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Hatching a progressive workplace and culture
In this exclusive with Jerene Ang, Roselin Lee, Vice President, HR, Shiseido Asia Pacific, reveals HR’s role in the journey of transforming the 147-year-old Japanese organisation into a modern and diverse business.
In late 2015, Shiseido made a decision to establish its Asia Pacific headquarters in Singapore to bring a team of leaders closer to the consumers and markets in the region. The headquarters was operational in early 2016 and Roselin Lee joined at the end of the year as the first executive hire in HR for the region. She was tasked to build the regional leadership team, reinvent the culture and perception of the organisation in line with its VISION 2020 and build a future-ready talent pool.
Today, she leads a team of 16 HR staff in the regional headquarters to manage people programmes for the over 100-strong workforce in eight markets across Asia Pacific.
In this exclusive, Roselin Lee, Vice President, HR for Shiseido Asia Pacific and Shiseido Travel Retail, reveals HR’s role in the journey of transforming the 147-year-old Japanese organisation into a modern and diverse business.
Q Having joined the change journey in December 2016, what were the first 100 days on the job like?
I was hired to build up the team for the regional HQ in Singapore. So, my first 100 days was really about hiring leadership positions across various functions, including HR.
Being the first HR person in the APAC HQ, I asked my recruiting partners for help. The first comment they made was about Shiseido being perceived as a Japanese organisation which involved preconceived notions such as long working hours, relatively low pay, and leaving after the bosses do. That made me think about what we can do to change this wrong perception and position ourselves as an employer.
What I did was to meet all the candidates and tell them about Shiseido Group’s VISION 2020, which talks about how we are thirsty to evolve and become very different from the typical Japanese organisation people thought we were. We also tell them about how we’ve grown through brand acquisitions – something not many Japanese firms in our industry do, especially in terms of acquiring Western brands. We also shared with them what having a regional HQ outside of Japan means to Shiseido in terms of growing future-ready Asia leadership. We looked to build diversity because we believe it is an enabler for us to start changing the culture.
My role has always been about wanting to make a cultural shift. As HR, it is important for me to exemplify what it is like to be a part of Shiseido’s transformation journey into a modern diverse business. Today, in the Shiseido APAC office, we have over 100 employees of 14 nationalities. We’re more Asian now, rather than Japanese, and we aren’t working in a siloed environment anymore.
As HR, it is important for me to exemplify what it is like to be a part of Shiseido’s transformation journey into a modern diverse business.
Q What was the rationale behind this transformation?
From a broader perspective, we are transforming globally under the leadership of our Global CEO, Masahiko Uotani. From about three years ago, there has been a change in terms of the way all employees, not just leaders, think – it’s no longer about Japan and the rest of the world. We now need to think about the specific consumer needs and wants in the region.
Equally, our staff have to consider what the emerging middle class in Southeast Asia needs, versus those in the more mature markets of Taiwan and Korea, where they are very beauty-savvy. Hence, we need leaders who are agile and adaptable in the way they think. Additionally, we have always been proud of ourselves for bringing innovation to cosmetics, owing to which our consumers are always waiting for new innovative products to be released. Hence, we need leaders who have the competencies to be able to package such products, bring them to consumers faster, and make them more aspirational. Ultimately, our leaders need to have an innovative mindset.
Q What are the key differences between Shiseido as it is now and the traditional organisation it was in the past?
At Shiseido today, our mission is beauty innovations for a better world. What this means for our people is they need to be agile, inclusive, digitally savvy, innovative, and most importantly, have a global mindset.
One thing that sets us apart is learning and development. In a traditional Japanese firm, L&D is mainly on-the-job by rotating people through different roles. At Shiseido, to develop future-ready people, this year, we launched the Asia Learning Centre to equip them with the necessary skill sets, including soft skills. We have put in place various programmes to drive the development of leadership capabilities, on top of learning through job rotations. We hope this will enable individuals to be more well-rounded and true Asian leaders with a growth mindset by interacting with people across the region.
From about three years ago, there has been a change in terms of the way all employees, not just leaders, think – it’s no longer about Japan and the rest of the world. We now need to think about the specific consumer needs and wants in the region.
Q Tell me more about the Asia Learning Centre and the development programmes you have under it.
The Asia Learning Centre comes under L&D within the HR team. I have a team that works with partners to build programmes that cater to various levels of employees.
My team is working on a level-based learning road map which focuses on different needs and skill sets, based on the organisational chart. We currently have four levels in the learning road map, which are available to all employees. Our staff can select the kind of skills they need, then go to the learning directory to select the programme that best fits them.
The structure of the programme ties back closely to the attributes and behaviours that we want our future-ready leaders to have – agile, inclusive, digitally savvy, innovative, and most importantly, have a global mindset.
We have just rolled out module one of the essential leadership programme which targets the managerial level. It is a five-day programme stretched over nine months and it uses a blended learning approach consisting of business simulations, online learning, as well as formal classroom training. We also have the inspirational leadership programme for the director level and the transformational leadership programme for the senior executive level.
Nominations for these programmes are made on the basis of tenure and performance. However, we are not just looking to train the top talent, the aim is to train all our employees as fast as possible. The nomination process is more to keep a check on the class size (20-25 per session).
Throughout the 30 years of my career, I have rarely seen an organisation invest this strongly in talent development and the infrastructure to enable it, like Shiseido’s Asia Learning Centre. Rather than it being about the amount of money invested, it is about the organisation wanting to invest in developing our people. Having this infrastructure, putting in the many leadership programmes – locally, regionally and globally – makes it evident to the employees and candidates that we believe in them and strongly advocate in developing people.
Q Apart from the Asia Learning Centre and the various L&D programmes, what is another way HR is involved in the transformation journey?
I believe in a philosophy called ‘people over process’. I believe very strongly that we should give employees what they want and need. Policy is still important and it will be there as a reference, but it has to be flexible enough to engage the different demographics. It cannot be one-size-fits-all.
To create the One Shiseido Policy, what we did was to look at the existing policy, what the market offers, and most importantly, hear what our employees wanted. This policy is flexible enough to cater to all our people.
For example, it comprises a work-from-home policy that allows employees to work from outside the office. While this is something simple, it is also part of a culture change. In traditional Japanese organisations working from home is seldom considered, and this is something we would like to change.
I believe in a philosophy called ‘people over process’. I believe very strongly that we should give employees what they want and need.
Q When was this policy rolled out?
It was officially rolled out this year as it took us a bit of time to consider the different business needs and requests by employees.
Apart from the work-from-home policy, we also implemented a flexi-benefits programme in July. This gives employees greater flexibility and ownership of how they want their benefits to be designed. It is something I’m very proud of.
Under this programme, we commit a certain amount of core benefits for the employee. For example, if the employee doesn’t need the maximum coverage for a term life insurance that we provide as a core benefit, he or she can lower the coverage and convert the balance into credits. These credits will be stored in an account and employees can use them to buy something they need more such as a gym membership.
Q It’s quite clear that diversity is one key theme of this transformation. Talk us through why and what this focus on diversity meant for you and the workforce.
It all ties back to this being an APAC HQ and us wanting to develop our Asia leaders. It is about our desire to bring in different backgrounds and nationalities to learn from each other. If we want to be forward-thinking and evolve, it is important we come together from different backgrounds and learn from each other. Diversity is the start of the culture shift that helps enrich everyone’s experiences and provides very different ways of how we think as an organisation.
This also goes back to moving away from preconceived notions of what working for a Japanese company is like. When I was appointed, I was the first non-Japanese woman in the executive team. That is an honour, and at the same time, it illustrates the organisation embraces diversity. To share some statistics, when it comes to diversity, 50% of the MDs in our affiliates are local and/or female; and in APAC, 49% of our leaders, GM-level and above, are women.
Q Have you implemented any specific initiatives to enhance diversity?
I think it starts from the senior leaders – they need to see that there is a need for diversity and to have an inclusive culture.
It then comes down to our hiring practices. We have to make sure that we are hiring based on skills and that we don’t only look at Japanese expats who have Shiseido experience. In line with our mission – beauty innovations for a better world – it is important that the expertise we bring into this office and the organisation know the market and the consumers.
One example of local expertise is our recently promoted managing director for Shiseido Thailand, who is Thai, a woman, and comes with more than 20 years of industry experience in Thailand.
To share some statistics, when it comes to diversity, 50% of the MDs in our affiliates are local and/or female; and in APAC, 49% of our leaders, GM-level and above, are women.
Q You mentioned inclusive – for many people, diversity and inclusion are different. What is your take on it?
To be inclusive means that while we have a diverse workforce, the environment we have created needs to enable everyone of them to operate. Again, it is about ‘people over process’ – looking at what people want and what we can give them to enable them to deliver the best in the workplace. My role as HR is to support the senior leaders and regional CEO to create this inclusive environment that also engages our people.
Q What would you say are the top three success factors of the change journey to date?
First, it’s ‘people over process’. We have to do something or introduce something our people really want, and not what we, as HR, want.
Second, with such a diverse and unique environment, we need to be entrepreneurial.
Third, we need to be agile. We want to be future- ready so we must have that agility, be diverse and inclusive, as well as have both an Asian leadership mindset, and think global.
Q While the journey is still ongoing, what are the specific milestones and metrics you have so far to communicate progress to your stakeholders?
Apart from the gender diversity statistics shared earlier, we have a target of training 2,000 people at our Asia Learning Centre in its first year of opening. We are currently tracking KPIs on training closely and, as of May, each employee has spent an average of 4.86 days in training since the launch. These are just some of the metrics we are tracking right now and we want to be able to increase all these footholds, especially in learning and development, over the next two years.
Vital stats: As the Vice President, HR for Shiseido Asia Pacific and Shiseido Travel Retail, Roselin Lee drives diversity and talent development; overseeing business partnering, learning and organisation development, employee and workplace engagement, as well as rewards, benefits and mobility. She comes with over 30 years of experience in HR management and began her career in HR with the goal of ensuring people are always placed in the roles they could succeed in, and are given the best opportunities to develop their career.
This interview has been published in Human Resources magazine. Read the August edition of Human Resources, Singapore:
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