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Defining Global Talent:
The Secret to Success on the World Stage

Mitsuhide Shiraki, Ph.D.,
Professor, Faculty of Political Science and Economics, and Director, Institute for Transnational Human Resource Management, Waseda University

When considering the development and evaluation of global talent working at multinational corporations, we need to address the issue from multiple perspectives.

The first thing we need to consider are the factors that define the mission of local subsidiaries and Japanese expatriates. In my mind, companies at different life stages are actually more dissimilar than companies based in different countries or regions. Companies in the startup phase, for example, need leaders who can outline policy and lead their employees, while companies that have been in operation for decades need leaders who can watch over the organization—improving quality, reducing costs, boosting and sustaining employee motivation, and so on.

The second consideration is that Japanese employees sent from corporate headquarters to work abroad are required to have different abilities depending on the talent collected at the local subsidiary and how developed the skills of those human resources are. Companies that have been in operation for a long time (those in the ASEAN region, for example) have amassed a deep pool of local managers, so Japanese personnel are not evaluated favorably unless they possess the right abilities for their appointed positions.

Boosting job performance abroad

Based on these two points, we did a study on the factors that boost performance among expatriates. I will present some of our findings here (for details please see Shiraki, ed. Developing and Evaluating Global Managers [Gurobaru Maneja no Ikusei to Hyoka]: Waseda University Press, 2014). We discovered four factors related to competency in personnel posted overseas: administrative ability, leadership, flexibility, and understanding of the local culture. Of these, business talent and leadership were statistically significant when it came to performance among those in executive positions. The other two factors, flexibility and understanding of the local culture, appeared to positively affect job performance among middle managers. In terms of individual factors, longer experience working overseas also emerged as a performance plus. We interpreted this to mean that when young employees are sent overseas, their experience becomes a powerful asset if they are again posted abroad later as a senior manager in their 40s (see figure below).

What do local personnel think about Japanese managers?

Next, we asked local employees to evaluate their Japanese supervisors on a total of 62 items. Of these, the highest ratings for both executives and middle managers were given for “strong sense of responsibility,” “values customers,” and “takes appropriate action while respecting the rules.” The lowest-rated items were “makes an earnest attempt to learn the local language,” “understands local business practices,” “understands local culture, manners and customs”, and “clearly points out when higher-ups are in the wrong.” To summarize, the drawback of Japanese expatriates is that they have little understanding of or interest in the local country and are reluctant to immerse themselves in the society.

We then investigated whether there were significant differences in the way local employees evaluated Japanese and local executives. These studies found no items where Japanese executives were rated higher; they were rated poorly in their ability to conduct external negotiations and in personal connections. Similarly, we found no highly-rated items for the Japanese when we ran the same study on middle managers: as many as 45 of the items received poor evaluations. Compared with India and China, the evaluations were harsher in ASEAN countries—where companies have longer track records.

There are several possible reasons why Japanese personnel overseas were regarded so poorly. From the perspective of local subordinates, essentially the Japanese do not demonstrate the expected skills or work performance equal to their preferential treatment. From a structural standpoint, there are many cases where Japanese are slotted one or two ranks sent overseas—with the likely result that they do not have sufficient leadership experience to carry out their role.

The above research findings point to the following challenge when it comes to developing global talent: in addition to maintenance and improvement of the value of Japanese businesspeople as assets, they should, for example, take on diverse assignments and get leadership experience before they are sent abroad.

Advice to those eager to work abroad

Developing as much business knowledge and skill as possible early in their 20s and 30s is fundamental, and working abroad can provide a major boost to the careers to young employees. Cross-cultural literacy is a critical factor to producing results overseas—and workers learn this skill more quickly when they are young. The experiences and discoveries they gain will form a basis for their personal development throughout their careers, pushing them to a higher level.

I’ve said that cross-cultural literacy is an important factor when it comes to job performance overseas. Furthermore, though English-based communication is of course important, I hope that Japanese who work overseas will at least take some interest in learning the language of the local people. Though it may not be of use as a business tool, it is tremendously useful in terms of understanding the local culture. It will also create more opportunities for executives to interact with the upper echelons of the local society. In such situations, you cannot command respect unless you are able to converse intelligently. You must work to hone not only your language abilities, but also the ability to choose the right topics and express yourself well. Ideally, future global leaders would gain awareness of these issues while they are still in school, but in reality that has not always been the case.

Mitsuhide Shiraki, Ph.D.,
Professor, Faculty of Political Science and Economics, and Director, Institute for Transnational Human Resource Management, Waseda University

[Profile]
Mitsuhide Shiraki was born in 1951. He graduated from Waseda University’s Department of Economics and earned a PhD at the Graduate School of Economics. After serving as an professor in the Faculty of Political Science and Economics at Kokushikan University, he was appointed to his current position in 1999. His areas of expertise include social policy and human resource management. Dr. Shiraki currently serves as President of the Japan Society of Human Resource Management and Executive Director of the Japan Academy of International Business Studies.

Selected publications:
International Human Resource Management of Japanese Corporations (JILPT 1995)
International Human Resource Management in Asia (Japan Productivity Center 1999)
Globalizing People through International Assignments (joint translation supervisor) (Hakuto Shobo 2001)
HRM under the China Shift (co-editor) (Hakuto-Shobo 2005)
Comparative Analysis of International Human Resource Management (Yuhikaku 2006)
Internal Labor Markets and Manpower Analysis (translation supervisor) (Waseda University Press 2007)
Changing China’s Human Resource Management (editor) (Hakuto-Shobo 2011)
Basics of Human Resource Management: New Edition (editor) (Bunshindo 2013)
International Management through Case Studies [Kesu ni Manabu Kokusai Keiei] (co-editor) (Yuhikaku 2013)
Developing and Evaluating Global Managers [Gurobaru Maneja no Ikusei to Hyoka] (editor) (Waseda University Press 2014)