Mr. Shoei Yamana, President and CEO at Konica Minolta, Inc., was interviewed by Ms. Kayo Iketeru, CEO at Is’ Plus on February 19, 2021.
Empathy Leads to Co-creation. Our People Need to Burnish the Power of Emotions to Create New Value
At Konica Minolta, a global company that provides products and services in 150 countries across the world, the Corporate Diversity & Inclusion Office was launched in 2017 by the strong initiative of Mr. Yamana, President and CEO. The office, under the banner “Difference is Power”, has since led a variety of programs to translate each individual’s strengths into his or her workplace’s higher performance.
Is’ Plus has helped Konica Minolta create the office. It has also made numerous proposals on people and organizational development that integrates EQ and conducted various EQ assessment and workshops at Konica Minolta targeted at nearly 600 female employees and mid-level managers during the past four years from 2017 to 2020.
Why do companies need empathy now?
Iketeru: Why did you communicate a new message on empathy at the workplace now?
Mr. Yamana: We reconstructed the long term vision last year to take a new look at our company, asking ourselves why it exists relative to its significance to society. The review has developed into our latest vision statement “Imaging to the People”—bringing to reality what our customers really want to “see”. The next step was to cascade the vision into a business strategy whose objectives each employee truly felt that they wanted to achieve. What the management had to do at this juncture was to present our people with an exciting and inspiring story. It also had to be a heart-moving one that touched their soul. We wanted to arouse empathy and work ownership in our people, which we thought were critical in changing our company in a meaningful way.
However, ownership of work alone does not lead to higher performance. A team becomes stronger when its members share the same objective and feel empathy towards each other on the same level. Furthermore, looking ahead, we need to treat our present and future partner companies and customers as part of our team, feel empathy towards each other among the team members and jointly create new value, all of which will contribute to higher performance.
1 Empathy leads to ownership
2 Feel empathy towards other team members
3 Extend empathy beyond the company to customers as well.
I wanted our people to elevate the power of empathy to a new level in the above three domains.
Creating empathy requires emotions to be put into words and expressed
Iketeru: Expressive power is very important to create empathy. We need qualitative goals in addition to numerical ones when we do our job. For a team leader to inspire his or her people to drive themselves to achieve a higher performance than expected requires them to be able to articulate what kind of world they want to see as a team.
Mr. Yamana: Stories are not about numbers nor economic value. It is important to understand this. With this in mind, I asked all business unit and functional area leaders to put their thoughts in words. Quantitative goals alone do not produce empathy in people. We understand the importance of providing stories that arouse empathy in our people. There is no empathy without stories.
It is now each employee’s turn to create their own story, infusing their thoughts and emotions into it on top of the big story. Different people have different emotions. Infuse your own thoughts about life into your story. That is what difference is all about. I want to see team members come together and throw ideas back and forth while they recognize they have different values. You cannot be objective without first being subjective. At the same time if you just assert yourself, you do not create empathy in others. Consideration should bridge the gap between subjectivity and objectivity. Consideration for others should underlie any discussion when they come together to create something new while recognizing each of them is different.
Iketeru: You can increase your influence by enhancing your view and deepening your understanding of others’ thoughts. I am a consultant on people and organizational development enabled by integrating the two factors into EQ—improving your view and increasing your influence by understanding others’ thoughts better. Specifically you identify behaviors and skills inspired by EQ, learn them thoroughly and make a habit of them. As an example, at workshops I organize to train your people to motivate their colleagues, I ask them to think of someone at the workplace and list as many words to energize him or her as possible in three minutes. Some come up with over 30 words while others less than 10. Their comments also vary. Someone frankly acknowledged the lack of his vocabulary to produce empathy in others while another recognized the importance of expressing emotions, saying” I was hesitant about expressing what I truly felt to my people, but when I did I was pleasantly surprised to get a positive response from them” Mr. Yamana, what do you think about the importance of expressing emotions?
Mr. Yamana: People at our healthcare business unit, for instance, which provides imaging equipment for doctors to use in their diagnosis of patients, feel that they are greatly contributing to saving lives. The feedback from doctors has a direct impact on their feelings and motivation. It is true, though, that there are some business units where it is difficult for our people to have a similar experience. No matter where our people work, how they can have a moving experience occupies my mind. You are talking to someone somewhere and then suddenly you feel connected, producing strong emotions in you. I would call the experience a reflection, which is, to my mind, a feeling in the real sense of the word. The experience does help you keep motivated a long time.
Iketeru: Japanese people feel they can understand each other without much communication, which is part of the country’s culture. However, as we come to face to face with the greater need to create empathy in an increasingly diverse society, it is becoming more important to improve our ability to perceive others’ thoughts and emotions, brush up our vocabulary and communication skills.
Flexibility is necessary for a journey to co-creation
Iketeru: Mr. Yamana, you spoke about empathy and co-creation at length in your new-year message. What is important as we increasingly work with other people outside Japan to create new value？ I think we should have more curiosity.
Mr. Yamana: Curiosity is certainly very important as it is the starting point of creation. At the same time our people have to share our value “Empathy leads to co-creation.” For a team to achieve higher performance is certainly co-creation. But when it comes to co-creation with other companies or customers, it requires our people to share a much stronger sense of purpose among themselves. Future co-creation will be seeing more partnerships between big companies or between big companies and startups. In some cases, we may find ourselves looking down on our partner companies because we have more superior technologies or struggling to keep up with the speed of startups because we are taking more time. To avoid these situations, we should show real respect for our partner companies and share the objective of our joint effort to create a new value. We may be able to produce new products by ourselves if they are an extension of current ones. However, if we were to create a completely new value for ourselves which has never existed before, we would have a hard time coming up with the concept. The current circumstances allow no complacency.
Iketeru: Creating new value requires non-conventional methods. Sense of readiness to depart from your traditional attitude or adopt new ideas is called flexibility in EQ. It is a common phenomenon at any company that as you go up the corporate ladder you lose flexibility of mind. Lower flexibility is not all bad, however, with is trait that brings about a benefit. It can act as a force to keep the established rules in place. Therefore, in what you do, make sure 10% of it is filled with new things and that you do the new thing with co-workers you have never worked with before or people outside the company. I am sure this approach will help improve your flexibility. EQ is not a judge of what you are doing is good or wrong but functions as a tool to manage performance by understanding your and other people’s emotions. I believe Konica Minolta can use the approach effectively in its “Empathy leads to co-creation” journey.
A world Mr. Yamana wants to “see” in the future
Iketeru: Lastly, please tell us about what kind of world you want to see in the future.
Mr. Yamana: When a person reaches a certain age they often think about how they can meet their end and whether they can be satisfied with it. I find myself doing a lot of thinking lately. There are many questions I am asking myself such as: “Was I able to make other people as well as myself happy?” “How could I gotten involved with other people better?” All these questions, however, lead to one question ultimately “Did I live a life that benefitted other people?” I would like to believe that the kind of life I hope I have lived is based on consideration for other people. Because of this I want to see a world in which such a life is richly realized. No one knows what will replace capitalism. It is an easy-to-understand system because if you work hard enough you become rich, your children become rich, benefitting yourself in the process. If a new society that emerges after capitalism stays sustainable and is based on the guiding principle that it is better served by people acting to benefit primarily others and not themselves, I would like to visit and see it with my own eyes, wherever I may be then.
The interview took place at Konica Minolta headquarters on Wednesday, February 17, 2021.