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How to build a meaningful partnership between functional leaders and the HR manager

How to build a meaningful partnership between functional leaders and the HR manager

Sitting in Singapore, while managing the Japan office, is no easy task. Yet Asif Chowdhury, Representative Director and Head, UTAC Japan, and Senior Vice President, Marketing and Corporate Business Development, UTAC Group, Singapore, makes it work - through a concerted effort to build a valuable relationship with the HR manager in Japan. Read on for tips from this business head on working better with your HR teams.

Meaningful business partnership (BP) between functional leaders and their respective HR manager can be valuable in successfully managing functional groups. Especially, in global settings, with employees from different culture and customs, under different sets of laws of the lands, forming BP with the local HR becomes all the more important for functional leaders for effective management of the foreign branch office.

In my somewhat unique situation as the head of our Japan office while being in Singapore, I found my BP with our local Japan HR manager valuable to effectively and efficiently managing many key aspects of my team there.

The extent of the partnership between functional leaders and HR depends largely on the function, location and perhaps even the composition of the team. In my case, the BP with our Japan HR manager, Rie Adachi (Adachi San), involves more than just the typical HR function like hiring the right resources for the job; it includes administrative, operational and strategic functions as well.

The BP is indispensable when it comes to the administrative part of managing the Japan office. HR managers in local offices often need to wear multiple hats and luckily, our Japan HR manager, Adachi San wears them quite effectively. For example, Adachi San sometimes functions as finance and sometimes as office manager, taking care of crucial items such as our office lease agreement and transferring funds between Japan and Singapore as necessary.

She also ensures that we comply with all the local regulations of Kyoto – our Japan office is in Kyoto – as well as comply with the Japanese law. While some of these functions are outsourced locally, she acts as the main liaison with the outsourced entity.

The administrative function can indeed a be a critical aspect of such HR BP in global organisations. However, it is incumbent upon the functional leader to allow his or her HR BP certain amount of autonomy to champion these multiple functions.

On the operations side, Adachi San keeps me honest not only with respect to the local rules and regulations but also with the local customs and culture, which can pose significant challenge in any geographical region but especially true for Japan.

Hiring, firing or retirement laws in Japan, and even the ways of managing a team of Japanese, are quite different compared to those of Singapore. For example, corporate HR may require certain policies to be implemented but it must be adopted in line with local law and customs – the key is localising the message while keeping the corporate tone intact. Adachi San effectively takes our corporate HR edict from Singapore and maps it around the local terrain of rules and regulations of Japan.

Culturally in Japan, it is equally important on how results are achieved than the results themselves. I routinely rely on Adachi San to provide guidance regarding culturally sensitive matters allowing effective management of the Japanese employees.

Last but not least, I find the strategic part of the HR BP to be very effective in achieving my business goals in Japan. It is important to ensure that the HR BP has clear understanding of the nature of the business. It is equally important for the BP to acknowledge that her broader job, beyond her basic HR function, is to help facilitate the business objectives.

Therefore, for the partnership to work effectively at a strategic level, sharing and seeking inputs from the HR BP regarding the overall strategy is key. This makes it much easier for HR BP to help implement the strategy where appropriate, thus facilitating the business objective of the functional leader.

I routinely keep Adachi San involved in all discussions regarding our Japan business including our Annual Operation Plan (AOP) and Key Performance Indicators (KPI) for each individual team members. She is invited in all my monthly staff meetings. It helps her to continually determine the gap within the local team to implement the strategy where she can help bridge the gap, be it through appropriate training (organic) or new hire (inorganic).

Perhaps a couple of recent examples will help illustrate my point. Late last year Adachi San was able to identify a key technical forum in Kyoto where most of our customers were participating and urged us to participate which we did. This proved to have some tangible benefit in potential increase of our revenue in Japan by utilising the forum to demonstrate our capability in certain areas.

Earlier this year, Adachi San helped to hire a Vice President of Sales whose capability is well aligned with our goal of targeted revenue increase. Her helpful guidance in drafting the employment contract reflected her clear understanding not only of my business objective but also my Japan budget.

Despite the strong partnership with my Japan HR manager, I will be the first to admit that we don’t always agree on everything. But we resolve our differences through healthy debates and arguments. I look at this healthy friction as a testament and good measurement that the partnership is working right. I am quite alright with Adachi San providing constructive criticism since I understand that her goals are aligned with my goals, with no hidden agenda.

Finally, the HR BP in most cases is not an organic outcome but achieved through efforts primarily from the functional leadership with the HR leader’s willingness to support and participate.

I luckily realised early on that without this partnership, I could potentially be flying blind to a large extent when it comes to managing the team in Japan despite my extensive travel to Japan. So, I had made a conscious effort to build and nurture this partnership and Adachi San reciprocated.

It has truly paid dividends, allowing me to effectively and efficiently manage my team in Japan office towards achieving my goal while sitting thousands of miles away in our head office in Singapore.

asif chowdhury utac tiny


Lead photo / 123RF
Author's photo / Provided

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