Sachiko Okamoto, who obtained an MBA from Stanford University and previously worked for leading global companies as an HR professional, joined Panasonic i-PRO Sensing Solutions Co., Ltd in February 2020. She said it was the right moment and right opportunity for her to pursue her career mission of helping Japanese corporations to transform themselves and to unleash their potential as an organization. How does she find i-PRO and plan to transform its organization for growth?
How could an organization unleash the full potential of employees?
Q. What is your plan to transform i-PRO from the perspective of an organization?
I found employees in i-PRO really have passion to change – change organization and change themselves by taking advantage of this opportunity of starting over as a new company. I am here to support them to get rid of the past self-limiting norms and to realize the potential they actually have. I know it is not always easy to change who you are by yourself. As someone joined from outside, I defined my role to recognize and promote the passion for change in everyone. I am very excited to see how we as i-PRO organization could open up new possibilities if we could transform ourselves and become more free and creative in our thinking.
Q. In terms of change, what kind of change do you expect to see?
Even though we were curved out from Panasonic group, we are not becoming a small Panasonic. We are building a completely new company. Yes, “Building” is the right word. Employees moved from Panasonic and those who joined from outside have been having a great chemistry and we are working together and building a new company culture through discussion and dialogues.
Q. Discussion and dialogues?
When I joined this company, I got a feeling that having extensive dialogues is the way to identify and build the culture of this new organization. Why? Because our top management, Nakao and Ozaki, they are both very open-minded and they always seek for opportunities for discussion and dialogues – that’s how they manage, and how they want to manage. They intrinsically believe that we could come up with better ideas and solutions when we involve more employees across the organizations. Also, I found that our employees have very strong passions and ideas inside them, even though they don’t always show them off – it is like there is a gold mine to dig. Plus the size of our new company makes it possible – we are not too big and that makes it possible for all employees around the globe to contribute to building the new company culture.
So I don’t need to shout who we should become – we could collectively draw the picture of who we want to be. And I will be here to create sort of “opportunities” for dialogues and pick up the voices from the employees, that’s how we build our company culture and organizations. We also value the solidarity from diversity, and from that perspective, my role is to be careful not to be too much inclined to the “big voices” but to listen to the smaller voices, too. We developed our corporate identity, which said we want to be “Flexible, Bold and Trusted.” Actually this also came out from the discussion among employees.
Providing opportunities to speak openly
Q. How have these opportunities for discussion been created?
I have launched a program called “i-PRO - Building the Future” in April 2020, now known as “BtF” in our organization. BtF includes various projects and activities to enhance our organizations, and one of the priority programs among them is “BtF Forum.” This is an online forum where anyone can participate and have candid conversations with other employees. Executive Directors are assigned to serve as the hosts for these online round-table talks, and we regularly hold roughly 5 types of forums each month. For example, “I love i-PRO Products!” is the forum where passionate employees talk about what they love and what they want to do about their responsible products. We also have “Career and Personal Growth forum,” where a very well respected executive director is hosting sessions to help employees to reflect their career and aspiration and to build their future career plan. This is the place where employees can share and connect, but also the place where we as management members learn how our employees are feeling and get the hints of how we could improve our management practices.
Q. I understand that you do that in your HQ in Japan. I thought culturally Japanese people tend to hesitate and shy away from such open discussions. Is it working well?
I admit that Japanese culture is generally not encouraging for an open discussion and, years ago, to be honest I myself used to hesitate to speak up in front of people. However, it is not very constructive to say things behind the scene, and I also think it is important to encourage my colleagues to share their opinions openly as this is critical to develop their leadership skills in the mid-term.
Everyone is welcomed at the BtF forums, and any ideas, comments and opinions are welcomed there. You don’t need to say something inspiring nor even just useful. One of the intensions of creating such opportunities is for employees to get used to openly share their opinions, any opinions, and they get used to feel safe to do so in this company.
Q. Have you observed any changes after BtF started?
More and more employees are participating and the feedback from participants have been all very positive. I truly feel like everyone is really looking for a place where they can be themselves and they can express who they are. We as i-PRO values “human sense” – which cannot be replaced by AI – and want to foster such “sense” as our competitive advantage. Therefore I want to keep providing employees such opportunities to express themselves.
Magical power of organizations
Q. On a different note, what made you embark on an HR career?
Throughout my career, I came to realize that organization has a magical power. In the very beginning of my career, I had a very traumatic experience. For a period of time, I had very little work to do, and was spending time looking at emptiness in the office for many hours every day. I almost got depressed. And that experience made me realize that the organization could have very strong, negative impact on an individual – sometimes it could completely kill the energy of someone. At the same time, I have a lot of great memories and experiences that I could only have in the context of organizations. Now I feel it’s rewarding to work as HR when thinking of such a huge, magical impact that organizations could have on people.
Q. Do you think non-Japanese companies have very different culture from Japanese companies?
I know there are various types of non-Japanese companies, but the companies I used to work for before all expected employees to express their individual opinions openly and clearly and that kind of attitudes was considered very positively. I believe if we could have both a strong sense of unity, which is usually the strength of Japanese corporations, and respect for individual perspectives and opinions, both integrated at a high level, will make a best, strongest corporate culture.
Q. Finally, do you have any forms of an ideal “employee” or an “organization” you want to seek as i-PRO’s CHRO?
I don’t have any one-size-fits-all ideas about the ideal employee or organization. It depends on what purpose we want to pursue and what goals we want to achieve in this society, what is our business strategy and how we are today and how we want to be as an organization. In the end, the answer will be found where all these aspects are crossover.
From the perspective of recruitment, I’d like to find “game changers” for us. Only by welcoming people who have skills, experiences and unique perspectives that we don’t have today, we could renew ourselves and grow faster. And for that, I believe it is critical to develop our capacity to accommodate and leverage diversity more and more as a DNA of our organization.