Sony grants star workers 'free agent' status
MASAMICHI HOSHI, Nikkei staff writer
TOKYO -- Sony has introduced a new approach to personnel management that gives its best workers control over their careers.
Employees who have been in the same department for three years and achieved high marks in their performance reviews are eligible for "free agency." This means they have the right to choose where they work within the electronics maker. The system jibes with late co-founder Akio Morita's vision of the ideal workplace setup.
"The individual," Morita once said, "should decide where they should work and where they are the right person for the job."
Divisions will detail available posts and roles. After employees declare themselves free agents, they will decide where they want to go. Initially, starting this month, 200 to 300 employees are expected to transfer through free agency.
At first, the whole idea was met with resistance. Some divisions were concerned about losing valuable employees. Other critics argued that the system might lead to unfair performance evaluations, since managers would want to retain their best workers.
Gradually, however, most critics came around to see that the system could help each division secure good employees. It could also inspire employees to tackle new challenges; Sony's corporate culture, after all, is supposed to encourage invention.
For the system to work, managers will have to refrain from fencing in good employees. Like baseball managers, they will have to nurture their teams, aware that their top performers might one day move on.
Sony will need to ensure there is no stigma attached to becoming a free agent. Of course, as in baseball, the real pressure kicks in once you sign with a new team. Employees granted the privilege of choosing their destination will need to keep performing to the same high standards.
Investors, meanwhile, will be watching whether Morita's vision helps Sony to foster a new generation of innovative leaders.