Shoko joined Veldhoen + Company in August 2019. Prior to that, she worked in a domestic office furniture manufacturer in Japan for over 10 years. She got her first taste of the world of office design and workplace strategy at university where she conducted research and developed a strong interest in the field of work.
What first drew her to V+C was the innovative approach of categorising all activities, even in a broad sense. Up until then, in Japan, it was more mainstream to focus on the process for innovation, creativity, and taking actions that add immediate value and less on routine tasks and knowledge sharing. To this day, Shoko considers the V+C way of working groundbreaking.
We sat down with Shoko to find out more about what inspires her in and outside of her work as a Senior Consultant.
V+C: What are 3 things that inspire you most about your work?
Shoko Kishida (SK): The top three things that inspire me most about my work are:
1. Observing differences in organisational culture and taking a tailored approach with clients
What intrigues me the most in my job is having the opportunity to observe organisational culture to better understand why individuals behave the way they do.
Corporate organisational culture or what is often referred to as the "atmosphere" in Japan is shaped by the accumulation of subtle elements. Elements can include how people make decisions, work processes, the influence of superiors' opinions, and the sense of belonging to the company.
Analysing the various elements that influence behaviours and proposing methods for improvement to clients is what makes this job enjoyable.
2. Learning and adapting different characteristics of organisational culture by country
At Sophia University, there is a professor in the field of Japanese management studies named Parissa Haghirian, who asserts that the methods of organisational management in Japan and Europe are fundamentally different.
Given the current trends in the world, American management approaches are gaining attention for their speed of adaptation to changing circumstances and rapid decision-making.
However, these same approaches to Japan may not translate, but that doesn't make them bad ideas.
What is crucial to consider is how to incorporate the strengths of European and American management methods to add value to the Japanese employee experience. This overarching perspective is my theme as a consultant, and I aim to convey it to the Japanese market and clients in an appropriate manner.
3. Creating organisational cultures that encompass diverse work styles
A significant challenge in Japanese organisations is that they are designed for a man’s world. Most organisational cultures in Japan are built on the assumption that people spend much of their day working long hours to “serve” the company.
However, there are many people who don't want to work excessive hours and who want more flexibility. A common concern is that by taking time off, one will face various career obstacles.
I hope to shift this culture to one where everyone, despite their individual circumstances and environments, openly acknowledges that they are working hard. I hope Japanese organisations can become more compassionate towards each other.
V+C: Can you share how you personally manage a hybrid work style?
SK: Firstly, it's about establishing a rhythm. Setting the rhythm of your work is crucial, which includes determining when to engage in specific activities and when to refrain.
Next, it's important to observe your work habits. For instance, I personally track the times when I engage in various tasks.
When I look at this data, it allows me to plan my schedule accordingly, like incorporating breaks or allocating time for household chores or yoga after each work block. The key is to observe these cycles and see how you can integrate them into your work schedule.
Thirdly, assess whether you are feeling better or worse than usual on a particular day. If you wake up and feel that your thinking is extra sharp that day, consider why.
It could be because you went to bed slightly earlier than usual the night before or did some stretching before bedtime. Try to identify the cause, repeat what works, and incorporate it into your routine.
Knowing your habits has become even more useful in hybrid workplaces. With less time devoted to activities like commuting to the office, you can build your tasks and schedule to align more with your mental and physical state.
V+C: Data-driven decision-making is a cornerstone of our business, how can organisations best use data to improve their workplace strategy?
SK: Japan has a historical tendency to prioritise data-driven decision-making. Regardless of their positions, individuals in Japan have traditionally gathered data on overall trends and collective preferences, basing decision-making on these insights.
While utilisation studies are valuable in understanding the overall trends within organisations, it's also common in Japan for discussions to be primarily driven by collective data and numerical information. I believe that relying solely on data to determine organisational-wide policies and initiatives may no longer be suitable in today's fast-paced world.
We need to rely on data for more than just a collective consensus for shaping strategies and policies at the organisational level. For example, we can use data to assess one's individual week-to-week work habits and contemplate changes to determine their next steps for personal and professional growth.
Data allows us to quantify elements that were previously recorded by memory, which allows for more objective self-evaluation. However, to achieve this, it is vital to allocate time for individual workers to understand and reflect upon their own work habits.
V+C: Our culture at V+C focuses around curiosity. What kinds of activities outside of work fuel your curiosity?
SK: I believe our work isn't only about helping clients understand concepts like ABW (Activity Based Working) but it's also about translating their understanding into action.
I find myself curiously contemplating the parallels between my yoga practice and Change Management. They both:
- Are non-competitive: In both yoga and Change Management, there's no sense of competition; it's about making yourself more comfortable. In Change Management, it's not crucial to be ahead of others in the transformation process but rather to focus on how you're changing compared to your past self.
- Achieve big goals through incremental improvements: In yoga, there is no "perfection." Whether it's breathing, posture, or even thoughts, I've never mastered everything completely. When overcoming one challenge, I discover the next. It's a continuous journey of improvement like in Change Management.
- Draw connections via seemingly unrelated elements: Yoga integrates breath, body movement, and thoughts. While it's a challenge to align these seemingly unrelated elements, their unity becomes invaluable. Similarly, in ABW, taking an integrated approach is vital.
My weekly yoga practice has taught me that small daily efforts can lead to longterm transformations in awareness and behaviour. In that sense, I see this year's Bold Experiments, which we've undertaken, as a series of these small initiatives building upon one another.
V+C: What is something you read recently that inspired you?
SK: I deliberately chose From Dictatorship to Democracy: A Textbook for Countering Power as an intriguing reference material.
I'm not implying that Japanese organisations are dictatorial, but I do see some parallels in the concepts that can be applied to change management. It provides hints on how to break free from existing schemes. The common thread is how to peacefully change things while gaining understanding and support from everyone, even when facing conflict.
The list of "198 Methods of Non-violent Action" at the end of the book includes techniques like how to issue public comments, utilise signed joint statements, and build broad awareness using various mediums. While the context may need adjustment for change management, it's filled with valuable information.
V+C: How has ABW gained attention in Japan?
SK: In Japan, there is a growing focus on ABW particularly in research, development centres and innovation hubs in response to the decline in productivity in Japan.
The decrease in GDP and competition from other countries in recent years have created a sense of crisis within Japan, a nation that once prided itself on being a technological and manufacturing powerhouse.
There's been a movement at the grassroots level where people have started to realise that they need to change their way of working. Departments like research and development (traditionally responsible for generating profits in Japan) are seeking ways to revitalise operations.
Given this context, the discussion of new ways of working and ABW has gained momentum in recent years.
It's noteworthy that Japanese teams are actively involved in the field of ABW consulting, especially in research and development settings, as they work to revive and enhance Japan's productivity and competitiveness.
This is something to be proud of and signifies a commitment to adapt and innovate in the face of evolving challenges.
V+C: What does a better world of work mean to you?
KS: A better world of work means the ability to recognise and embrace diverse work styles while achieving effective results as a team.