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Japan Tobacco International: Growing together

'Bottom-up approach motivates our staff to think bigger and to introduce their ideas to achieve continuous improvement'

If your employer has earned Top Employer certification, it is an accomplishment worthy of great pride and celebration. Japan Tobacco International (JTI) has a lot of reasons to celebrate these days, as this year the company was awarded Top Employer Azerbaijan, Top Employer Europe and Global Top Employer 2016. 

Baku. 24 October. REPORT.AZ/ Report News Agency had an opportunity to speak with JTI’s HR Director in the Caucasus region Ms. Irina Vorobyova, and learn more about the company and how it achieved such success.

- Congratulations on JTI being certified as the Global Top Employer for 2016. Can you share with us some of the factors that keep the company among the world’s top employers?

- We are extremely happy to receive this honor three years in a row. Talent strategy, workforce planning, performance management, leadership development, compensation & benefits, culture, and the well-being spheres have been thoroughly studied on a policies, practices and measurement level during the certification process. Being carefully examined and compared to top companies in Europe and the Asia Pacific means a lot to us. This is when we really get to see what our strong areas are, and what needs to be improved further.

- Can you tell us more about the certification process?

- The certification is performed by the Top Employers Institute, which globally certifies excellence in conditions that employers create for their employees. Headquartered in the Netherlands, the company has recognized Top Employers globally since 1991. The Top Employers certification is only awarded to the best employers around the world. In other words, organizations that demonstrate the highest standard of employee offerings, a forward-thinking HR environment that is continuously working to optimize its employee conditions, and those leading the way in the development of its people.

The certification process consists of several steps, including the HR practices survey, information/ documentation validation, and an audit.

- What aspects create a high-quality work environment at JTI offices around the world and in Azerbaijan in particular?

- We believe that real success is only attainable when the company and employee develop together. Our motto is ‘together we grow’. I think that this phrase perfectly describes the company approach to its employees, since each employee is an invaluable asset to the company.

In addition, high-quality work environment leads to higher employee satisfaction, and consequently, higher employee retention. A secure and comfortable workplace and atmosphere is provided as a basic respect to the employees and the company. Much focus is placed on workplace safety, and our office space offers our staff the most comfortable conditions. We create the best working conditions, and we see increased employee engagement in return.

Soon we will have a relaxation room in the Baku office, where employees can unwind if they feel stressed. The room is supposed to give everyone activity of preference. We plan to have the library, Xbox, chess, puzzles, music equipment and physical exercises tools.

We support a healthy lifestyle for our employees, and there are several directions united under our specially-designed Live Fit program. First of all, the office kitchen offers fruits and vegetables, dairy, honey and other seasonal products, as well as food that meets the employees’ dietary requirements.Periodically, a dietitian is invited to the office to explain the basics of health and nutrition. The second direction is physical activity. We organize sport tournaments for our employees, and provide them with gym and swimming pool membership cards. Results are monitored and the most active sportsmen receive an award.

- What are other programs that help your staff become more active, develop professionally and strive to meet their goals?

- Nine years is the average tenure in the company. I think this is quite a long period of time in the 21st century. Staying at the same job and completing the same tasks over and over again might be a huge demotivation. So, we offer our employees a wide range of opportunities to grow professionally. We offer the chance to move geographically, and to develop cross-functionally. A specific training and development team is in place to assess the potential and skills of our employees, and to provide a foundation for a successful career.

Development is not only about training or taking a course. We have a wide range of development tools. Our employees have an opportunity to participate in, or lead cross-functional projects: we offer the necessary innovative tools to boost creativity. The program BITL (Bringing Ideas to Life) is an interesting initiative that solicits ideas from our staff to make improvements in everything we do. This bottom-up approach is highly popular among our staff, and the most creative employees are recognized for their efforts. This approach motivates our staff to think bigger than their everyday tasks, and to introduce their ideas to achieve continuous improvement. Our continuous improvement philosophy seeks opportunities for improvement, converts them into tangible changes that positively result in how people perform and apprehend their work. This is the spirit that allows our business and people grow together.

- How do you support your employees in continued education/training?

- Our training budget for 2015 exceeded $2,200 per employee. A variety of resources and tools are available to those wishing to grow and develop, starting with cyclic training courses, on-line learning solutions, mentoring/coaching programs and office library.

Aside from that, we create a culture of learning and knowledge sharing through the program “Manager as a Developer”. Within this program, each manager is assigned to promote and support the efforts of those who work for them; improve their performance, and achieve their full potential by enabling learning providing feedback and coaching.

- How does the company support the work-life balance of its employees?

- Balancing work and personal life might seem like a big challenge nowadays, but it is a necessity for a happy and productive working environment.

We introduced flexible working hours, allowing our staff to enjoy an element of flexibility over their working schedule. The staff decides upon the “core” four hours for office work, and another four can be balanced according to the employee’s preference. Once a month, employees can enjoy telecommuting, or in other words, they are permitted to work remotely from home.

- How do you discover new professionals? What is the company’s approach to enriching the staff with fresh minds?

- Over the last four years, JTI has grown significantly. We have tripled our number of employees in the Caucasus since 2011 and doubled staff number in Azerbaijan over the past 9 years. It should be stressed that 64 out of 67 JTI staff members in Azerbaijan are Azerbaijani nationals. Our staff is fully professional and advanced in their respective fields. Though there are positions which require particular experience, we frequently focus on attracting young, highly-motivated talents keeping in mind that we hire for attitude and train for skills. Traineeship programs are specially-designed to challenge the knowledge of young people, and to help them start their career with us. The JUMP traineeship initiative is a global program that offers them valuable experience, competitive pay, on-the-job training, as well as the opportunity to take part in interesting projects in an international business environment.

- What kind of qualities is JTI looking for in a prospective employee (skills, attitudes, abilities, knowledge)?

- JTI is a diverse and truly international business. On the one hand, we are dynamic, creative, and full of energy. On the other hand, we are precise, quality-driven, and have a long-term view.

First of all, we are enterprising, and have the courage to do things differently. Second, we are open, and diverse cultures inspire us. Lastly, we are challenging, meaning that we strive for continuous development, embedding quality into everything we do. Our employees share and live by these company values. This promotes mutual respect and alignment in everything we do. We expect our employees to care for the company as if it was their own. This means not only working hard, but also having the courage to innovate, improve, and always express their own opinion, including the participation in the company-wide employee engagement survey.

- How do you improve employee performance? What are the factors that you consider when you are looking for improvements?

- There are three conditions necessary for improving employee performance: ability (knowledge and skills, including working with others), motivation and opportunity. Our employees have it all. Moreover, improvement of an employee’s performance is a two-way process at JTI. On the one hand, performance appraisal is an annual systematic process led by our training and development team, which assesses individual performance versus achieving organizational objectives. On the other hand, employees are also actively involved in this process to ensure that their development needs are timely addressed.

Another excellent tool to get employee feedback is the Employee Engagement Survey, which is conducted every three years. This is when employees have an opportunity to express their opinion and improve the way we do our business. The Employee Engagement Survey measures the employee’s level of motivation, involvement and dedication to their work environment. Furthermore, a high level of employee engagement drives business performance, helps to achieve company goals, and improve individual performance, as well as that of the whole organization. We conducted the latest survey in May of 2015, and based on the results, action plans were prepared and will be implemented over the next three years.

- We have spoken about the many directions of your HR strategy, as well as the efforts you are making to support your employees. This is very impressive. But why is so much effort spent in this sphere, and what do you expect as the final result?

- It goes without saying that no company, small or large, can win over the long run without energized employees who share the company’s goals and understand how to achieve them. Our goal is clear: to be the most successful and responsible tobacco company in the world, and our employees are the main driving force in achieving this goal. Moreover, there is a clearly-defined path to achieve this goal. This is accomplished by providing an attractive place to work, which in turn leads to an increased level of employee engagement. A high level of employee engagement is vital to our organization, which aims for long-term growth, sustainability and success. We strongly believe that engaged employees really care about the future of the company, and are fully involved in the work process. They are loyal, committed, and enthusiastic about their jobs, linking their personal future to the company’s progress and long-term success. They are eager to “walk the extra mile” and to invest additional effort in achieving outstanding business results, improving organizational performance and success. All JTI Caucasus employees can grow as the business grows, prospering in a highly diverse environment, where excellence is the standard and the focus is the long-term.

I strongly believe in psychological contract between the company and its employees. This means that when the company keeps its part of the deal, the employee will keep theirs, and together we can make our company even better, aiming at even more ambitious targets in the future!

Notably, formed 17 years ago, JTI is a member of the Japan Tobacco Group of Companies (JT), a leading international tobacco product manufacturer. Employing over 26,000 employees in 120 countries worldwide, it is a great place for prospering careers. As a truly international business, JTI, which is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, has 364 offices across the globe.

JTI began its operations in Azerbaijan in 2007, and currently employees more than 60 people. 

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