Most companies follow standard procedure when it comes to creating a low turnover company culture: competitive salary, great benefits, extra vacation, or all-expenses-paid company outings. But for some, the most effective solution is a little less conventional.
Takahiro Fukunishi started Kandōka with the simple concept of giving individuals time to reflect upon their work and give themselves a pat on the back. In Japanese, "Kandō (感動)" means "deeply move(d) emotionally", and "Ka (課)" is department. Kandōka was first introduced to Kintone's parent company, Cybozu, Inc. as a way of improving employee turnover. Despite being an unusual approach, Kandōka helped Cybozu decrease its turnover rate from 28% to less than 5% within six years.
We sat down and talked with Fukunishi about Kandōka and the power of reflecting on work. This interview is translated from Japanese courtesy of Lena Furuki.
Furuki: Give us a sense of who you are.
Fukunishi: My name is Takahiro Fukunishi. I am from a beautiful area in Japan called Nara. I am a committed baseball player on weekends and play on Cybozu's corporate team.
Furuki: How long have you been with Cybozu, Inc.?
Fukunishi: I've been at Cybozu for 14.5 years. For the first seven years, I worked as the User Manual Writer at the Product Development Department. About halfway through my time with Cybozu I started Kandōka.
Furuki: What life experiences lead you to create Kandōka?
Fukunishi: When I was writing and maintaining user manuals at Cybozu, I also hosted events and created company newsletters on the side for awhile. I discovered I enjoyed those activities and found a lot of personal fulfillment in making people smile and enjoy the moment.
That feeling didn't come just from hosting events and making newsletters. Prior to joining Cybozu, I did the same thing for another company, but didn't think it was exciting at all. It didn't catch my interest. But things changed when I went to work for Cybozu. I still remember during my interview, and once I joined, how different the company culture was. At Cybozu, everyone not only works hard, but they are also able to be silly and have fun together! I was inspired to help grow that aspect of Cybozu, so I agreed to do event and newsletter planning.
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Furuki: Why did you decide to start Kandōka?
Fukunishi: Eight years ago, coincidentally on my birthday, Vice President Osamu Yamada requested a one-on-one meeting with me. He said, "You said you like hosting events and making everyone happy. What do you think of making it a job?" Shortly after in February 2011, I began Kandōka.
Furuki: How did others react when you told them what you planned to do?
Fukunishi: I thought my coworkers would say that planning company activities should be lower priority, and that I should focus more of my time towards writing docs. However, their reaction was the complete opposite of what I expected. Starting with my doc team, many people at Cybozu encouraged me to start Kandōka and said that the work suited me.
Furuki: What personal qualities helped you achieve this vision?
Fukunishi: One of my personal qualities which led Yamada to ask me to start Kandōka is that I am emotionally invested in others. When others accomplish something after facing great challenges, I cry with them with joy. I like to say I have a radar that sees opportunities for people to reflect on their work, be touched by it, and motivate themselves to greater things.
Another trait I have is that I don't force others or myself to get emotional. Yamada and I have discussed that there are beautiful moments to reflect on in our daily work and life but there's no need to glorify it to get people to appreciate their work.
Furuki: How did you encourage and inspire others to help you set up Kandōka?
Fukunishi: I think Kandōka has persisted over the last seven years because I was the only member and had full responsibility for it. There's no discussion of roles, and when there's an opportunity I am the one to execute it. However, any Kandōka activity does not start and end with just myself. Employees who'd like to help out can raise their hand and help me put a plan together. When we have ideas that involve others, we ask them to help. I only ask help from others when I believe that that person would enjoy it and would find joy in helping others through the activity.
Furuki: What were some challenges you faced creating the event?
Fukunishi: My biggest challenge was the pressure I put on myself in making it a full-time job. Once I made it a job, I was worried about people not voluntarily helping out. I was also worried about my career path. However, Vice President Yamada completely supported me the entire way. When proposing Kandōka to the executive meeting, I remember one of the managers asking about the ROI. Yamada said to him, "How can we measure the ROI? By how many tears dropped? That's nonsense. There's no need to think about ROI when we know that it's something that is going to make our company better, and one employee's worth of salary does not effect the company as a whole as it would with Kandōka." My boss's determination gave me the confidence to commit to Kandōka.
Furuki: What did you want people to take away from your activities?
Fukunishi: The core message of Kandōka is to prioritize time to reflect how much effort you've put into your work. After doing Kandōka for seven years, I've learned that Kandōka isn't a tool you can apply to every problem. I don't address all requests but only the ones that work with the philosophy.
Furuki: What was your first job that used Kandōka?
Fukunishi: One of the first jobs I did was create a video for new grads to reflect on their training. That was when you joined back in 2011 and were one of the new grad trainers.
Furuki: Yes, I remember that video clearly and how half of the new grads burst into tears watching it!
Fukunishi: I feel spending time with the new grads during training is one of my favorite things about my work. New grads give all their heart to the training they receive. They face many challenges and reflect back in tears the quality time they've spent during training. I also reflect on each past year and determine to put my heart out for the new year.
One of my other early Kandōka projects was delivering messages to everyone who was nominated for "Cybozu of the Year." Cybozu of the Year is an internal recognition event where people can nominate up to five people in the company for the Cybozu Member of the Year. This process is called sending "appreciation." Up to that point, the only people who were aware of their nomination were MVPs who received the most votes overall. I decided to change that and make sure anyone who received a vote was made aware of it. That way more people could feel the appreciation their coworkers had for them.
Furuki: What do you want people to know about your work?
Fukunishi: I do believe having a department dedicated to getting employees to reflect upon their work is important, but Kandōka is not all about hosting parties and having fun. It does require a lot of effort, and it's important for companies to keep that in mind if they want to include Kandōka into their work culture.
Furuki: If someone wants to do something similar to you, what advice would you give them?
Fukunishi: I believe getting an executive who understands the importance of the concept of Kandōka is essential. For the first three years, I had a one-on-one meetings with Yamada to brainstorm ways to make employees reflect and self-praise their work. Determination is not exactly a skill but instead something that each of us decide to have or not. Rather than thinking of all the ideas to not start Kandōka, I recommend companies start small and grow from there.
Furuki: Thank you so much. I was inspired and touched by your story
Fukunishi: It was a pleasure to talk about it.