Case study: employer branding at Sony

As one of the biggest and longest established electronics and entertainment groups in the world, Sony isn't just vying for creative talent with its global peers, but also a growing array of nimble new start-ups. According to Kazushi Ambe, Corporate Executive SVP, in charge of Human Resources, Sony offers the brightest recruits the best of both worlds. On the one side are the broad opportunities and resources of a major corporation. On the other, is encouraging employees to explore the limits of their imagination. Even if this means that sometimes they fail, as long as it becomes a positive learning experience, Sony is there to back them up. From the Walkman® to the PlayStation®, generations have grown up with Sony's iconic products. But Sony knows that it needs to keep innovating to survive and thrive. The fate of Kodak and Blockbuster provides a sharp reminder of how quickly even market leaders can crumble if they fail to keep pace with a world of unrelenting change.

It's therefore a great testament to Sony's constant striving for the new and the original that after nearly 70 years in business its ability to revolutionize our lives is as strong as ever. Its R&D team are pushing back the boundaries in areas as varied as biotechnology and virtual reality. "Our mission is to inspire and fulfill curiosity among our customers and our employees," says Kazushi Ambe. "We want to attract people with the curiosity that inspires them to explore new ideas and make dreams come true – the only limits are their imaginations."

Creative license
Mr Ambe recognizes that competition for the bright and creative talent has never been more intense. And this competition isn't just coming from the company's traditional peers; there are a multitude of smaller enterprises able to offer a level of intimacy and creative freedom that may not be available in a larger firm. We want people that are looking for a challenge. And to attract them we have to offer challenging careers," says Mr Ambe. "The breadth of development opportunities including experiences in different businesses and mentoring we can offer is world-renowned. Only few if any competitors can match this. We want people to have confidence. We have confidence in their ability to deliver our strategic goals, and they in turn enjoy the confidence we place in them."

"Crucially, we can also give our people more license to devise and try out new ideas than they would in a small start-up," he continues. "We can ensure they have the necessary infrastructure to develop their innovations and won't mind if they fail. In fact, we welcome a certain amount of failure as an inherent part of the creative process. The history of technology shows that greatness is often borne out of failure. You might not get it entirely right first time. But if you can keep searching and refining, the breakthrough will come. By contrast, smaller companies generally need to turn ideas into revenue very quickly or they go out of business, so there often isn't that same level of freedom and license."

Mr Ambe emphasizes the importance of Sony's culture and working environment in fostering inspiration. Its approach can be seen in the creation of so-called curiosity labs, from which a lot of its most cutting edge ideas have sprung. "We give our people a lot of autonomy and try to create an environment that is dynamic and fun."

Winning strategy
It's certainly a winning strategy. Sony was ranked as the second most attractive company to work for in the world among the some 200,000 people surveyed for the 2014 Randstad Award, only just pipped to the post by BMW and beating Samsung into third. Notably, Sony ranked number one for 'interesting job content', a key appeal for creative talent. The Randstad Award findings also showed that Sony rates especially highly among graduates and young people (18-24-years-old).

While Mr Ambe sees Sony's ability to attract today's bright young things as a key competitive strength, he recognizes that attitudes to careers are changing as young people look to move around more frequently than previous generations. "While longer careers can bring benefits to Sony and our employees, this should never be the sole objective. We welcome the fact that people want to gain fresh experiences. We like to stay in contact, and many people eventually rejoin us," he says.

One Sony
Employing around 140,000 people, Sony Group operates across many sectors and geographic markets. How does it seek to sustain cohesion within its workforce? "While our headquarters, main R&D operations and financial services are in Japan, our film division is based in Los Angeles, music in New York and we have manufacturing and service capabilities worldwide. But we are not a portfolio business. We have a core set of values and direction, embodied in the 'One Sony'," says Mr Ambe." "The One Sony isn't just a slogan; it can be seen in the amount of people who move around the group through to the development of group-wide digital platforms. We look for cross-over opportunities in R&D and people across different divisions are constantly sharing ideas."

Employer branding at Sony Group
Respondents in the 2014 Global Randstad Award were given a list of the 50 largest global companies. Sony was seen as the second most attractive, with just under 60% of respondents indicating they would like to work for the company overall and over 60% among graduates and young people (18-24-year-old). Sony was rated first for interesting job content. Globally, the top three factors for choosing to work for a company were a competitive salary and benefits package, long-term job security and a pleasant work atmosphere

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