Back to Basics Project

Corporate Topics
New Challenges for
Rakuten's Human
Resources Department
"Back to Basics Project"

Returning to the basic goal of "creating winning personnel and winning teams," and a large-scale personnel reform project to achieve it

In the fall of 2017, Rakuten started the major "Back to Basics Project," led by the Human Resources Department. "Back to Basics" means returning to Rakuten's basic human resources goal of "creating winning personnel and winning teams." We interviewed Kentaro Hyakuno, Group Executive Vice President and COO (Chief Operating Officer), who regards this project as an "unprecedented large-scale personnel reform," about the background behind the project's start, its current progress, and its future goals.

Maximizing strengths through a diverse and open culture of employees

The Rakuten Group aims to create world-class innovative services as a "Global Innovation Company," and as part of that we value a corporate culture in which diverse people and ideas can mingle. We are promoting the creation of systems and environments that enable each of our wonderfully diverse employees with different backgrounds to maximize their strengths.

In recent years in particular, as Rakuten's businesses have grown, the number of employees has more than doubled from five years ago to about 17,000. We now have employees from more than 70 countries, and the company's official language has become English, and our environment has changed rapidly. I think that Rakuten is the most diverse and open environment in Japan, and I'm extremely proud of that. However, communication will inevitably become more complicated as diversity and business scale increase, and the difficulty of mutual understanding will also increase. The "Back to Basics Project" was launched to overcome these challenges and to create an environment that maximizes the power of each and every employee by creating "winning personnel and winning teams."

Determined to reform the existing recruitment and training programs to solve issues that emerged in large-scale surveys

To begin with, we implemented three initiatives to understand the current state of Rakuten's personnel and to clarify issues. First, we interviewed employees. We directly met and listened to both current and former employees, and had them share their feelings about issues from various perspectives. Second, we conducted employee surveys. The data that we collected on the organization and on personnel was analyzed from various angles. Third, we interviewed all Rakuten HR staff. From these efforts, we discovered that the challenge was the delay in the evolution of "Recruitment," "Development," and "Retention." Rakuten hires the personnel required for each business, develops personnel who can play active roles in the medium to long term, and creates an environment where those personnel want to continue working. All of these are basic and fundamental human resource activities, but the reforms were far behind the changes in the actual environment. Therefore, we decided to review our existing recruitment and development programs. We knew that it was going to be a very tough journey, but the Human Resources Department staff came together with the belief and conviction that they were absolutely necessary changes.

Achievements began to appear sooner than expected

The "Back to Basics Project" is still ongoing to achieve our 2020 targets, and solid results are beginning to appear. In terms of "Recruitment," efforts to improve the recruitment process and recruiting branding have resulted in securing more recruits and achieving higher recruiting rankings.

In terms of "Development," we first introduced one-on-one meetings for managers and subordinates on a company-wide basis; the meetings are generally held once a week. The managers look not only at the "results" of the subordinate's work, but also earnestly listen to the worker's "processes" and offer advice when necessary. Managers clearly tell subordinates when they are highly valued. We are aiming to jump-start communication through meetings that include this kind of concrete and easy-to-understand feedback. As can be expected, techniques for feedback are also necessary, so we started "Feedback Training" for managers. In addition, a total of 38 new group learning programs were developed as group / experience-based training, and follow-up surveys with participants showed more than a 90% satisfaction rate.

In terms of "Retention," we revised the evaluation and compensation systems so that they more accurately reflect employee performance. Furthermore, in addition to newly establishing a retirement allowance system for long-term employees, we are promoting a variety of work styles to meet employee needs, such as a telecommuting system and an expansion of off-peak/staggered commuting. We are also diligently working on a "Human Resources Development Map." This aims to clarify the skills and knowledge that employees can accumulate at Rakuten and in doing so aims to allow employees to draw up medium to long term career plans at Rakuten.

In addition to these efforts, we are also working on infrastructure improvements like a personnel management system and improvements to the system we introduced in 2018, which enabled both talent and personnel management across the entire Rakuten Group to flourish at the same time. An external consultant stated at the beginning of the project that "such a radical change will take five or six years to produce results," but we began seeing results after only a year and a half. I like to think that this kind of fast execution speed is unique to Rakuten.

In the future, these results from Japan will be used globally for horizontal development, or "Yokoten" as it's said in Japanese.

There are two upcoming challenges for the project. The first is to respond to the reorganization of the Rakuten Group as the Group's human resources function. The Rakuten Group was reorganized due to the company split in April 2019, and the challenge of smoothly moving the human resources functions is still outstanding. The second is the expansion of this project to Rakuten Group bases outside of Japan.

Going forward, there will be more diversity-rich companies in Japanese society. As a pioneer, I think that Rakuten has an obligation to provide the world with an ideal environment in which everyone can work. Additionally, there still aren't many places in Japan other than Rakuten where you can experience global human resources work. In that respect, I think that Rakuten has a rare and high-level career environment, and we will continue to refine our HR projects and expand our policies around the world. There are plentiful opportunities here at Rakuten to develop truly global skills as an HR professional, and I invite people who want to grow through HR work and guarantee that people with a global mindset will want to develop their skills at Rakuten.

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