We Are Toshiba: Harmonising Culture and Communication through a ‘Create Together’ Culture
2022/02/02 Toshiba Clip Team
- Smooth cross-communication is essential for businesses with multiple locations to succeed.
- Anne, who has lived in Japan for a long time, is committed to the hybrid locomotive business as a lead program manager for corporate innovation and communication.
- In order to achieve cross-communication, Anne values "Create together".
The “Essence of Toshiba” is not only a platform to recognise the shining stars of the brand, but also a place where we go in-depth into what Toshiba really values. The Toshiba Clip team visited our office in Kiel, Germany, where we had the opportunity to be up close and personal with our colleague, Anne Milke-Takeuchi, to hear from how the “Essence of Toshiba” has truly impacted upon her.
Name: Anne Milke-Takeuchi
Job title: Lead Program Manager for Corporate Innovation and Communication
Company: Toshiba Railway Europe GmbH
Workplace: Kiel, Germany
Toshiba Railway Europe GmbH (TRG) is fully committed to creating a more sustainable future, delivering upon this through the development of hybrid shunting locomotives. These locomotives are equipped with both a diesel engine generator and electric lithium-ion batteries, enabling them to realise rolling stock with improved energy saving and reduced exhaust gas emissions.
Founded in 2018, TRG employs about 80 people across its two sites in Germany. With the electrical engineering team based in Düsseldorf, and the mechanical engineering team almost 500 kilometres away in Kiel, effective cross-site communication and a shared culture between locations is crucial to the successful development of its hybrid locomotives. Anne Milke-Takeuchi, Lead Program Manager for Corporate Innovation and Communication, has played an invaluable role in establishing these vital characteristics within a business which, being only three years old, initially faced multiple obstacles in this regard.
Anne joined TRG in October 2018 with the company in its infancy, returning to Germany after over thirteen years in Japan – during which time she embraced the country and its culture. For a graduate of Japanology, it’s perhaps no surprise that Anne took the decision to leave her native Germany after university. Yet the opportunity to return appealed for several reasons.
“First and foremost, the Toshiba project excited me as an opportunity to do something completely new. The initial role was as a Communication Facilitator within a company that brought Japanese and German culture together, both of which are very close to my heart,” explains Anne. “Beyond this, I was also motivated to work for a company that is pushing boundaries. TRG’s overarching goal is to help reduce carbon emissions within the European railway industry, and the hybrid shunting locomotive equipped with Toshiba’s railway-certified SCiB™ battery technology leads the way here.”
Upon joining, Anne quickly identified that the dual-site structure of TRG, as well as the presence of two dominant but slightly conflicting working cultures – those of Germany and Japan – posed certain problems impacting team performance. Expertly-placed to both identify these issues and remedy them, Anne’s role quickly evolved through her own initiative and diligence into the position she holds today.
“The processes of innovation and communication are the lifeblood of any business, not least for one like TRG which is so young but at the same time aims to deliver truly pioneering solutions. With a modular approach to designing the locomotives, the physical distance between Kiel and Düsseldorf presented a natural barrier to overcome. Exacerbating this further was the limited communication between offices, stemming from a lack of understanding and transparency between the multiple cultures within TRG. Ultimately this led to less effective teamwork, reduced performance, and slow reaction times across the organisation.”
A remedy grounded in Toshiba values
Key to addressing these challenges was shifting the company’s ethos from location-oriented to function-oriented, with Anne playing a central role in this transition.
“When I think about what we’ve achieved over the last few years, “Our Values” in the Essence of Toshiba that really stands out to me is ‘Create together’. TRG must live by this value given the crucial relationship between its two locations. But it isn’t something which can be achieved naturally, and instead is being delivered today through a number of processes and initiatives.”
To successfully ‘Create together’ – across our core sites, as well as when working with HQ in Tokyo, or our partners and customers across Europe – we need to be open and honest about the challenges we face, and embrace change to ensure we progress.”
The first step was to establish internal communications as a function of TRG. Employee feedback was collected through various workshops, with areas of concern actioned into improvement measures. The measures were summarized in a newly-created program for continuous, sustainable optimization of internal processes called KAIZEN programme (KAI = change, transformation; ZEN = for the better). For the first time, employees were able to communicate their thoughts, and their feedback underlined a need for change. As Anne explains:
“It became immediately clear that a lack of transparency, as well as distant interpersonal attitudes between sites, were concerns for everyone. Gaining this insight enabled us to implement the KAIZEN programme – through which we’re delivering a series of initiatives which have allowed us to address those concerns.”
A monthly team meeting now takes place to deliver transparency and understanding around management decisions, alongside project updates. This became even more important during the coronavirus pandemic with remote work being the norm. Furthermore, Anne has implemented workshops on team communication, ensuring it remains front of mind as a key business function. Meanwhile, work is underway to significantly reduce the number of day-to-day meetings throughout the entire organisation, following a staff survey which identified meeting-volume as a barrier to decision-making and creativity.
Most notably, Anne created the ‘Every Bit Counts’ campaign which achieved various key objectives. Anne tells us more:
“The premise of the ‘Every Bit Counts’ campaign was principally to support IT’s efforts in encouraging uptake of our new file storage system. We, though, saw this as a further opportunity to improve culture and communication across TRG. By partnering with an organisation committed to protecting the last orangutans and the rainforest, we developed a fundraising initiative that meant once employees reached certain uptake targets within the new IT system, we would donate money to this charity. We’re not only proud that the campaign raised several thousand Euros to support a great sustainability cause, but also of the social engagement this drove across TRG – it very much took on a life of its own, with employees encouraging each other to support an initiative that really allies with the essence of what Toshiba is all about.”
Building social engagement across the business
“Our ‘Create Together’ mentality has also delivered greater unity across TRG through a more social and inclusive culture. This is not only integral to employee retention, but also to motivation and productivity, in turn enabling us to achieve our wider goals of creating a more sustainable future for our customers and society as a whole.”
Such has been the success of Anne’s measures that employees are now even driving their own social initiatives. TRG engineers, for example, recently participated in Kiel’s half-marathon, running together and wearing T-shirts to promote the new locomotive. This exemplified the team spirit and togetherness now prevalent within TRG, with everyone contributing in their own way – whether running 20km or 5km, or simply being there to support their colleagues.
Picture of Kiel’s half-marathon. Anne is first left in the front row.
While so much progress has been made, Anne’s job is never complete, and it is through constantly evolving communication and culture at TRG that she sees herself supporting Toshiba in its aim to turn on the promise of a new day.
“We’re proud of the innovation behind our hybrid shunting locomotives, but without the right culture and processes in place, we would be delayed in delivering these to customers. Yet when it comes to fighting climate change, time is not a luxury we have on our side. Ultimately, the measures we are implementing are helping us to be more productive and efficient, as we look to create a more sustainable and reliable railway network across Europe.”