company. Fortunately, I have always been involved in interesting work.

Rather than pursuing something elusive such as a career, which we cannot control, I think that tackling something interesting in front of us with utmost concentration and improving ourselves is one way to advance forward. And more than anything, I think that the time we spend pursuing something interesting enriches our lives.

Become an “Eccentric Person” who Creates the Future Sustenance of the Company

There are many unique and “eccentric people” among those who pursue interesting work. I have seen many eccentric and strange people in the companies I worked for in the past. They truly love the technology or products they created with great enthusiasm and are confident that they will bring new value to the world. It is a famous story that Sony ran a recruiting ad titled “Seeking Nails that Stick Out” when they started the company but I guess they were seeking innovators who would “break through” common sense and not take it for granted.

The confidence of those who overcome various difficulties is not misplaced, as I have seen them deliver valuable things to the world many times. The reason why eccentric people can create new value, I think, is that they are looking at things from a completely different perspective than those of ordinary people. In other words, they question existing common sense and always pursue the essence that lies behind it.

At companies that have introduced a performance-based employment system, they define short-term and personal targets and their employees forge ahead to achieve these targets. While this scheme is straight forward, there is a risk that employees will become selfish in order to achieve their targets, depending on how it is run. I think that there are only a few companies that have set targets for employees with a five to ten-year span based on the company vision.

Eccentric people are always focusing on looking five to ten years ahead and have passion to bring new value to the world. Also, they build a “story” beyond what they are foreseeing and take actions to realize this “story.” As a result, they will be out of the performance-based system box based on annual target setting but they will create the future sustenance of the company.

At industries and companies that are in a state of contraction and equilibrium because they are unable to create new value, the ability to be able to plan and execute without being told to do so is required rather than the ability to do what one is told to do.

With the accelerating evolution and advancement of digital and AI technologies, sectors where computers can implement logical tasks that require data much faster and more accurately than human work are expanding. In the current trend of the digital workforce being put to practical use at a rapid pace, the evaluation axis for human resources’ capabilities will surely change.

Work that requires machinelike accuracy will be entrusted to computers while human resources will specialize in issues related to non-verbal information that cannot be apprehended by computers, such as creating “stories” that become corporate strategies.

This is why I want executives of Japanese companies to evaluate not only employees that bring in daily revenue but also eccentric employees that create the sources of future revenue. I also want them to prepare an environment where these people can participate actively.

For those who are working at companies and have superiors they can trust, I recommend you to become eccentric at times. By doing so, you will be able to see your daily work from different angles, which will add depth to your work as social activity. Also, the more the performance-based system is promoted, the more I think that eccentric employees with  calm insights and passion to create new value will be treasured. Otherwise, companies will have no future.

Build Diverse Experience through Career Change

You will probably agree that the permanent employment system centered on major companies, which was thought to be common sense during the high economic growth period, has virtually ceased. Now that values are becoming diversified and people who want to work after retirement are increasing, there is a trend to positively evaluate personnel who have acquired diverse experience at several companies rather than those with occupational experience at just one company. As evidence of this, the number of people who change jobs is increasing by 2-3% annually.

Meanwhile, according to the Databook of International Labour Statistics 2018 issued by the Japan Institute for Labour Policy and Training, the average number of years of continuous employment at one company in Japan is 11.9 years. This number is similar to the figures for France and Germany but decreases to 8-9 years in the U.K. and Scandinavian countries and even to 4.2 years in the U.S.

A characteristic of Japan is that even though over a quarter of a century has already passed since the enforcement of the Equal Employment Opportunity Act for Men and Women, there is still a great gap between men and women in terms of years of continuous employment. While there is almost no difference between men and women in western countries, it is 13.9 years for men and 9.3 years for women in Japan. Perhaps this reflects the situation where the promotion of women’s empowerment is not advancing in Japan.

However, it appears that there are many startups that are providing an environment where diverse personnel can play active roles and this seems to be resulting in favorable business conditions.

In line with the environment being faced by companies in recent years and the expansion of gig work and job-focused employment, people will have more diverse and flexible working styles and career changes should increase going forward.

There are many companies that have introduced remote work due to COVID-19, and the “common sense” of people who believed that business would not progress with online meetings has been overturned. On the contrary, I have come across news reports of cases where business productivity has increased due to the higher density of meetings.

With the change from conventional teleconferences using telephone lines to online meetings using the Internet, it has become possible to easily share documents and also introduce features that are more convenient than real meetings such as transcribing the conversations of meetings in English.

It is against this background that words like workation were created and it has become possible for employees to select their working style according to their individual lifestyle and family situation.

This is not merely an issue regarding working style. It is probably correct to think that this is a lifestyle issue about how to live. I believe that companies must become attractive organizations by creating systems that can accommodate the diverse lifestyles of individual employees.

Considering that job-focused employment will advance more going forward and we will enter an age where specialists will be required, it should become important for people working at companies to build up a lot of  experience in various sectors. It is good to build experience through relocations within major companies but another method is to build experience through career changes.

I have also experienced career changes and, as there are considerable differences between companies, I was able to learn many things and the vectors of what I can handle increased through these experiences. Career change requires courage but I think it is quite exciting to walk straight ahead in your own way.

In the age of advanced AI, all workers other than executives may become AI programs. When individuals start to provide value to society as executives of micro companies through a distributed and integrated corporate network, the experience of working in various companies will be useful and never go to waste.

From my past experience, I believe that pursuing interesting work, learning from eccentric people, and walking straight ahead in your own way are three ways to deal with work in the coming age. I have been advancing based on these three approaches to work but considering the current transformation of companies, I think these elements will be further emphasized in the world going forward.

In this so-called age of the 100-year lifespan, I hope to be involved in work until I am around 75 years old. Based on my experience, it takes about seven years  to develop a platform and five years to establish a business, so my goal is to play four to five more games in my remaining life. I hope to continue advancing forward without forgetting to pursue interesting work, learn from eccentric people and walk straight ahead in my own way.

※This article was published in "Forbes JAPAN Online posted on June 8, 2021". This article has been licensed by Forbes Japan. Copying or reprinting without permission is prohibited.

Masayuki Chatani

Partner, CEO of KPMG Ignition Tokyo Inc.

KPMG in Japan

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