Q&A: How Kawasaki Fuels Employee Performance

Managing employees is a tough job. Managing employees that make what are traditionally thought of as "toys" might be even harder. Tom Porter, director of human resources and administration at Kawasaki Motors Corp., U.S.A., recognized this problem and sought out new ways to push his employees to make Kawasaki products even better.

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Managing employees is a tough job. Managing employees that make what are traditionally thought of as "toys" might be even harder. This is the challenge facing Kawasaki Motors Corp., U.S.A. Naturally, the company isn't able to make the kinds of products it does, and with such a large following, without effective management of employees. Tom Porter, director of human resources and administration at Kawasaki Motors Corp., U.S.A., recognized this need and sought out new ways to push his employees to make Kawasaki products even better. This Q&A shares Porter's strategy on managing employee performance on the plant floor effectively. Distributors may not have a plant floor, but they do usually have a warehouse - or two or more - and just might benefit from a program like Kawasaki's.

Question: Give me some insight into the situation before you all implemented this solution. What were some of the problems you were having with employees or company-wide initiatives?

Tom Porter: Before Kawasaki Motors Corp., U.S.A. (Kawasaki) implemented SuccessFactors, our performance review process was based on a paper and pencil system. Performance review forms varied between departments, and as a result, there was no standard of measures or ratings. In addition, all of our performance tracking was done via excel spreadsheets and performance reviews were delivered to HR very haphazardly from various departments, at different time frames. Our HR department then had to manually review, file and make note of who did and did not have a performance review. As you can imagine, our previous process was very archaic.

Question: What were you looking for when it came to a solution to some of these issues?

Porter: Kawasaki has always been an enthusiast organization — we do things because we love what we do, we love what we ride, and we love what we produce. However, this mantra wasn’t much of a business model and we knew we needed a solution that would provide more structure to our organization. We saw SuccessFactors as a way to add the foundation that would build on our passion and enthusiasm in a meaningful way, and lead to concrete measures in performance and talent.

In order to accomplish this, we sought a solution that would help us corral this beast of performance management into something that was manageable. We wanted to glean data and insight and be able to easily identify developmental opportunities. For example, if a team member received a low performance rating that was not due to their ability, but rather their lack of knowledge in that area, we wanted to be able to detect this and provide them the appropriate training solutions to grow.

Question: Walk me through the implementation of the SuccessFactors solution. It looks like it’s all cloud-based, which would make that process easier, no?

Porter: Kawasaki researched several vendors before first implementing SuccessFactors Performance & Goals. Soon after, we realized we got more functionality and support that we had expected and implemented several more SuccessFactors modules so that we could achieve consistency and discipline in all areas of talent management. To date, we have implemented SuccessFactors solutions including Performance & Goals, Compensation, Succession & Development and Learning.

Being a cloud-based solution has made the implementation process and use of SuccessFactors extremely easy. Since the modules are always in a centralized location, we can access the solution no matter where we are. With offices located all across North and South America, we no longer have to question what file sits on whose desk, in which city. SuccessFactors cloud-based solution gives us a central platform to access all of our information securely, anytime, anywhere.

Question: How has it changed the way that Kawasaki goes about large, company-wide initiatives? How does it help those goals trickle down to the plant floor employee?

Porter: Five years ago, Kawasaki as a company did not have established corporate goals in place. However, since using SuccessFactors Performance & Goals we have been able to successfully define company goals and engage team members across the organization in achieving them. Today, team members are able to clearly outline goals and the specific metrics around those ratings. One of the initiatives we started three years ago with the help of SuccessFactors is requiring managers to work with their team members to spell out specific rating metrics at the time a goal is put into place. For example, in a five point rating scale, a one was deemed “unacceptable” while five was "exceptional." Not only has this initiative made a significant difference in goal utilization, but it has also strengthened communication between managers and their team members. Each year, we survey our team members on what is important in creating a motivating work environment and one of our highest scores is that people know exactly what is expected of them — and I attribute this to SuccessFactors for helping us establish and define goals across our organization.

One other recent initiative we have been able to implement is a profit sharing bonus program for all team members in the organization — from junior members all the way up through senior management. With the help of the SuccessFactors Performance & Goals, we are able to solicit team members to complete their performance evaluations by a certain date or risk being disqualified from the bonus program. This initiative has not only helped all team members focus on the importance of performance and talent, but also open the flood gates for increased communication within the organization. For example, feedback that was gleaned during last year’s performance process was much higher in caliber than performance discussions of years past.  

Question: What kinds of metrics are you able to track now that you wouldn’t have been otherwise?

Porter: One of the things that we are able to more efficiently track since using SuccessFactors is the sheer amount of team members that successfully complete performance reviews. This past year, we had 100 percent performance reviews completed by the stated deadline date. Before using SuccessFactors, we were anywhere from 80 percent to the low 90 percent — and we had to continuously follow-up with people to figure out if a performance review had been completed.

Question: Give me some more insight into Kawasaki University. How does that work, and how does SuccessFactors ensure that employees are doing their fair share of additional learning?

Porter: Before Kawasaki University was established, we had numerous training courses throughout the company that varied in format and requirements. What we were seeing with this disjointed approach to corporate learning is that in terms of goal establishment, achievement terminology being used across departments varied greatly. This created a lot of confusion within the company.

After we adopted SuccessFactors, we finally had the right tools to streamline corporate education efforts. Branded under Kawasaki University, we placed all leadership, talent development, and skills building resources under one umbrella. With all resources in a centralized location, team members have become more likely to trust and utilize the trainings because they know the courses are sanctioned.

Taking learning a step further, three years ago our president also made it a requirement for every team member to complete 36 hours of education in order to receive a 3 rating (acceptable) on their performance review. This included safety trainings and compliance courses within Kawasaki University, as well as external education such as learning hours for team members pursuing a master’s degree. With SuccessFactors tracking all learning hours, everyone was held accountable – from our president all the way down to our junior team members.

Today, we have over 350 courses that we’ve uploaded into SuccessFactors Learning Management solution. We continue to share feedback with SuccessFactors and they in turn deliver solutions that fit perfectly with Kawasaki University.

Question: What are other manufacturers missing out by not implementing something similar?

Porter: Companies often look at performance management and review processes as just another form they are forced to fill out. However, by implementing talent management solutions from SuccessFactors, companies can easily identify key performance matrixes and evaluate the effectiveness of team members, and then integrate that into the goal portion of the performance review process. This would give them the means to measure performance effectively and ensure it is uniform across their organization.

Question: Where are you going to take this into the future? Are there any other initiatives that you’re working on?

Porter: We are exploring integration with SAP Jam and how to use the solution more effectively from a social standpoint within our organization. Social is not built into our culture just yet; however, with the existing enthusiasm to collaborate and communicate at Kawasaki, it is something we see value in and are eager to explore further. Providing solutions to our team members across multiple channels of communications is critical to our success, and we know that SuccessFactors will be there to help us integrate once we are ready.

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