The role of social initiatives in developing front-line employees’ capabilities in the service industry: the case of a delivery company.


  • Ali Krubally Osaka University



social initiatives, employee's capabilities, case study, soft capabilities, hard capabilities


The response of businesses to address social issues has gone beyond the scope of traditional corporate social responsibility activities. They now include a more strategic focus on initiatives that incorporate the core business operations of the firms into solving social issues. This is perhaps coupled with heeding to Porter and Kramer's 2011 call for firms to focus on "creating a shared value." Subsequently, this new approach has attracted researchers to investigate what impacts this approach has on companies and their employees. Empirical studies have linked a firm’s social initiative involvement to employee-level impacts such as motivation, retention, and identity, but its relation to employee capabilities, including skills and knowledge, has not been sufficiently investigated. Ultimately, employees’ overall performance depends largely on their capabilities. Through the lens of knowledge creation theory, this study investigates the relationship between a firm's concerted involvement in social initiatives and its employee capabilities at a Japanese package delivery company by examining the case of Yamato Transport Company's delivery drivers in rural Japan.  The case study was conducted at Otoyo Town in Kochi Prefecture, where a social initiative project to provide shopping support and watch-over service for elderly people has been ongoing since 2012. Data was collected primarily through project site visits, and interviews with project stakeholders, who included Yamato branch managers, delivery drivers, and local authorities involved in the initiative. Information available in the company’s newsletters, annual reports, and other publicly available sources was also analyzed. Results found that social initiatives can serve as a knowledge-creation context for frontline employees as they create the opportunity for employees to socialize with customers and project partners in a collaborative manner. This rare opportunity helps employees improve on-the-job skills and other tacit capabilities such as empathy, reliability, and communication. Finally, frameworks showing the relationship, impact, and performance of social initiative involvement for a firm and its employees are presented.