Employee Development

How can we develop a sense of belonging for new employees during the COVID-19 crisis?

July 27, 2022

Due to the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis, matters related to the development of new employees, such as the instillation of corporate cultures or the formation of networks among employees, have become significant issues for many companies, who are seeking out new methods of training. Under these circumstances, Sony Semiconductor Solutions Group (hereafter “SSS Group”) has implemented a unique form of new employee training since FY2020. Since it consists of joint Group training, it is a large-scale training program with a scope of over 500 participants, which is completely implemented by SSS Group New Employee Training Team, from planning to production and operation. In questionnaires given after the training, many responses such as “I got a true sense of belonging to SSS Group as an employee” and “It was a very important training program for me to think about my future career” were received. The new employee training not only contributes to the acquisition of knowledge, but is also valuable for the formation of internal networks and the enhancement of employee motivation, which are essential for corporate growth.
We asked Ippei Kimura, Yuta Fujii, and Natsuo Hattori, three members from SSS Group’s Human Resources Planning Dept., questions on why it was necessary for SSS Group to conduct this unique form of new employee training, and how it was created.

Kimura Ippei

Sony Semiconductor Solutions Corporation
Human Resources Planning Dept

Hattori Natsuo

Sony Semiconductor Solutions Corporation
Human Resources Planning Dept

Fujii Yuta

Sony Semiconductor Solutions Corporation
Human Resources Planning Dept

It was precisely because they created the training program themselves, that it became a program able to thoroughly convey their desired content

SSS Group introduced its unique new employee training in FY2020, when the world was suddenly plunged into the crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the following year of FY2021, SSS Group would be requiring further independence and unity due to reforms in Sony Group’s management structure. What was needed at that point was to spread the value chain and the Mission, Vision, and Values (hereafter “MVV”), that were critical for all employees, even further. Due to the internal and external circumstances of responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and reforms to its management structure, SSS Group’s new training for new employees was faced with heavy responsibilities as well as significant changes that would sweep away previous ideas.
SSS Group’s new employee training has three main objectives. The first is to provide an understanding of the value chain that is the strength of SSS Group, in which the Group is consistently involved in from the research, development, and design to manufacturing operations. The second is to instill the MVV, which expresses the direction for the company to proceed in and the values that it considers to be important. Finally, the third is to form networks among employees. To give participants real experience with SSS Group’s value chain, training in past years included actual visits to the manufacturing sites of each business location, but the COVID-19 pandemic made this impossible. For Kimura, who believed that acquiring a true “feeling of being there” of manufacturing sites was extremely important to understand the value chain of SSS Group, one major issue was how to make up for this “feeling of being there” using online methods.

Kimura, leader of the new employee training program

The program is composed of four sessions, the first of which provides input to find out about the overall MVV and value chain. The next, second session consists of lectures from top-level management personnel and dialogues with young employees, to encourage understanding of the MVV and value chain. The third session mainly involves group work for participants to put what they have learned into practice at work sites. The final session is an opportunity for participants to present their results from the group work, to look back on the training content up to that point.

Hattori recalled that when planning the program, “We heard about several external training programs, but we did not encounter any proposals for training programs on a scale of 500 new employees that could match our requests. As a result, we were prepared to accept that we had no choice but to create it ourselves.” Hattori and Fujii, who responded to this interview, are in their third year with the company. In other words, they are employees who participated in the FY2020 new employee training, which was suddenly shifted to an online format due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Hattori, “To be honest, I don’t believe I was able to sufficiently think about the MVV as my own concern, or get a true feel of the value chain, when I was a new employee. That was why I thought we needed a program which was thorough enough to give a solid understanding of questions like ‘Why is the MVV necessary?’ and ‘What is the value chain?’” By incorporating the viewpoints of Hattori and Fujii from their experience as training participants, the FY2021 program was completed as an original program for SSS Group.

Supervisors for the new employee training program, Hattori (left side of photograph) and Fujii (right side of photograph)

Aiming for online training just as or even more effective than real-world training

Fujii explained, “In order to have participants perceive the MVV as being relevant to themselves, it is important not only to provide lectures from top-level management, but also to have them hear from young employees who have a position that is closer to new employees.” He added that while statements from top-level management are essential to indicate the policies of the company, in a large corporation like SSS Group, “The viewpoints of top-level management are too far above the perspective of new employees, so it is difficult for them to be treated as personal matters.” Therefore, opportunities for young employees with positions closer to new employees to share episodes from their own experiences were included as a new part of the second session. The goal of having currently active young employees tell stories about failures or struggles they actually experienced themselves, and the things that they accomplished in the process, was for them to serve as role models for new employees. In addition, the program was designed to incorporate many discussions throughout its entirety, to have participants not only gain knowledge and understanding, but to think repeatedly about how to put them into practice and incorporate them into their own action plans.
Also, in comparison to the training provided before COVID-19 in which participants actually visited manufacturing sites, the FY2020 training, which was suddenly shifted to an online format, was left with issues including concerns that comprehension of the value chain was only achieved at a surface level, and did not extend to an actual feel of the overall flow of procedures. Fujii recounted that those feelings of concern were applied in FY2021 so that in the third session, “We planned a program to create a ‘relation map’ to have participants get a true feel of the value chain, which is a powerful weapon for our company.” Details on which departments are connected to which other departments in SSS Group, and what kinds of values they are producing, were summarized for each department, and ultimately incorporated into a large single map called a “relation map” by all new employees.

In the program, participants interviewed superiors from their own departments on what kinds of values their affiliated departments were providing to achieve the MVV, and the responses were then organized into a relation map on an online whiteboard. Fujii states that by expressing this information as a map, participants could understand the value chain in visual rather than conceptual form and gain the feeling that their own operations were also a part of it. Even though they could not take in “the feeling of being there” by actually visiting sites, they were able to communicate with departments that their work was connected to and perceive the relationships between them, to create a sense of connection in place of on-site experiences.
The reforms associated with the online conversion did not stop at the creation of the relation map. From the desire to have participants get to know a larger number of employees in SSS Group who entered the company at the same time and deepen their personal relationships, icebreaking activities were held using virtual spaces and opportunities were created to encourage incidental conversations. Many group discussions were also arranged intentionally to assign participants multiple long-term tasks. Particular attention was additionally given to the formation of networks among new employees, to ensure that interpersonal connections did not fade away due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The final session allowed participants to perceive the President and the company as familiar presences

The climax of this training program was an interactive session between President and CEO Shimizu and the new employees. In preparation for the final session, new employees were given the task of creating posters expressing their own ideas to make SSS Group even better. Partly as a result of the training content, many of the poster ideas included values from the MVV such as “unity,” “openness,” and “challenges” in their themes. The created posters were then presented to all SSS Group employees and a competition by voting was held. The selected ideas from the competition included setting a self-introduction slide in the “Teams” icon to compensate for a lack of information about other people who could not actually be met face-to-face, and designating a new holiday to put the MVV into practice. Four proposals chosen through votes by all employees were presented directly from the new employees who created them to the President.

Hattori explained that in the final session, showing the stance taken by President and CEO Shimizu to give comments on his feelings toward each submitted idea, and to ask questions to new employees about things he was unclear about, was extremely valuable. “By seeing his honest expressions of surprise, concern, and laughter while receiving comments, new employees are able to see him as a President with a presence close at hand rather than a distant figure only seen in the company profile.” It was exactly because the training had such a large scale of over 500 new employees, that it was able to apply the strengths of its online format to their greatest potential, and succeeded at giving a familiar impression of the President, which would be difficult with just a real-world situation.

In questionnaires given after the training, nearly 90% of new employees responded that they were “Satisfied,” with comments such as “I got a true sense of belonging to SSS Group as an employee” and “It was a very important training program for me to think about my future career,” but there are still many issues to be addressed. We will strive to make even further improvements, such as reducing operational problems with video delivery networks, enhancing individual contents, and considering how to expand opportunities for real-world application while utilizing IT to its fullest.