Canon’s Philosophy: Working Together in Harmony for the Common Good

This special episode is a “Faces of HR” interview that I conducted with Scott Millar, Senior Vice President & General Manager, Corporate HR/Audit, Ethics & Business Consultation at Canon USA & Canon Solutions America. With a title like that, as you can imagine, Scott has a lot to say about the state of HR today. I’ve provided an excerpt of that conversation below, in which he discusses the overall philosophy at Canon and one he espouses in the company’s HR operations: kyosei, or, roughly translated, working together in harmony for the common good. This concept is vital as organizations push further into the pandemic with an eye on what things will look like beyond it.

For the full version of the conversation, view the video on the right.

How did you find yourself in the world of HR?

I am originally from southeastern Virginia. I grew up in Newport News, Virginia, which is a shipbuilding and maritime capital. I attended a small liberal arts college, Christopher Newport University, that is there in town. During my college years, I actually worked in the Newport News shipyard helping to build Navy aircraft carriers as a college summer job. It was a great learning experience for me seeing an organization from the bottom side up. I was a welder’s assistant for a while. I was a spray painter’s assistant for a while, working on the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, and certainly Theodore Roosevelt has many connections here on Long Island.

My undergraduate degree was in governmental administration, with a concentration in management. As a senior, I did an internship in the city manager’s office in the mayor’s office with the local municipality, the City of Newport News. I was primarily working with a number of boards, commissions, and committees, looking at the efficiency of the application process, how to get more diversity on the committees then, and how to make them accessible to the public.

Following that internship, the director of management services for the city suggested that I apply for a position in what was then the personnel department and is now human resources. I landed that as my very first full-time job, primarily in compensation strategies for the local government. I loved that job. We were working with employees at all levels of the organization, from budget technicians to legislative aides to people who filled the potholes and picked up the trash and made sure the water was flowing for citizens across the city.

I was there for about 7 years and realized there were other opportunities within human resources. Canon had fairly recently moved into that city as one of the very first Japanese manufacturers to land in the Southeast. Newport News, Virginia, is the location of Canon Virginia. That’s our flagship manufacturing, engineering, and technology center for the Americas market. I applied for a compensation position there in 1992, landed that job, and started what has now been an over 29-year career with Canon.

Progressively, I’m assuming higher levels of HR responsibility, first over our compensation and benefits programs, then over employee training and development, and finally employee relations and the entire spectrum of HR operations for Canon Virginia. I served as the senior director of HR for Canon Virginia for about a decade, and when the vice president of HR for Canon USA retired about 5 or 6 years ago, our CEO at the time and the gentleman who was my predecessor asked me to consider transferring to Long Island and becoming head of corporate human resources for Canon USA.

It’s been a wonderful career for 29 years and counting, with a great variety of experience. I love working for an international company. I’ve had a chance to travel all over North and South America and supporting our operations, as well as visit our company headquarters in Japan at Canon Inc. It’s been a challenging career but one that’s provided a lot of inspiration and something that’s fueled my passion, certainly.

In the extended interview (video, above), Scott mentioned the virtues of in-person work, including teamwork and coordination. Personally, I am a proponent of staying home forever because I’m an introvert; while I don’t mind being around people, it takes a lot of energy for me to be ready to be around people, and that is very difficult. I would be willing to accept a hybrid work role, so long as it’s clearly defined and there are good reasons for it. Then, I can make that compromise and say, “Well, all right, I can muster the strength for these 2 days, and for the other 3 days, I don’t have to worry about it.” I am not alone. There are a lot of people out there who aren’t going to be OK with the “You have to come back in because we say so” attitude.

I think you have to build the business case as to why we as an organization feel this is important and vital to our success in the future. We have been very clear. We have 2 defined days each week that we are bringing our hybrid employees back into the office. Our offices are open 5 days a week because there are other folks who, for a variety of reasons, want to be in the office more frequently. Either they don’t have a suitable workspace, they have a workspace with distractions at home, or they don’t enjoy the isolation as much. They feel they have better resources and access within the workplace.

What we’re finding is it’s a little bit of a mixed bag. We have people who, like yourself, want to stay home a hundred percent of the time. We have people who want to be in the office a hundred percent of the time. I think what we’re trying to do as an organization is find the best of both worlds. By clearly defining the 2 days a week that we’re expecting hybrid employees to be in the office and outlining the business case and establishing those guidelines, we’re doing that.

But the other thing we’re doing, which I think is vitally important, is we’re also looking at how we can enhance the overall employee experience with us. I think for our organization, there are really key elements that can allow us to succeed in the future and where HR can have a seat at the table and be a driver in terms of positively impacting the organizational culture. Building talent pipelines and effectively managing our talent is one. Looking for ways to enhance the employee experience, either through growth opportunities such as job rotation programs or just creating the new work style with the hybrid environments, is very positive. We are looking at additional recognition programs and additional business resource groups. Those types of programs can enhance the overall atmosphere and, in fact, encourage folks and incentivize them to actually be in the office and think “This is where I want to be, at least in a hybrid fashion.”

Another thing we are focused on within HR at Canon is shared services—looking at how we can be efficient and how we can be productive. We can optimize our operations across a number of different subsidiaries and affiliates throughout North and South America. I think the combination of talent management, enhancing the employee experience, and working cooperatively together in an efficient manner for shared services is what HR can bring to the organization to make it resilient and prepared for the future.

Canon has a philosophy that’s known as kyosei. Kyosei is a Japanese word, but roughly translated, it means working together in harmony for the common good. One of the things I’ve been talking a lot about with my team, especially as we are emerging from the pandemic, is how we can become better HaRmonized. And I’m using “HR” as capital letters in “harmonize” to symbolize the role that we play within the organization and in making that happen and achieving the company mission. Those are conversations I’m having with HR leaders across our corporate operations and subsidiary operations, as well as with executives across the organization.

The pandemic has provided HR leaders with a stronger and more frequent seat at the table as this disruption has occurred. I would suggest there’s actually two phases of disruption; I can talk about that in a minute. But, as this disruption has occurred, HR is looked to for providing critical information; being a link to the workforce; and establishing protocols and programs that promote safety, health, well-being, and mental health. As we emerge from the pandemic, however, HR needs to make sure that we keep this seat at the table and that we can continue to be a strong influence and a strong ally to other members of the business units, the executive leadership of the business units, and the organization so we can continue to play the role and have the positive impact. I think that’s vital for the HR profession going forward, but this is also a tremendous opportunity for HR as we go into the years ahead.