Akio Morita, founder of Sony Corporation, says there is no “magic” in the success of Japanese companies is general and Sony in particular. The secret of their success is simply the way they treat their employees.
The most important mission for a Japanese manager is to develop a healthy relationship with his employees to create a family like feeling within the corporation, a feeling that employees and managers share the same fate. Those companies that are most successful in Japan are those that have managed to create a shared sense of fate among all employees, what Americans call labor and management, and the shareholders.
When Morita was chairman of Sony, he stressed to new employees that each employee had to seek happiness in his or her work and to decide personally whether to spend the rest of his or her working life at Sony.
At Sony, there are few noticeable differences between management and labor. Although management writers sometimes paint a too rosy picture of Japanese management labor relations, Sony’s management philosophy is that employees should be treated as colleagues and helpers not merely as means to profits. Investors are important, Morita acknowledges, but they establish only a temporary relationship with the company. Employees are more important because they are a permanent part of the company, just as much as top management.
In return for showing loyalty to employees, Morita expected loyalty from his employees. But he urged them not only to use their efforts on the company’s behalf, but also to question management views. Ironically, Morita’s emphasis on loyalty was partly inspired by his experience with American managers and employees. In its early days, Sony hired many employees in the United States in an effort to keep pace with the remarkable demand for its products. Morita was stunned by an American colleague’s blunt advice about a problem employee: Fire him. Morita was equally surprised when an American employee walked into his office one day and announced he was quitting so as taking up a job with a competitor who had offered him double his salary.
Under Morita, the whole process of recruiting, selecting, training, and appraising employees was built on the premise that employees are the most valuable part of the company. Granted, Morita’s policies especially the idea of life time job security are not as typical of Japanese companies as Americans were once led to believe. In fact, a recent study conducted by the Japanese government showed that only 29 percent of all 20 to 29 year old Japanese workers planned to stay with the same employer for their entire career. But this does not mean that American management cannot learn a great deal from Morita’s philosophy.
Indeed, Morita’s ideas are the basis for what management writer Tom Peters proposes as a new, more realistic pact between employer and employee. Employee will commit themselves to doing their best to help the company meet its goals, and in return the company will give employees an opportunity to develop and hone their skills. Of course, they are free to leave and sell these skills to another employer, but ideally the opportunity to keep learning and to do good work will keep them with the company and increase both their loyalty and their productivity.
This philosophy has been passed on to many Sony executives. For example, Norio Ohga, Sony’s current president and CEO, has proven that he shares Morita’s commitment to employees. Michael P Schulhof, head of Sony’s entertainment subsidiary and the company’s highest ranking non-Japanese executive, appreciatively recounts Morita and Ohga’s nurturing role in his development. For whatever reason, they saw something in me 20 years ago. They took the time and the care to teach me their philosophy. They spent time making sure to understand why they made certain decisions.