Work from home forever? with an automotive OEM?

Work from home forever? with an automotive OEM?

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Earlier this year, an announcement by Mitsubishi North America  (MMNA)caught the attention of the entire automotive industry. The company would be shifting to work from home — forever.

At the time, MMNA’’s CEO called it “a critical moment to embrace, change, motivate and retain our talented employee base.” The decision represented a major culture shift for Mitsubishi but also presented some big challenges for company leaders.

So what exactly does “work from home forever” look like for Mitsubishi? A little different than you might think. 

Mitsubishi’s Chief Legal Officer, Chief HR Officer, and Chief Compliance Officer  Katherine Knight says she still sees people in the office every day, and seasonal parties and team meetings are usually still held in person. But the most important thing is that employees are offered to work the way that is most comfortable and efficient for them.

“Everybody is at a different place in their life. And it's one of the reasons why this choice, for me personally, was very important, because I want us to be as inclusive as possible,” Katherine says.

So how’s it going six months into the experiment? “Nobody has suggested we need to mandate days in the office. Absolutely not.”

Katherine joins Jan on this episode of the Automotive Leaders Podcast to talk about Mitsubishi’s move to remote work and how this OEM made that difficult decision. Tune into the episode for more on Mitsubishi’s “cultural revolution,” plus a peek into Katherine’s upbringing as a record store geek!

Themes discussed on this episode: 

  • What ‘labor relations’ really means
  • Why the shift to work from home was a positive opportunity for company leaders
  • Expanding your talent net with remote work
  • Why you need to change your performance reviews
  • The importance of vision, purpose, and risk-taking in the automotive industry

Featured Guest: Katherine Knight

What she does: Katherine is the Chief Legal Officer, Chief HR Officer and Chief Compliance Officer at Mitsubishi Motors. As a C-suite executive at Mitsubishi North America, she led the charge in 2022 to allow U.S. employees to work from home forever.

On leadership: “ I'm trying to lead the department in a particular type of vision and a particular way of working. And that encompasses a lot of other things. It encompasses authenticity. It encompasses transparency. I don't expect people to go along with the vision if I'm not being completely transparent with them about what the challenges we're going to have are and how we're going to have to change how we do things. And I also don't expect them to go along with the vision if they get something different from me today than they do tomorrow, or they did yesterday. They need consistency from me.”

Episode Highlights

Timestamped inflection points from the show

[2:08] Free to choose: Today’s guest, Katherine Knight, discusses her traditional beginnings as a trial lawyer and how she fell in love with employment law, particularly in the auto industry. 

[6:50] What ‘labor relations’ really means: Katherine discusses her first labor relations job at Nissan and what it taught her about what really drives employee success.

[9:52] A critical moment: Mitsubishi’s shift to a permanent remote model came at “a critical moment to embrace, change, motivate and retain our talented employee base.” Katherine talks about what inspired her and other C-suite leaders to make the decision.

[17:59] Modeling motivation: The shift to “work from home forever” is a big responsibility for company leaders. But for many of Mitsubishi’s leaders, it has also become an opportunity to model the type of behavior they want to see from their teams, Katherine explains.

[20:59] An equitable experience: Katherine discusses the biggest challenge when it comes to keeping employees motivated: creating an equitable experience for everyone, whether they choose to stay home or come into the office.

[28:03] Expanding the talent net: Katherine explains how Mitsubishi’s remote work policy has expanded the talent pool and attracted more interest in the company from people both inside and outside of the automotive industry.

[31:46] A ‘cultural revolution’: Company culture at Mitsubishi is changing in more ways than one. Katherine discusses why the company is making performance reviews more employee-centric. 

[37:39] Numbers aren’t everything: Jan and Katherine talk about why points-based performance reviews harm workplace culture more than help it, and how Mitsubishi incorporates company values and culture into performance reviews.

[43:00] 21 traits: Katherine breaks down why she views vision and purpose as the most important of Jan’s 21 leadership traits.

[48:42] Record store geek: Katherine takes us back to the good old days with her first record store job and some of her biggest musical influences — particularly 80s post-punk.

[52:08] Taking notes: Katherine discusses how she reins in her biggest distraction: “all of the ideas that live in my head.”

[54:09] Advice for auto industry leaders: The automotive industry is great at taking risks when it comes to things like technology and product marketing. We need to bring that energy to our people policies, Katherine says.

Top quotes

[18:14] Jan: “As human beings, we all have different needs at different times in our lives. And we're different: some people like to be in the office, some people work better at home. But you need to have the choice, you need to have that flexibility.”

[19:23] Katherine: “A lot of our leaders have discovered that they actually really enjoy the flexibility as well. It's easy for them to role model the type of motivation and the type of behavior that their employees then can be inspired by and also emulate.” 

[25:00] Katherine: “Back to your original question of how you keep people motivated, the answer for me is twofold. Number one, role modeling the policy. And then number two, just trying to make sure that everybody is having as similar of an experience as possible and does not feel left behind because they've made the choice to stay home.”

[31:28] Katherine: “If we rest on the reputation that automotive tends to have, that is, I hate to say it, but kind of old school, kind of a dinosaur, we're not going to attract new thinking.”

[39:12] Jan: “When we tolerate a toxic employee, it does more damage to the organization. If you have that myopic view of just purely the numbers for this person or this department, it's gonna drive you to want to accept that kind of behavior and that kind of behavior is never acceptable.”

Mentioned in this episode:

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