Important Tips for HR: What to Ultimately Ask of Organizational Culture (Part 1 of 2)
World Teacher's Message No. 289


The Question:

What is necessary for leaders to ensure that both younger and older employees work together within the organization? Please advise on maintaining a fine balance between promoting based on seniority versus meritocracy.

Oct. 7, 2017 Happy Science Headquarters


This is indeed difficult. Even at Happy Science, people who joined the organization in its early stage often make a big deal of their seniority status and think that they are the ones who created our religious group; however, I’ve seen several cases in the past where we reshuffled personnel because people who joined at a later stage were more cautious and had greater talent and extensive experience.

This was especially common in the ‘90s. Oftentimes, people who joined us later had long careers or considerable insight. In Happy Science’s early days, there were people who joined us just because they had time on their hands, and some people felt such little responsibility that they were looking to transfer jobs any minute.

These people were putting in effort because they’ve been in the organization longer, but naturally, it started becoming more and more difficult for them to provide guidance to their staff. We had a talented pool with a wide range of knowledge and insight, so there was plenty of competition from the late ‘80s to the ‘90s. We reshuffled the organization a few times, and although it stabilized in the ‘90s, we ran into another bottleneck when it came time to take our organization to the next level.

For instance, Happy Science began overseas missionary work, started our own political party and created entertainment divisions. These are very different jobs, so it’s extremely difficult to have a single organization bundle all divisions.

You may feel comfortable doing things within your expertise, but let’s say you can’t speak English or dislike going overseas. Then, you may have absolutely no interest in international work and feel burdened if one day you were told to transfer to the international division. Some of those people would most likely consider resigning if this happened to them.

On the other hand, there are staff members who are “English-obsessed” and have no interest in anything other than using English. Sure, they can do translation jobs, but they won’t be of any help when it comes down to domestic product development, sales or client service. Perhaps they can’t negotiate in Japan because they only know how to establish relationships with foreigners. There are so many staff members who come in with skills in one area but not elsewhere, so it’s difficult to assess promotions.

If you were placed in our international division, it may seem like good English speakers are in higher positions, but English alone is not enough. You won’t make it to the top. You certainly need other elements.

It’s the same when working domestically. You can provide accurate assessments of your staff on things you’re skilled at, but when it comes down to expertise you don’t have, you often make low assessments or ignore those areas. This is the challenge.


It’s Easier to Promote Based on Talent During Times of Crisis

Another sensitive area involves age differences. If we were in a situation similar to the “Records of the Three Kingdoms” where you’ll be annihilated by another country if you don’t grow and get stronger, there’s no time to argue. You may be crushed unless you put someone forth with strong military force, wisdom and talent. There is no time to argue based on logic that has always worked, so while there still may be some kind of top-down approach, it’s easier to promote based on the right talent during times of crisis.

This becomes harder during “peaceful times.”Because rebellions will occur, there is sometimes a dislike for promoting people based on talent.

A “peaceful time” from the perspective of work can be thought of as a force that maintains the status quo. The people may want to keep their positions longer, maintain the status quo and continue their work the way they’ve always done. They don’t want to disrupt the order or get rid of the perfect balance that has kept their team intact.

But even the people in favor of the status quo will have to change their mindset if their team, organization or business will be crushed and defeated if they continue to maintain the status quo.

In the case of Happy Science, our status quo was simply to get licensed as a religious organization and focus on two things: faith and missionary work. Happiness planting (donations) were added to the two, but it was a very simple model, pushing for faith, missionary work and happiness planting. At first, it was a very simple model as a religious organization, but we began work in other areas that were not so simple.

Would you consider that meaningless work? Or, would you believe that we must have different approaches and channels to spread our teachings throughout Japan and every corner of the world?

We also have Happy Science Academy and Happy Science University (HSU), and these divisions may not be what our staff members expected when they joined a religious group. Some of our staff may not think of these divisions as a right fit for themselves, but the real question is whether or not they can understand that these are different channels to spread our teachings.

There are also different standards for assessing talent, depending on whether you are working for the Academy or HSU, international division, entertainment division or publishing division. To give you an example, a staff member who can sell many books in the publishing division won’t necessary be a good teacher if they were to teach at the Academy.

A staff member who’s been working with English through our international division may not be a good teacher if they were to teach English through our educational facilities. There’s a 50-50 chance. They could be an excellent instructor. Or, even though they were passionately conducting missionary work overseas, perhaps they were using broken English and going door-to-door. There are many variations.

That’s why we need a third eye of a management division to keep the company in check and maintain a balance of our talent force. We need to keep our staff members in check in two areas, human relationships and money issues, but it doesn’t go so smoothly when management is also part of the competition to climb up the organizational ladder.

Can you develop talent even if your staff were to become your rivals? It could be that you’re willing to train staff members as long as they will not surpass you, and you may be extra cautious of training exceptional talent if you feel as though they may replace you. This may result in an overall loss for the organization.

In the end, however, it’s a matter of company culture and what kind of organizational culture you want to develop.


Meditation Training to Visualize Your Company Several Decades From Now

I’d like to talk about Sony. I think they’re going through a tough time right now, but there was a period in which co-founder and former CEO Akio Morita published “Gakureki muyo-ron” (Never Mind School Records). For a while, he didn’t have applicants write down the names of their schools on their applications because he didn’t believe in academic background to determine someone’s talent. Even still, many hires were from top schools like Tokyo University, Waseda, Keio and Tokyo Institute of Technology (laughter). It was unintentional, but it seems like Sony hired many employees from elite schools.

I think it comes down to what you ask of organizational culture.

You need a vision for the future. If your staff were to be asked, “Where do you see the company in 10 years,” they should all have an answer.

A good way is for each staff members to meditate every once in a while and have them imagine a vision for your company in 10, 20 or 30 years. If you guys can have a shared vision, with the exception of wrong ideas, that vision will manifest.

For instance, with Sony’s Mr. Norio Ohga (note: successor of Akio Morita as Sony Chairman in 1994), Mr. Ohga kept an eye on a young man who graduated from Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music and went on to study music in Berlin. He was a conductor there who was at the top of his class; Mr. Ohga offered him a scholarship so the conductor wouldn’t turn his back on Sony.

Mr. Ohga was particular about the young man because of his musical talent. Mr. Ohga suggested the conductor work two jobs at first, working for Sony while pursuing his passion as a musician. Mr. Ohga was keen on hiring someone with good ears, so he stocked up on people with innate musical talent. The conductor ended up getting appointed as an executive director, and this method of collecting particular talent resembles pole-and-line fishing.

I do agree that people with good ears or absolute pitch have innate abilities that can’t be learned from their environment. Perhaps these “ears” were necessary to sense and pick up sounds.


Young Employees Were Against the Sony Walkman

Another challenging area is dealing with people who receive flashes of inspiration. You should acknowledge that these people do exist.

Let me share another story of Sony. When Mr. Akio Morita was Chairman and Mr. Masaru Ibuka was Honorary Chairman after the age of 70, Mr. Ibuka told Mr. Morita, “Our tape recorder is a little too big and difficult to carry around, so please make a product that’s easy to carry around. It can be something lighter and doesn’t need to have a recording feature.” Mr. Morita understood what he was requesting. Mr. Morita said that he’ll talk to his employees to develop this product, but all of the young employees were against the idea, saying that devices without a recording feature have never sold well. Practically every young employee was against the idea, but once he forced them to produce the device, it became the Walkman. 400 million units were sold around the world.

People in their 70s can’t be taken lightly, and certainly, founders are prominent figures. I used a big tape recorder back when I was a student, but I can understand the inconvenience of traveling with something this big in your 70s. The two co-founders agreed on taking out the recording feature, and it became a top-selling product known as the Walkman.

It is interesting that young employees were against their idea. The young employees were actually behind the times and they were the aged ones within the company. They stuck to old-fashioned logic while the two co-founders in their 70s were more innovative. Founders have certain traits, constantly wondering if something new and unprecedented can be developed, questioning how to solve problems and satisfy arising demands in the market. They have a tendency to think innovatively.

After a while, an innovative culture ends up getting lost and a new culture forms in which employees jump to a conclusion: “We can’t do that.” They choose a safe path, thus, the young employees at Sony argued that a device without recording features won’t sell. The younger employees were lacking foresight.

Mr. Ibuka, in his 70s, was the one who imagined a future where everyone would demand a device like the Walkman to listen to music while traveling.

Coming soon: Important Tips for HR: What to Ultimately Ask of Organizational Culture (Part 2)

Important Tips for HR: What to Ultimately Ask of Organizational Culture (Part 1 of 2)
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