Provide flexibility and empower each individual to make decisions. When people make decisions on their own, they become more accountable for their work. I’ve seen people become less motivated and tend to leave the company when they don’t have any decision-making power.
As a part of my series about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Osamu Yamada. Osamu is the President of Kintone Corporation and the Global Chief Officer of Kintone Corporation’s parent company, Cybozu, Inc. Osamu joined Cybozu in 2000 as the CFO and was in charge of the operations for the company to go public. At that time, Cybozu was the fastest company rise to IPO in the history of Japan’s 2nd section of the Tokyo Stock Exchange. After years serving as the business manager, Osamu became the Vice President in 2007. To expand the business to the U.S., Osamu opened the first U.S. office in 2014 and has served as President of Kintone Corporation since then.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I started my career at one of the biggest global banks, Industrial Bank of Japan, in 1992. Gradually, I noticed myself not motivated by working for money and felt my personality unsuited for the capitalism culture at the bank. Rather than working for money, I was interested in using new technology to make the world a better place. In 2000, I quit the bank and joined Cybozu which had around 15 employees at that time. As the CFO, I was the leader of all aspects of the back-office such as finance, HR, and legal.
In 2014, with the aspiration of helping more businesses, I moved to San Francisco from Tokyo to open Cybozu’s U.S. office which is now Kintone Corporation.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
When I joined Cybozu in 2000, the sales and revenue growth of the company was the number one priority. I thought it was normal for a startup to have only those people who perform well, but I didn’t think about when people left the company because of long working hours. However, for better or worse, once the company hit challenges in growing, and more and more people were leaving, I knew things had to change. The executives came together and thought over the “why” in what we do and what really matters to society. We came to the conclusion that employees are the core part of society, and Cybozu can create a work environment where everyone is excited and thrilled about what they’re doing within the company.
The initial and most impactful change made was empowering employees to choose their work style. It started with choosing between two work styles — PS for those who have a strong work ethic, and DS who prefers to have work-life balance (the name originated from PlayStation and Nintendo DS). It gradually changed to 3 work styles, then 9, and now evolved to “100 workstyles for 100 people”. There have been other policies that have been added as requested by employees, such as PIGs (Personal Interest Groups), internal events, 6-year maternity leave and the ability to work more than one job.
Once we started providing employees with the ability to choose their own work style, the turnover rate dramatically dropped from 28% to 4%. Once the turnover rate improved, our sales increased more than ever and have continuously been growing year over year.
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
As there have been a lot of requests, I now teach other Japanese companies how to reform work styles. Companies are more and more aware of the importance of providing employees a balanced work style, but many do not know where to start. We’ve seen companies being able to plan and execute new policies for a diverse and flexible work style through this project. A few case studies are supporting Bridgestone’s policy in encouraging employees to work remotely, and helping Komatsu with building an organization that accepts diversity and encourages innovation.
Ok, let’s jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the U.S. workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?
It’s because employees are working for the shareholders. The shareholders are the owners of the company and the owner will try to increase the stock price. For the stock price to increase, owners need to increase the sales and revenue of the company, which is often done by decreasing the employees’ salary, laying off employees, paying less tax, paying minimal to subcontractors and dishonestly selling products and services. Do you think those companies which only care about increasing sales really make employees happy? Each employee is pressured to increase sales but isn’t proactively working.
Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?
I don’t think employees should be happy just because of the company’s productivity or profitability. Employees should be happy working, and that will eventually lead to more outputs, improved productivity, proactivity and responsible employees. The employee’s health and well-being should be the highest priority for companies. Productivity and profitability will not improve unless you have people that resonate with the company’s mission.
Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company’s work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?
- Company information should be open to everyone to use and make decisions. If you don’t know the information each team member knows, it will make it difficult for you as a manager to rely on others and ask for advice. Same goes to the people that work for you.
- People shouldn’t be grouped by race, gender, marital status, or whether they have kids. Each individual is unique. Don’t focus on becoming diverse but instead acknowledge that each individual is unique. This value is shaped in our “100 workstyles for 100 people” policy. As a result of our policy, the turnover rate dropped from 28% to 4%.
- Provide flexibility and empower each individual to make decisions. When people make decisions on their own, they become more accountable for their work. I’ve seen people become less motivated and tend to leave the company when they don’t have any decision-making power.
- Have each person be involved in the discussion. Let the team know that everyone has the responsibility to ask questions and explain. All discussions should be open for everyone to participate in. I’ve experienced that more people will become satisfied if their complaints or questions are answered or solved in the discussion.
- Share the company’s vision. The vision should resonate with the people that work together. Controlling people with money and power is outdated. People move by a shared vision they believe in. For example, the #MeToo movement has raised awareness globally as so many people had a similar experience, which led victims who never met each other to join the movement.
It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture.” What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the U.S. workforce’s work culture?
Work toward a society where money isn’t responsible for making people happy. People have the mindset of “we work for money,” and that’s why people volunteer, work at NPOs, or do CSR activities within the company. However, people should feel they are also contributing to the world through work. I think millennials will lead the way in creating such a society. They are the ones that have seen the severe gap between the rich and the poor in the U.S. and are questioning whether having a lot of money leads to happiness.
How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?
I am currently writing a book about management. The important thing is not to manage. Don’t control using your power. When providing freedom to your team, it is critical to share important information. All info that executives and managers hold should be shared. Individuals will be able to use the information to make the best decisions.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
It would be the founder and CEO of Cybozu headquarters, Yoshihisa Aono, who has been on this journey with me since I joined. Also, Cybozu’s roots come from Panasonic (2 founders were ex-Panasonic engineers). Panasonic founder, Konosuke Matsushita’s idea around popularization has impacted our vision and the products we provide. His vision was to make something accessible enough that people may take it for granted, but it’s essential — like water. Our product Kintone empowers business people that may not have large budgets or technical skills to build custom applications for their team.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Cybozu was one of the first organizations to successfully reform work style and has been a leader in raising social awareness of the challenges faced by the work style reforms being promoted in Japan — a country where each person’s lifestyle is often not respected, and instead, people must fit the company mold. This led Cybozu to provide insight and lecture politicians such as Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe, Seiko Noda and Shinjiro Koizumi about how we can build companies that respect an individual’s work and lifestyle.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Kidoairaku — it’s a Japanese word which means joy, anger, sadness, and fun. It is important for humans to live just as they are. Life is not just about joyful and fun times, but being angry and sad are also important emotions needed to live a happy and full life.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Create a society full of Cybozu-inspired of teamwork. The Cybozu-way is to drive people by a vision while respecting the uniqueness of each individual. Be accountable and use your uniqueness to collaborate and discuss with others, and move away from a society of competition, jealousy and control.
Is organizational structure really needed? What if we start with a vision and those who want to help realize the vision collaborate? There will probably be less work that can only be realized by companies in the future. If you have the chance to use your skills in what you believe in, there’s no need to be tied into an organization.
Information is more accessible than ever before and organizations need to change their way. People having the most information and therefore having the most power is outdated. How would you use the information and make an impact in the world by collaborating with others? As work style is becoming more diverse and individuals are accountable for their decisions, individuals need to decide how they’d like to work at an organization.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!