Since the turn of the century, the leaders at Japan-based industrial automation & healthcare multinational OMRON Corporation (OMRON) have developed and implemented 10-year plans to guide the company's direction and strategy. Their last plan, Value Generation 2020, closes this year, and they are now gearing up to lay another decade's worth of detailed plans for 2030.
People Matters asked Virendra Shelar, the General Manager of OMRON's Global Human Resources Strategy Department and President of OMRON Management Centre - Asia Pacific, to share a little about OMRON's plans and his own predictions for the coming year. Here are the highlights of the conversation.
Could you share a little about how OMRON is planning for the year ahead?
In the last 10 years, we've launched many HR initiatives, some of which may get rolled over to the next 10 years. So, one of the things we are doing now, as we start our planning, is identifying the initiatives that we should continue irrespective of what the world looks like. Another thing is to consider what society is going to look like in the future, and how we should change in response. And a third aspect is to look at the impact of previous years' societal changes on OMRON.
Now one of the big things we plan to continue with is investing heavily in technology and digitizing our processes, not only for HR but for our entire corporate system. We have been working on this for the last two years and one of our key approaches is to create a global & common design for six important different modules namely--employee core, recruitment, learning, management system, career development, and succession planning—which we will be piloting in the Asia Pacific and Americas in February this year.
In a recent forum, I was asked why we had decided to go ahead with this project even though there is so much uncertainty around the business. And I said: “If you don't invest right now, you're going to stay behind, because other people will catch up to it very quickly.”
What trends do you see for 2021, either continuing from past developments or arising as something new?
Firstly, there is technology investment. This started even before 2020, and it will stay for at least the next couple of years. Any paper-based process has to become paperless. It's now an accepted norm in the business world for employment contracts and other such documents to be virtual, and for the processes around these to be digitized. In fact, I would encourage companies to invest in the digitization of HR processes as much as they can.
The second trend is what I like to call borderless employment. This virtual world is blurring the borders of nationality and geography. In the future, we will not be moving people: we will be moving jobs. Instead of looking at the best location for the job, we will be looking for the best person. And my belief is this journey will continue over the next few years, more rapidly than before. It gives people the flexibility to live wherever they want, and at the same time, it benefits a company in terms of cost optimization.
Optimization itself will be a third trend. I believe that we will be in an optimization state, meaning that we are going to reconsider many HR and business processes that may be very close to our hearts but in reality never added any value. Last year's pandemic accelerated optimization, and it will continue even further from here.
And one other trend that has existed for quite some time, but that has now been accelerated, is consolidation of services. For example, transactional services have always been outsourced to BPO operations. But now companies themselves will start looking at whether they can consolidate their transactional services in particular locations.
Management styles came under quite a lot of pressure and scrutiny last year. What do you see 2021 bringing for the way we manage people?
I think the way in which we manage people will completely change. A culture of trust will have to be strengthened into the company. We have to trust that people are doing what is required of them, that we don't have to micromanage them and check on what they are doing every half hour or one hour. It is all about building trust with not just one person, but with the entire team. Let’s hold them accountable, give them the necessary authority, and give them the necessary tools so that they can deliver. And if they have a problem, they have to raise it, because you cannot do it for them when you are managing remotely.
At the same time, we will end up managing people in different time zones, and so we will have to be respectful of the local time. But we will also have to work through the occasional odd timing: sometimes one will have to wake up at 5 in the morning to prepare for a meeting at 7 and sometimes one will have to join the meeting at 11 o'clock at night instead of going to bed.
We can't run away from this flexibility. It is a part of our future, and we have to give this flexibility to people to work at whatever time is best for them, and to let them manage the task themselves for the objectives at hand.
What do you see as the greatest opportunities and challenges for the coming year?
In terms of challenges, managing remotely will definitely be a big challenge, because people are not used to the virtual world, especially for lengthy working meetings. I believe another issue is going to be governance. At OMRON, we have been addressing governance by making ethics training mandatory for everyone and by celebrating October as the ethics month every year, so that people understand what is acceptable and what is not. And of course, there is culture. We create an inclusive culture based on how people interact with each other during coffee breaks, lunchtime meetings, project meetings, etc. Of course, building an inclusive culture when the employees are working remotely will be a challenge.
At the same time, these challenges are also opportunities for HR—to find ways to integrate people more quickly, to establish a good culture, to enhance governance. As I mentioned earlier, the non-value-added activities will be gone, and so HR will have more time to interact with people and provide that human connection.
HR also has the opportunity to press a reset button and look at policies in a different way: are the current policies really relevant?
Take transportation policy for example: is it still relevant to reimburse people for their bus or taxi fares in today's world? People are working from home, using their electricity, their Internet connection, their phone line: do we have a policy for that instead?
And of course, the new workplace presents a huge opportunity to have more collaborative space. We might not give up all our real estate, but we might have more meeting rooms instead of dedicated desks. We might have managers and bosses closer to their staff, instead of being closed away in separate offices. All these are a great opportunity for HR to change how things are done.
What do you see as the biggest change we will have to make going forward?
Do not make any decision in isolation.
Previously, we would have an instinctive grasp of the situation, and we could simply step out of the cubicle or office and speak to people for a better understanding. But right now, this is a completely new field.
Here's an example. When Phase Two in Singapore started and we were able to return to the workplace, I imagined that people would be really excited to come back to office because I personally was! I thought I would get a chance to meet my colleagues and friends after all these months. But when we actually asked people, they said they wanted to continue working from home; they didn't want to go to the office. And I realized that what I had imagined was very far away from the reality. I could not make decisions simply based on my feelings or perception.
Hence, as management, it is very important for us to be much closer to the ground, to communicate and interact, and listen to what people are actually saying. Because otherwise we're making decisions from the sky, and it's not going to work.