How corporate philosophy drives business

The key to effective L&D strategies is to have a unifying corporate philosophy that will inspire all staff.

About the author

Jack Nakamura is a professional HR consultant, facilitator and speaker in leadership and management. He is the Founder and CEO of Asian Identity.

Throughout my career as an HR consultant for over 10 years, I have been engaged in many projects, in Tokyo, Singapore and Thailand, working with many executives from various industries. From this experience I have become a strong believer in the importance of defining a corporate philosophy and utilising it as a driving force for business development: and it seems that the importance is increasing more and more these days.

Corporate philosophy defines “why” your company needs to exist. Amazon is striving to create a world where users can find everything online. Google’s philosophy is “to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”.

You can’t be certain how successful you are until you are able to measure your impact. Make sure there is a clear, measurable goal that is linked to success. Whether it is for behaviour change or a specific result you want to see, it must be clearly stated from the outset.

A philosophy clearly defines the identity of the company.

It contributes to engaging staff and guiding them on how they should behave, and also attracts future candidates. Back in my home country of Japan, I observed many visionary companies as well. Honda emphasised the importance of “chasing dreams” by creating a non-conventional motorcycle, while Uniqlo is changing the conventional wisdom of clothes.

By being influenced by those companies that made invisible things visible, I am working now to enhance the competitiveness of Asian organizations, as an Asian citizen.

Corporate philosophy, however, is intangible and sometimes too conceptual. This makes it is difficult to link with daily work. This often results in the philosophy simply being hung on the wall or posted on the website, and not much more.

But successful companies are managing it well as a weapon for creating competitiveness of the business. In this article I will introduce four key points in managing corporate philosophy for your organisation.

1.  Sharing the origin of the company

I started my career at Nestle, a global food company originating from Switzerland. During the training session for newcomers, there was a lecture about how Nestle started its business. Henri Nestle, the founder, made powdered milk for infants to tackle high mortality rates. The meaning of the corporate logo of Nestle, a bird taking care of the babies in the nest, represents his passion and this has been inherited even after more than 100 years. Knowing the origin of the company is essential for sharing the corporate philosophy with employees, leading to higher engagement when successfully communicated.

2.  Vision statements that ignite passion

Myanmar Brewery, one of the most successful beer-making companies in Asia, is a case of the powerful connection between corporate philosophy and business success. They have a vision called “3P”: People, Pride, and Product. In the statement about pride, the company declares “to be a proud representative of Myanmar internationally”. The employees are proud of this statement and work hard to make their company more internationally reputable, and to make their country the same as well.

Sometimes we, as executives, tend to focus on numerical goals too much and devote ourselves to drive the workforce in that one, single direction. But few people get excited only with numbers. If you want to truly inspire people, you must have statements that can evoke passions in them, and in doing so, withdraw higher commitment to the organisation.

3.  Using unique local words 

In global companies, corporate philosophy statements are typically written in English. However, sometimes it is also effective to use non-English words with specific intentions.

Shiseido, a Japanese cosmetic company, has Omotenashi principles. These are based on a concept of Japanese hospitality, but the company deliberately kept the philosophy in Japanese language in order to show it as unique and untranslatable. This is one interesting approach of making corporate identity more unique and clear.

In his book In Other Words, Linguist CJ Moore points out that we tend to think our experiences are common all over the world, and can therefore be translatable into other languages. But, in fact, they cannot. Sometimes a notion in a certain language cannot be explained because the concept itself is peculiar to the culture. Using local words as they are is one way of conveying a concept beyond cultures and languages.

4.  Walk the walk; Talk the talk

Last of all, let’s think about how we can best implement a corporate philosophy into an organisation from scratch. Even if we exhibit a beautiful philosophy statement, it will be meaningless if leaders of the company don’t set good examples. Needless to say, leaders are the main conveyer of the messages of the company, so people in leading positions have to be responsible for truly embodying the philosophy.

What HR should do is design key processes to link them with the corporate philosophy: recruiting criteria, evaluation processes, and promotion rules.  All these processes need to be understood not only by HR, but also by managers in business functions – they will be the key players when it comes to implementation.

The most important thing for a HR manager is to always reflect on their own behavior and ensure they are a positive ambassador for the company’s corporate philosophy.

Our business environment is becoming more and more globalized, so that we need to unite and drive our people beyond culture and languages. Like a great movie or piece of music that can easily cross borders, a powerful philosophy can move people even in different cultures. I recommend leaders to check their corporate philosophy once again and leverage it as a key tool for success.  

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