How innovative sportswear brand ASICS is investing in frontline talent

In December last year, ASICS signed 16-Year-Old sprinter Candace Hill to an exclusive 10-year contract with the shoe and apparel brand, making her the youngest American sprinter to go professional.

ASICS has carved a niche for themselves in the sports shoe market as somewhat of an innovator. But sponsoring young athletes is just one way that the brand is looking to the future. Their growth targets for 2015 – publicly available on their company website – were seriously ambitious. And whilst their results are yet to be published, it seems likely that yet again at we enter 2016, they will be ahead of their game.

High growth, innovative brands like ASICS know that empowering frontline managers in the business is key. They aim to inspire and challenge these key individuals to make the changes needed to constantly reinvent the business. It is this investment in human capital that leads to innovative managers across the business taking risks  – such as sponsoring ever younger athletes – and pushing forward with exciting new ranges, designs and footwear technologies.

ASICS was launched in Japan in 1949, as Onitsuka Tiger, designing and manufacturing high end basketball shoes. Their emphasis right from the start has always been on innovation and fresh thinking. When Phil Knight first founded the Nike Corporation, he headhunted engineers from Onitsuka and made shoes at Asahi cooperation in Fukuoka in Japan.

Supporting new managers

Supporting new managers was a priority for ASICS EMEA team in 2015, and they chose a modular approach – 3gHR Circle – customised to their needs.

Melinda Brooks Bray, HR Director for ASICS EMEA explains “we needed a development programme that would bring together different aspects of learning and be highly practical. The programme we co-designed with 3gHR combines coaching, face-to-face workshops and practice with professional actors, and theory”.

Over a 5-6 month period, ASICS has seen some significant changes – where previously silos and distance had hindered collaboration and innovation, they saw significantly strengthened relationships and new thinking.

The management development journey

Of course, frontline managers are just one part of the story for ASICS in the region. A deep understanding of the business underpins the bespoke training programmes developed for the top tier of management.

Melinda explains, “there were some delicate issues at a senior level within our HR partnering programme”. In this scenario, the learning initiative that was put in place had to be bespoke, and based on a deep understanding of the dynamics of the business. “Collaboration at every level is fundamental to ASICS’ plans to become the number one brand for sports enthusiasts”.

A practical approach to learning

The message from ASICS is a clear one: a modular approach is fantastic for management development. It allows brands and growing organisations to take proven management development modules, pick and choose the learning most relevant to their immediate challenges, and to tweak it to ensure that it really does change behaviour.

At the top tier of management, and in relation to very specific business issues, however, there can be no shortcuts. As Melinda explains, “the right (bespoke) approach to top tier management development helped open our eyes up to what good practices are. It has given the management team a chance to experiment – which in turn creates a fantastic platform for future development”.