Dec 9 2019 How HENNGE transitioned into a Global Japanese Company with English as an official Language
In preparation for the upcoming Global Innovators Unleashed event happening on December 11th, were given an opportunity to have an exclusive interview with one of the panelists- HENNGE’s Mr. Toshihiro Takasu.
Toshihiro Takasu is the current Deputy Division Manager at HENNGE K.K. After graduating from an International School in Japan, He moved to The United States of America to continue his studies in Ohio State University under the Computer Information Department. He has worked in a variety of different industries, from domestic to foreign companies and from venture companies to larger corporate enterprises and working on product development, holding positions as an engineer, in sales, consulting, and creating new businesses, all while keeping his technical skills at the heart of his endeavors and always taking on new challenges. He currently works as both an HR manager and technical consultant at HENNGE K.K..
THE TRANSITION TO GO GLOBAL
HENNGE K.K. has been known as one of the Japanese companies that implements English as their official language. When did the company started thinking of creating a more global structure and reach the decision into officially using English as their medium of instruction?
Mr. Takasu: In 2013, CEO Kazuhiro Ogura declared that HENNGE (at that time HDE) is going to transition into an organization that will be taking a more global approach. In line with this, In October 2016 English was officially implemented as the official medium of instruction. At this time, the number of full-time employees were at around 110.
In the last 3 years, what were the preparations the company needed to undergo in order for a smooth transition into using English as an official language?
Mr. Takasu: Various preparations were made in advance between this announcement and the actual implementation. First of all, it was necessary to tackle the issue on how to improve the English skills of existing employees and how to properly handle and ease the resistance to using English. To be able to confirm their level of English proficiency, employees were required to take tests such as TOEIC. As a solution, we made several online English learning services available to the employees and provide support without strict budget limits.
To further encourage employees and eliminate the resistance to speaking English, there was also a one month study abroad program that was introduced. This program, all expense paid study abroad in Cebu, Philippines, was available to encourage those who were a little bit skeptical in using the language. In line with these changes, we also started to translate documents in English.
During this transition period, where the implementation of changes were happening, was this when the company started hiring more foreign employees?
Mr. Takasu: Yes. In 2013, when we announced that our official language will be English, we began working on a Global Internship Program, a program that recruits interns from abroad. In August 2014, the first intern from overseas joined the company. But prior to the implementation of the changes, we already had some employees who did not speak Japanese.
Even with a transition period, especially for a company with around 100 employees, going global must have deeply impacted the existing employees at that time. What was the main reason why it was deemed necessary for the company to decide to officially go global and to strictly implement English as the medium of instruction?
Mr. Takasu: When we started having difficulties in recruiting engineers in Japan, we saw an opportunity to grow as a global company. We realized that in order to be sustainable, we should step out of the comfort zone and the practice of relying on traditional recruitment. We also saw it as a need to transition globally in order to survive in the long run.
HENNGE’s Global talents working in a free seating and open environment.
THE IMPORTANCE OF TRANSPARENCY
Companies that want to recruit members globally are increasing but at the same time, we feel that communication is still a big barrier. What were the struggles in implementing English in HENNGE?
Mr. Takasu: 3 years has passed since the implementation of English as the official language but it’s still ongoing, and we are trying our best to experiment with various measures as issues arise. The most important thing right now is to increase internal transparency. Even though the official language has been changed to English, there are certain circumstances wherein misunderstandings happen.
Can you give us some instances wherein transparency has become an issue?
Mr. Takasu: One example is using chat tools. Slack is used in our daily internal communication. When conversations and consultations on Japanese projects are discussed in Japanese, members who do not speak Japanese cannot understand the content. The same thing happens during casual conversations within the office.
This creates distrust and misunderstandings among members especially when there are information or conversations they can’t fully understand. It’s very easy to create distance between members especially when they think that certain decisions were made secretly and information were kept from them. As long as there are language and cultural barriers, this is rather natural, and I think that strong will and effort is necessary in order for the process to be effective.
What actions has the company taken since recognizing this issue?
Mr. Takasu: The CEO gave us a company-wide talk tackling this issue. For example, one should take time explaining things more carefully than you would think is necessary and sufficient. Explain clearly and give as much information possible. Sometimes, people tend to make assumptions that people they are talking to already understand what they are trying to convey thus minimizing verbal explanations. But in an environment with mixed cultures, extra effort is necessary to get an accurate information across without sacrificing the meaning and idea behind it.
GLOBALIZATION IS JUST THE BEGINNING
In order to promote and pursue globalization, it must have been very costly and the company made a lot of sacrifice in order to make this possible. Do you think that this was really necessary for the company?
Mr. Takasu: For us, globalization is just a means. I don’t think there is an exact formula on how to become a successful global organization. I think HENNGE’s journey to globalization has just begun. No one can explicitly say yet whether our process was the best process to go about it.
Globalization within an organization is also crucial in order to keep up with the latest technology and be able to utilize it and impart these to other people, which is HENNGE’s vision. I think the important part at this stage is understanding that globalization is what is needed in order to grow as a company rather than whether the English initiative itself was successful.
What can we expect from HENNGE in the future?
Mr. Takasu: We decided to go global because of the need to adapt and hire more talents as well as to be able to create an opportunity to expand overseas. On the other hand, I think there are also unforeseen opportunities that a global company can stumble upon and we do need more preparation for that.
We are still in the midst of this challenge, I would like to keep overcoming each issues as the come so that I can see and learn from the results, especially in terms of overseas development and business ahead.
Catch more of HENNGE’s Deputy DivisionManager, Toshihiro Takasu on our event on Wednesday, December 11th at Daiwa Shibuya Square. Doors open at 7:00pm.
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