I have now been working for Murata for four years, and the last few months I have been on assignment at our headquarters in Japan. It has been a rewarding experience to peek into the Japanese business culture. Over the years, many benefits of the gemba practices have been proven, and it has also given me joy to learn about the mindset and principles related to the development of the personnel’s competencies and their careers in a Japanese company.

A typical way to educate and challenge individuals toward taking more challenging tasks is to assign employees to posts that are completely different from the education and previous experience they have and require skills that they do not yet have. This is uncommon in Finnish business culture, however, which is why I doubted for a long time that it would lead to good results from the company’s point of view.

It has taken several lucky and perfectly-timed discussions with information available for me to gain more understanding in this. One of the things I have learned about during my assignment is our career development practices in Japan. Right from the first few weeks in Japan, my impression that Murata values it if an employee works in more than one unit during their career was confirmed. The most important elements of career development are the same that we talk about in Finland: your own reflections and initiative, openly talking about your career wishes to your supervisor and your own supervisor’s support.

In Japan, an employee’s own ambition and perseverance in taking new challenges is typically rewarded in their salary development. On the other hand, the employee is also expected to develop professionally, and this development is taken into account in their assessment. Combine an employee’s enthusiasm and diligence to advance their own career with their supervisor’s daily choices to focus on supporting their team members’ career development, and good things will happen from the point of view of both the company and the employee.

In Japan, 20% of clerical employees change their working environment every year

In Japan, Murata believes that the most effective manner of helping people improve is rotating jobs and changing environments. Proving this, more than 20% of Murata’s clerical employees change their working environment as part of their career development every year: they may change to completely new tasks when moving to another unit, or they may relocate geographically to another unit in Japan or outside of Japan.

Usually, all it requires is the employee’s own interest in participating in job rotation and agreeing on it: your assignment takes place after you and your current and future supervisor have agreed on it. Of course, senior management is understandably updated regularly on planned job rotation. An individual employee typically changes their working environment every 3 to 5 years. Another principle is that the work environment changes at least once before the employee has worked for Murata for nine years.

Before, Murata probably followed the practice, that many other Japanese companies seem to follow, of simply assigning employees to different tasks or environments without too much consultation of the employees’ wishes. Many younger-generation employees even in Japan are not too happy with this practice, which is why Murata invests more resources than before in identifying and enabling solutions that all parties are pleased with.

Lessons for Finland from Japan

Continuous learning and improvement of capabilities are values based on our Shaze business philosophy. At Murata in Finland, we support the improvement of professional skills with our training programs and offer meaningful and challenging tasks to the specialists we employ. We offer opportunities for career advancement on both specialist and manager career paths. We also promote our employees’ possibilities to study with our study path that our employees appreciate.

Our plan is to decide in collaboration with our employees on the career advancement principles we have learned from Japan that we can also apply in Finland from now on. The idea has been met with great enthusiasm in our company, but it has also raised some concerns: not all principles can be applied on a different continent as such. I am confident that by listening to the specialists from different functions and by fine-tuning our own manners of operation, we can collaborate widely to create the best practices for promoting employee-centered career development.

Employees’ career dreams may not always coincide with what the company can offer, particularly in the short term. However, Murata’s key message in these situations is clear: one day, each and every one will have their opportunity.

Tuomas Nurmi,
Human Resources Development Manager
On assignment in Japan in 2020–2021