Corporate Blog

Corporate Blog

Employee-Driven Actions! - The Chief HR Officer's Commitment to Building a Company Where All Can Work with Pride.

January 29, 2024

At Coca-Cola Bottlers Japan Inc. (CCBJI), we’re actively developing a new talent strategy a part of our mid-term management plan, 'Vision 2028.' Leading this effort is Yuki Higashi, who assumed the role of Executive Officer, Chief Human Resources Officer, and Head of HR & General Affairs on September 1, 2023.

With a background in the financial industry, Higashi brings firsthand experience of managing a diverse workforce. Transitioning from business operations to human resources, she has actively work as an ally to address challenges faced by LGBTQ+ individuals in the workplace.

At CCBJI, she has played a vital role as a sponsor of the LGBTQ+ & ALLY Employee Network. Her goal is to foster an inclusive workplace where everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation, can feel comfortable and happy.

So, how is Higashi envisioning the future of our company and shaping talent strategy? She shares her thoughts on the organization, its members, and her outlook for the future.

■ Encouraging Staff to Embrace HR Policies as Their Own

In August 2023, our company unveiled “Vision 2028,” a new mid-term management plan slated to extend to 2028. The central objective of this plan is to achieve sustainable profit growth through simultaneous expansion and profitability, while fortifying a cost structure that is resilient to change.

It goes without saying that our people are the backbone of realizing ”Vision 2028” is. Higashi, recently appointed as chief human resources officer, is spearheading the development of a talent strategy towards achieving these goals.

“One concept central to our strategy is developing Transformation Leaders.' Previously we targeted those on the verge of managerial promotion, identifying five key capabilities necessary to foster transformation. Based on these capabilities, we conducted the training program 'Coca-Cola University Japan' to develop the Transformation Leaders. Cultivating talent to lead change takes time. Going forward, we aim to increase the number of leaders who can drive change with a common language they share with the management team.

An additional pillar of our strategy is supporting autonomous career development for all employees. We continue to strengthen programs that serve this purpose. In our 'Knowledge Mall' distance learning program, we offer all employees online courses ranging from essential business knowledge to advanced topics that for those aspiring to earn an MBA.”

Higashi points out that “merely enhancing training programs does not however necessarily lead to autonomous career development. Unless every employee can envision a future self, and future aspirations, they won't engage in proactive learning.

“Therefore, we’ve enhanced the career development planning system, aiding every employee in crafting personalized career and skill development plans. Most recently, we conducted career interviews to highlight the achievements of our internal talent. By understanding how role models have reached their current positions through their unique journeys, we want our employees to uncover the essential lessons for their own growth.”

Moreover, Higashi emphasizes the importance of communicating these talent strategies as 'stories from the employee's perspective'.

“When HR professionals formulate policies, they often employ technical terms such as 'fostering autonomous careers,' or '1on1 feedback.' These terms may not be familiar to most people, leading to ambiguity regarding the specific actions required or the reasons behind them. If we continue to communicate in this manner internally, employees might perceive it as HR being overly complex. I shared a similar sentiment when I held a managerial position in my previous company's business division. I often participated in training sessions sent down from HR from a sense of obligation.

Had I grasped the importance of each training session for my career, I believe I could have engaged more positively in these learning opportunities. Now, in my role communicating these policies, I try to convey them from the employees' perspective rather than solely from the company's or HR's viewpoint. This approach aims to make these policies more relatable and pertinent to our employees.

■ Business will not progress without a collaborative, diverse workforce.

Why did Higashi, who was not originally in the human resources field, decide to make a career change?

“The catalyst for my career shift occurred approximately a decade ago when I worked at a securities firm. At that time, I was the manager of a global project in the research department, and my team included not only Japanese members but also mid-career recruits from foreign firms and individuals of foreign nationality from overseas branches. Leading this diverse team exposed me to various challenges arising from cultural differences.

Even daily work processes were impacted. In Japanese companies, where I had always worked, a custom prevailed among Japanese staff to connect through unspoken understanding, inferring each other's needs without relying heavily on verbal communication. Conversely, international employees and those who’ve worked at global companies favored unambiguous communication, finding vague interactions inefficient.

Japanese employees from domestic firms criticized the other groups for being too direct, while those from international companies would express frustration, stating they couldn’t grasp instructions clearly. These small misunderstandings occasionally led to conflicts, slowing down the team’s decision-making process.”

Regardless of the brilliance of a business idea, progress is hindered if people with diverse backgrounds cannot cooperate within the organization. Recognizing this, Higashi proactively acquired skills in team building, feedback methods, and meeting facilitation. Using this knowledge and experience gained, she transitioned to a career in HR, aiming to bring a positive impact to the entire company.

■ New HR Roles in Times of Change.

Subsequently, Higashi gained HR experience at prominent domestic securities and consulting firms. The opportunity with CCBJI, she notes, arose serendipitously.

“While working in consulting, I had no intentions of changing jobs. However, in 2020, I discovered through an acquaintance's referral that the company was looking for a Head of Talent Development, prompting a casual interview.

What surprised me during this meeting was that the talent strategy was linked to the company’s mid-term management plan at that time.

During that period, just a few years after the merger of Coca-Cola East Japan and Coca-Cola West, resulting in the formation of CCBJI. President Calin Dragan conveyed a straightforward message within the company: 'Business as usual is not an option.' It was precisely because of this situation that there was a demand for enhancing the skills of our personnel, positioning human talent at the core of our business strategy. I felt a sense of purpose in HR in this environment and embarked on a new challenge with enthusiasm.”

In her current position as Chief Human Resources Officer, Higashi emphasizes the importance of cultivating a heightened awareness among HR department members of the vital mission to “align talent strategy with the realization of business strategy.”

“In companies not undergoing transformation, the role of HR often becomes a cycle of predetermined routines. However, in times of change, the HR role takes on a different dimension. This entails identifying the talent requirements outlined by the management strategy, leveraging HR expertise to formulate the most suitable talent strategy, and subsequently crafting HR policies.

Furthermore, implementing these strategies and ensuring their practical application necessitates effective communication skills. In today's world, where individual values are increasingly diverse, employees are likely to seek varied ideal ways of working and career development. While understanding these complex needs, it is essential to continually tell the story of change not only from the company’s perspective but also from that of the employees. Personally, I am actively engaging in this practice and aspire to initiate the transformation within the HR department.”

■ Empowering Minorities in the Workplace.

In her pursuit of a fulfilling career as an HR professional, Higashi has dedicated substantial effort to what could be deemed her life's work-an initiative aimed at creating a world where LGBTQ+ individuals and other minorities can live without barriers and work authentically.

“The reason I became involved in LGBTQ+ activities was that at a previous workplace, I was asked to help with the activities of an internal network formed by the members themselves.

Before that, my understanding of LGBTQ+ matters was limited. While I had encountered some LGBT people during my high school and university days in the United States and while working for a foreign company, it wasn’t until I joined a domestic company and actively participated the activities that I realized, within an organization of over 10,000, not a single person had come out at work.

In foreign companies, there was a higher number of individuals who had openly identified. I wondered, what was the reason for this difference? Could it be a problem with the understanding and actions of us, the majority? With this in mind, I started to put more effort into the activities. At that time, the term 'LGBT' was scarcely known in Japan, and it was rare for someone who was not a member to be involved in such initiatives. That's why I felt it was important to increase the number of people like me, who were not members themselves but participated in activities, namely 'allies'.”

At CCBJI, the 'LGBTQ+ & ALLY Employee Network' has been established, and currently, it has 153 registered members. Higashi serves as the 'Sponsor' of this network, actively engaging in activities such as advising on initiatives, speaking at internal and external events, and more. These efforts are increasingly being recognized externally as well.

“We still have a long way to go in terms of involving more employees. I am not satisfied with the number of 153 registered members and aim to increase it further.

However, ally activities should not be driven by obligation or coercion. My aim is for each individual to participate while recognizing the personal significance it holds for them. Creating a more comfortable working environment for LGBTQ+ individuals ultimately contributes to addressing issues faced by other minorities. For example, it leads to the promotion of more familiar themes such as empowering women and encouraging paternity leave for men. The idea that 'everyone can be an ally to someone' means that whether they are LGBTQ+ members or not, all employees can benefit from participating in these activities.

I sense that in Japan, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiatives tend to focus on how the majority understands and supports minorities. However, it's not always the case that one is part of the majority. Everyone has some form of minority characteristic to varying degrees. The effort to turn such minority characteristics into strengths and create a company where everyone can work authentically is significant for all employees and, I believe, essential for the sustainable growth of the company.

A workplace where diverse talents can practice a work style that suits each individual and where each person can feel proud to work at our company is the ideal state. I am committed to further promoting and establishing this ideal and will continue to give my all in these efforts.”

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