SOMPO’s New Work Style

Special Dialogue: New Work Style to Achieve SOMPO’s Purpose

Motoki Kato
General Manager of
Human Capital Department,
Sompo Holdings,Inc.

Yohei Tomioka

Tomosuke Hirano
General Manager of
Sustainable Management Office
and Corporate Planning
Sompo Holdings,Inc.

(Date of dialogue: July 29, 2021)

Overview of SOMPO’s New Work Style

Mr.Kato: One of the three core strategies set out in our new mid-term management plan is new work style. This project is the largest in our 130-year history. We have two reasons for wanting to reform the way we work. The first is to make each employee feel motivated and happy in their work, and the second is to improve productivity. Innovating workstyles is the first step towards transforming our corporate culture, which supports the evolution of the Group, and will be a driving force in realizing SOMPO’s Purpose. In addition to our transformation into “a theme park for security, health and wellbeing,” we have been acutely aware of the need to transform our human resource collective. But we felt that it would be difficult to change our workstyles and organizational culture. Given this, I feel that COVID-19 has been a positive turning point for all employees to reevaluate not only the physical aspects of their job, such as location and time, but also the meaning and purpose of their work. We are working on two major new work style projects. The first relates to the ideal group of talent we are aiming to realize, and we are promoting a range of initiatives to instill our three core values: Mission-driven, Professionalism, and Diversity & Inclusion. For example, we are promoting a job-based employment system and learning to achieve self-directed career development. We are also clarifying each employee’s life and work mission, and working to improve engagement and create an environment that turns diversity into power. The second relates to the digital work shift. We are implementing a personnel development program for all employees to improve their digital skills to promote digital transformation based on real data platforms. New work style is not just a personnel policy. It is also promoted as part of our management strategy together with the Office of Group CEO and the Sustainable Management Office.

Mr.Hirano: Sustainability should be the company’s core value that is pursued as a major management issue. The new mid-term management plan newly establishes SOMPO’s Purpose, as being “With a theme park for security, health and wellbeing, create a society in which every person can live a healthy, prosperous and happy life in one’s own way.” SOMPO’s Purpose clearly defines the value we provide to society. Purpose-driven management, which aims to improve both our social and economic value through initiatives to achieve our purpose, is our approach to sustainability.
To achieve our purpose, it is imperative that we synchronize the SDGs in Business Management strategy, a Group’s management foundation for realizing the purpose, with new work style that maximize the capabilities of the people that will act as the driving force.
Combining micro and macro perspectives is vital for reforming workstyles. This is the kind of relationship and cycle, where an individual’s purpose and strengths (micro) act as a starting point, and the company or organization’s purpose (macro) brings out the individual’s strengths and converts them into the organization’s strengths. The key here is for the company’s and the individual’s purposes to overlap. At SOMPO, the key lies in a mission-driven workstyle through MY Purpose and Mission-Driven 1-on-1 meetings, and these initiatives will form a platform for our purpose-driven management.

Mr.Tomioka: In regard to being the first step towards transforming corporate culture, I think Group CEO Sakurada’s message that COVID-19 is an opportunity to reform SOMPO’s corporate culture is the result of his well-thought-out ideas on how to change corporate culture and his firm determination to use the pandemic as a catalyst for change. At the same time, I believe that we have reached a pivotal moment. All Japanese companies, not just the Sompo Group, must invoke change.
Up until now, companies have focused on volume and speed in order to deliver goods and services to society. This has resulted in the creation of lifetime employment and other workstyle models that match such trends. However, as society has matured, these systems and models have become obsolete. From here on in, unless companies start to reconsider the purposes of their existence and businesses before embarking on next-generation innovation, they will eventually find it difficult to connect with employees, customers and society. The Sompo Group has been one of the first to embark on reforms from a human resources and management perspective, and this makes me feel that there is still hope for Japan.
Managers tend to have a clear sense of purpose and mission, yet they often tell me that they want to get their employees more involved and to take ownership of the company’s mission. Many companies have verbalized their purpose and mission, and communicated them to their employees, but have not reached the point where their employees can take ownership of such purpose and mission in their daily work. It is difficult for a company’s mission to take root in employees’ daily work if they are simply given a mission put together by management or a corporate planning department. My opinion, which is in line with the mission-driven approach valued by Group CEO Sakurada, is that, unless employees spend time thinking about what motivates them in work and in life, it will likely be difficult for them to take ownership of and achieve the company’s purpose.

MY Purpose and Mission-Driven 1-on-1

Mr.Kato: Let’s move on to discuss MY Purpose and Mission-Driven 1-on-1. MY Purpose puts your life mission into words. MY Purpose is about looking back at your own past and reflecting on how you feel about past events in terms of WANT (intrinsic motivation), MUST (social obligation) and CAN (innate ability), and digging deeper into your intrinsic motivation to find your mission in life. The key is to be honest with yourself. We are also rolling out Mission-Driven 1-on-1 program using MY Purpose to encourage Group employees to pursue their mission. Mission-Driven 1-on-1 meetings are held regularly between supervisors and employees to discuss the employees’ MY Purpose. Their aim is to help find the challenges that employees should take on through repeated dialogue where they respond to questions from their supervisors, culminating in them being able to practice a self-directed workstyle. We launched a Mission-Driven 1-on-1 training program in fiscal year 2020 for Sompo Holdings’ general managers and section managers. The program is being rolled out at Group companies this fiscal year. The key is not to put together a MY Purpose or to provide training, but to encourage as many employees as possible to be self-driven. These initiatives have no bearing on personnel evaluations.

Mr.Hirano: I first participated in Mission-Driven 1-on-1 training a year ago. Rather than being a personnel policy, I felt it to be a powerful approach that had the potential to become the framework for purpose-driven management. Reflecting on my past and identifying My Purpose made me realize the importance of doing something that motivates me, rather than feeling like I am being forced to work. It is easy to advocate for purpose-driven management and corporate culture change from a macro perspective, but realizing them will be difficult unless it is driven by the workforce. It is important to take a micro perspective in which each individual takes ownership of the company’s purpose and strategies in order to realize that purpose. Employees are inspired to take action as the first step, and this then spreads to the entire organization to create a corporate culture and climate. Mission-Driven 1-on-1 is a group-wide initiative that links micro and macro perspectives in such a way. The Group is currently taking on a challenge of incorporating its purpose into individuals’ lives through dialogue.

Mr.Tomioka: Last fiscal year, I worked with about 100 department and section managers at Sompo Holdings, and this fiscal year, I worked with about 200 general managers at Sompo Japan and about 270 managers at Sompo Himawari Life on the Mission-Driven 1-on-1 project. I had the impression that the corporate culture is ready to fully commit to purpose-driven management and mission-driven workstyles. This is one of the Sompo Group’s greatest strengths, and it is not something that was created overnight. Its origins lie in the organizational culture built up over the years by your people, who interact with customers and who believe that they exist for the sake of customers, society and people. The Sompo Group was established by people who share the mission-driven aspiration of its founders to protect the town and people where we live from fire. This aspiration has been handed down through the generations, resulting in mission-driven DNA being ingrained in every employee. This project fits well with this aspiration and provides an opportunity to develop it further. While many companies declare the purpose of their management, very few of them have firmly incorporated it into a system that really drives their business practices. I think that such purpose-driven business practices can be achieved only through conscientious mission-driven dialogues between supervisors and employees in their daily work.
For example, when I talk with Sompo Group employees about their MY Purpose, some of them mentioned experiences in which their health or the health of their family has been threatened, which had awakened them to their MY Purpose in their work. Until now, perhaps due to the traditional society in which we live, employees have not really had the opportunity to talk about such personal experiences and their innermost thoughts in their daily work. People grow through various experiences, and those experiences help them to find their Purpose. Daily 1-on-1 conversations between supervisors and employees may result in employees’ realizing that they have been suppressing their desire to be mission-driven, and grant them the freedom to be driven by their aspirations. The Sompo Group has now been taking on a magnificent challenge, namely to build up such a corporate culture throughout the Group.

Mr.Kato: This training made me keenly aware that many employees may have formative experiences. I am sure that many employees were skeptical when they embarked on this program. I imagine they doubted how much the program would help them improve their performance when they were already busy. However, as the program progressed, verbalizing their formative experiences enabled employees to release their thoughts and they started to empathize with the program, and it really took off. Corporate culture transformation must be people-driven. The program has been successful because it encouraged employees to empathize with why we needed to change and that such change was for the benefit of our customers and society.

Mr.Hirano: We held numerous Mission-Driven 1-on-1 workshops for employees and asked the participants to share their formative experiences and create a MY Purpose statement. Listening to their experiences, I was moved by their passionate stories and reminded of the potential of Mission-Driven 1-on-1. The aim of the initiative is not to create well-organized and clear MY Purpose statements, but for employees to realize their innermost thoughts by putting their thoughts into words as well as to connect this to their work and become able to talk about their own stories. The entire process is a lot of value and links to transforming corporate culture.

Mr.Tomioka: I think it is wonderful that not only general managers, but each and every employee can talk about their formative experiences and thoughts. Up until now, we have been driven by the single value, profit. The focus was on performance and numbers, and supervisors either did not know or had no opportunities to know what their employees wanted to achieve or about their inner aspirations. It is certainly true to say that, for now, it will be impossible to create both economic and social value unless management and dialogue focused on employee’s innermost thoughts take place between supervisors and employees.

Mr.Hirano: To promote and expand this initiative not at SOMPO but throughout Japan, it is also important to demonstrate how improvements to employees’ motivation and mindset will lead to future performance and corporate value. At SOMPO, we are trying to show how we can indicate our pre-financial value and link it to our economic value, brand and corporate value.

Mr.Kato: Looking back at the history of the Group, I do not think there have been many programs that generated so much excitement throughout the Group as these initiatives. I am keen to work on this project through to the end to see how much pre-financial value can actually be linked to corporate value.

Mr.Tomioka: For us, becoming aware of and facing our MY Purpose is the starting point, not the goal. To be frank, we have a tendency to try to live up to external expectations, and in that sense, we may not have yet reached the starting point of our own life. Until now, our social structure has not permitted us to question our mission and values. So many people are just now starting to ask themselves the question, “who am I and what is my purpose,” which is the very starting point of their own life. I think that only after reaching this starting point can we really embark on our own life. Once the number of mission-driven people has increased and they have come together, their next step is to be vision-driven and to talk about what visions to set for the future. Visions of what people want to achieve will shape society in the future.
Management that balances economic and social value will be achieved when MY Purpose of each employee at the Sompo Group leads on to their MY Vision, and then links to their MY Challenge in their current work. In the current age of no answers, it is essential to have role models who have achieved change. This in turn can lead to a new mindset in society as a whole, and the hope that our vision will be realized. I am convinced that this Sompo Group initiative will eventually change Japan.

Mr.Kato: We are receiving an increasing number of inquiries from the human resource departments of other companies about our Mission-Driven 1-on-1 program. I sense that people outside the company are able to identify with our initiatives, and I feel that our initiatives incorporate something that Japanese society as a whole has been looking for.

Mr.Tomioka: In talking with Sompo Group employees, I have discovered that they have started to discuss MY Purpose with each other without any prompting, and that they are very positive about these activities. This initiative fits in with the DNA and culture of the Sompo Group. What kind of culture do you think triggered its success?

Mr.Hirano: Various companies merged together to form SOMPO, resulting in the blending together of a number of different cultures. Moreover, we have always been credited as an enthusiastic company. But I do not think this initiative applies well to our Group only because of such background. Rather I feel that any company can successfully implement this initiative if they are serious about it.

Mr.Tomioka: The concepts of “sampo yoshi” (good for everyone), “aspirations” and “working hard for someone else” are rooted in the DNA of Japanese society. Although these concepts were suppressed by social structure during the periods of high economic growth, the original mindset is still at the heart of the Japanese people. In addition, as someone who provides support from the outside, I sense that there is a mindset unique to the P&C insurance industry and a DNA unique to the Sompo Group.

Mr.Hirano: I am sure employees have various motivations for working for a P&C insurance company, but there does seem to be a common theme, namely “great social significance.” It is certainly true that people with this kind of awareness form the core of our workforce. The sampo yoshi concept is in step with Japan’s culture and strengths, but up until now, it may have served as a paradigm to show that it is not good to put the “for my own good” concept on full display. From here on in, however, it will be important for employees to have a mindset that aims to connect and merge their purpose and mission with those of the company.

Mr.Kato: We feel that the younger generation has a new mindset, and we are concerned that young people will leave the workforce unless companies change. This is our last chance to change. Unless we change now, Japanese companies may not be able to survive.

Mr.Hirano: It is relatively easy to establish mindsets at start-ups, which are creating a new culture. However, my impression is that there are not many techniques available to change older, more traditional companies. If we can achieve such change, then we will have an enormous impact on society.

Mr.Tomioka: The Sompo Group’s strength lies in its management team being mission-driven and working together as a team. On top of that, management has been steadily working to ensure that daily mission-driven dialogues take root throughout the organization, and the accumulation of such efforts will eventually lead to substantial change. I look forward to continuing to work with you to help the Sompo Group achieve its purpose. Thank you.