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The Reality and Issues of “Job Definition” in Japanese Companies

- JGC: Splitting the Department Head Role Among Three Individuals’ -


In our hot topic column, we've previously featured numerous columns on the "HR system based on the jobs." Of particular significance is the column series presented between August and October 2020, focusing on "Job definition for the introduction of job-based employment." This time, we delve beyond conceptual explanations to pinpoint the specific challenges facing Japanese companies today using concrete examples.


While scouring articles like those in the Nikkei concerning companies that have adopted job-based employment, we unfortunately found no explicit descriptions of “job” (roles/job contents). However, we came across an article from the same paper dated October 27 of last year, titled "JGC, Splitting the Department Head Role Among Three Individuals - Increasing Burden, Redefining Roles." We'd like to use this as a basis to examine what can be said from the perspective of "Job Definition". The company, as stated in its 2023 Integrated Report under "Initiatives for Human Capital," underwent reforms transitioning from a seniority-based system to one focusing on responsibilities and job value in 2022. While the report does not explicitly mention a job-based HR system, it refers to a system emphasizing "responsibilities and job value," prompting us to scrutinize the content of "job redefinition" within this context.

The essence of the article lies in the redefinition of the department head role to focus on executing mid-to-long-term visions, thereby establishing two new managerial positions dedicated to project management and talent development. The objective is to have three department heads share responsibilities and simultaneously foster both human resources and organizational growth. However, from the perspective of “job definition”, reading through the article raises several questions. Firstly, who bears the total/comprehensive responsibility for the roles assigned to these three individuals within the organization? Secondly, do these three department heads occupy the same job grade and receive equivalent reward in HR system? These are fundamental questions that naturally arise. When designing an organization, it is imperative to clearly define what responsibilities a given department should bear based on strategic objectives. Naturally, this responsibility falls on the top of that department. Dividing and sharing these responsibilities among three individuals implies that no one within the department bears the total/collective responsibility, posing a significant challenge in organizational design.

Upon reviewing the integrated report, we found that under the section "Integrated Departmental Operations," the titles of the three individuals were specified. One person is explicitly labeled as the "department head," while the other two are assigned roles known as CDM and PCM, respectively. Upon revisiting the article's content, it indeed lists these three individuals' titles within the same framework as "department head," "CDM," and "PCM." However, the explanation states that "the three department heads share responsibilities," which introduces confusion. If the department head is ultimately responsible for the department's full scope of duties, then the other two managers simply assume supportive roles (CDM focuses on member development and career advancement, while PCM oversees ongoing project management and talent deployment) subordinate to the department head, as per standard organizational design.

The article suggests the reason for transitioning to this trilateral operation is a fear that "the department head would be overwhelmed by the responsibilities if left alone." While the previous system had a position designated as "acting department head," which primarily served as a backup to the department head, the decision was made to abolish this role. Instead, while the department head retains final decision-making authority, CDM and PCM assume roles of equal standing, contributing to foundational talent management. While the report does not elaborate on the responsibilities of the former acting department head, it indicates that the new organization is yielding results in terms of development efforts. Specifically, it notes that "CDM engages in one-on-one sessions to listen to mid-to-long-term career aspirations, advises on necessary skills and experiences, and makes it easier to develop long-term talent plans."

For HR professionals with expertise in “job definition”, the situation prior to these reforms prompts several considerations. Firstly, whether the roles of the department head and assistant department heads have been clearly defined and secondly, whether suitable personnel have been assigned to these roles. Thirdly, whether the subordinate organizational structures supporting the department head's role are rationally and effectively designed, and defining the jobs (role/responsibilities). And finally, whether appropriate personnel have been allocated to these structures. The statement "the department head would be overwhelmed by the responsibilities if left alone" raises questions about whether the department head's responsibilities are indeed too burdensome for the company's personnel, or whether there is a lack of suitable personnel capable of fulfilling these roles. Given the absence of descriptions regarding organizational design in the integrated report, we cannot delve further into the first point. However, it is the responsibility of HR professionals to clearly state if such organizational design is unfeasible, thereby proposing that the department head's role be tailored to the company's personnel. Otherwise, the organization may fail to achieve its mission and objectives based on its strategic direction.

Concerning the subordinate organizational structures under the department head, it is also HR's responsibility to propose rational and effective designs as part of the support necessary for the department head's role. Given the statement "results are evident in development efforts," designing roles that support the department head and assigning appropriate personnel indicates that the department head's role can be effectively fulfilled. This can be achieved by defining the responsibilities of the former acting department head and having them fulfilled, thus resolving issues even within the previous system. Simply renaming these roles as CDM and PCM should suffice, without the need to complicate processes by introducing "department head-level managerial positions" and adding complexity to decision-making processes. As mentioned in the article, introducing such complex processes could lead to decision-making delays when the opinions of the three department heads diverge. These two new roles should strictly serve as subordinate positions supporting the department head, with final decisions always made by the department head.

The confusion arises from a lack of understanding of the "HR system based on jobs". The inertia of HR management decisions in the Japanese large corporations, exemplified by the term "department-head-level managerial position," suggests that HR assignments have traditionally been based on personal attributes such as seniority, gender, and ability. Jobs/roles like CDM and PCM are intended to assist the department head and are not themselves department heads. The report states that "the department head is the final decision-maker." From the perspective of Japanese HR management accustomed to traditional ability-based systems, there may be resistance to placing these individuals under the department head, given their personal attributes. Touching on the concept of measuring role importance, it's clear that there's a disparity between the importance of the department head and CDM/PCM roles, resulting in differing job grade and corresponding reward. This forms the basis of fairness in HR system based on Job.

If indeed "the three department heads share responsibilities," then it's imperative to evaluate the importance of these roles. If the company advocates for a HR system emphasizing "responsibilities and job value," then discussions are warranted to compare the contributions of "developing mid-to-long-term visions and executing them, business model innovation" and "staff development, career advancement" or "ongoing project management and talent development," determining which role holds greater importance. However, this is strictly a discussion comparing the importance of roles under the department head and is evident in the distinct differences between the department head and CDM/PCM. Lowering the department head roles to the same level as CDM/PCM positions’ and blurring the lines of responsibility risks organizational mismanagement. It's only natural for the department head “to be overwhelmed by the responsibilities if left alone”, if bearing total/ultimate responsibility and being ranked and treated as the same level as CDM/PCM.

Functional management of the organization is a prerequisite when considering HR system based on Job. Job definition is an essential requirement for functional management, and gaining skills and experience in this regard can lead to rationalization and efficiency in organizational operation. We hope this sheds light on the importance of acquiring skills of “Job Definition” for HR professionals and that this will also lead to streamlining and increasing the efficiency of organizational management.


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