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From Management’s Point of View ~An Environment for Employee Growth – From the CEO’s Perspective- ~

June 14, 2024



At last month’s beer bash event, we discussed “an environment for employee growth,” which resulted in a spirited exchange of opinions. In summarizing that discussion here, putting aside the systemic and technical aspects, I’d like to first consider how the CEO sees things, together with how that influences the organization.


In short, everything about a company is largely influenced by the CEO. This is because the CEO’s thinking will be directly reflected in the company’s culture, including factors such as what kind of work they want to be doing, what kind of people they want to be working with, and what goals they want to be moving toward. The company culture will also directly reflect the CEO’s personality and character. For example, I was originally the kind of person who had difficulty communicating with others; if left alone, I would prefer to just sit in my own office and work. In the past, I didn’t go out of my way to create opportunities for conversation, and I wasn’t very good at communicating my thinking to our staff members. Accordingly, the company wasn’t cohesive. After engaging in some self-examination, I implemented some things like the Beer Bash events in order to more proactively communicate with our employees. The idea was to encourage spaces where people could reveal their true thoughts about how to create a company that everyone could agree was “good.” The employees talked about these things and came up with our mission – “Empower Company, Empower You,” our vision – “To be the best accounting firm to work for,” – and helped consolidate agreement on the six-coordinate axes of our corporate philosophy – technology, service, time, teamwork, ownership, and business development.


As our management philosophy became more deeply embedded, there were more opportunities to think about the nature of the CEO’s leadership.

Various books have been published on leadership. According to the well-known management consultant McKinsey & Co., for instance, leadership is not something that certain people are born with innately but instead consists of skills that are acquired through effort, and are demonstrated through four specific actions. These are:


  • Being supportive

  • Operating with a strong results orientation

  • Seeking different perspectives

  • Solving problems effectively

 

I had long believed that someone who has these abilities has the qualities of a leader, and that each of these items could be resolved through skills acquisition. Indeed, I was trying hard to be that kind of boss. But then, about six months ago, it stopped me in my tracks when someone asked me, “What kind of CEO do you want to become?” I knew that I wasn’t an excellent leader, but I didn’t understand the reason for that. I felt like I was doing fine with McKinsey’s four items, but I also felt like something was missing.


Then, one day, in the midst of this vague sense of doubt, I encountered a situation where there was a difference of opinion between myself and one of our staff members. The starting point was quite trivial, but this person was convinced that his opinion was more correct than my own, and he kept trying to push forward with his opinion rather than stopping to listen to mine. Generally, he had always subscribed to our company’s mission, vision, and philosophical Axis. He was a person who had been walking along the same path with me, and I began to consider why he would ignore what I was trying to say. Ordinarily, when someone completely trusts another person, they would accept that person’s opinion without resistance, and so I realized that the reason he wasn’t listening to me was that he didn’t fully trust me. At the same time, I didn’t actually trust him 100% either, and this made me also realize that I hadn’t made space for him to reach his potential.


The thing we were at odds over was the ongoing development of our platform for next-generation managerial analysis, which we call the Cockpit Panel. As many readers may already know, TOPC Potentia is distinctive among accounting firms in that we strongly emphasize IT and technology. As an easy-to-understand example, more than ten years before anyone knew what “the cloud” was, we had put all of our software in the cloud already and made it possible to provide bookkeeping services anywhere in the world. At a time when going back and forth with Excel was the standard, we had already created web forms for information collection and processing. Whenever I would attempt something new, we would have staff members who were strongly opposed, saying things like, “What the heck is that?! How can that possibly work? It’s too risky!” Some even quit. Nevertheless, I continued to believe in a future where the system we developed would dramatically improve our company’s operations. I would spend time alone on the weekends and in the evenings after our normal work was finished in order to study and repeatedly verify the technology, allowing me to come up with the overall framework.  No matter how thoroughly you explain it, you simply cannot achieve a shared understanding with most people about something that doesn’t yet exist in the world and has not been technologically validated. Our current development work on the Cockpit Panel is the same. At first, I worked quietly in the evenings and on weekends to come up with the framework, while the people around me had no idea what I was doing. And because I have been working on it alone, I had specific feelings about how the system should be.


During this clash of opinions, this other person stressed to me, “Dai-san, I do understand that you have strongly held thought about this project, but I, too, have always wanted to make this succeed.”


Those words really made me stop and think. I was the one who had developed the system, even while no one around me believed in the possibilities. I was completely accustomed to that, and I think I had become set on a particular path forward. However, this system that I had developed, and in fact, the company’s vision, was not something for only myself to believe in. I realized that there were others under me who believed in that vision and wanted to put it into practice.


Whether or not my opinion is correct about the details of how we move forward is not really important anymore. I realized that if there is someone who believes in my vision and who strongly wants the project to succeed, then we have reached a point where I should be creating a stage on which they can perform to the best of their ability; I need to believe in their growth and success and let them go ahead with it.


Management is about positioning the right people in the right places, looking for people’s strengths, and leveraging those. But leadership is about accepting people's weaknesses—including their knowledge, skills, experience, and indeed their human nature—taking into account the risk of failure, but still believing in them and having the courage to entrust things to them.


Half a year ago, when I was asked what kind of manager I wanted to become, the person asking me also said, “No matter what kind of manager you become, you need to be a manager who is respected by their staff.” Ultimately, I still don’t know how to become a manager who is, in fact, trusted and respected by those working under me. But what I have decided is to become a manager who, before being trusted by them, is willing to trust them and accept all of their failures.


Everything about a company is determined by the CEO. The environment that I need to provide in order for our employees to grow and develop is one where, as long as there are staff members who are serious about working here and pursuing personal growth, the CEO believes in them, supports them, and in the end accepts even their mistakes. I myself am still a work in progress, and not everything will go well. But what I want is to continue doing all that I can for the growth and development of the people who work in our organization.

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