Can Human Resources Make a Strategic Contribution to Sony-Europe?

Company Profile: Sony Europe

Sony is a multinational corporation that was established in 1946. The firm has managed to establish a number of subsidiary firms which are located in different parts of the world. The firm operates in over 183 countries and has managed to develop a strong human resource base of over 170,000 employees. In the course of its operation, Sony Corporation appreciates the importance of offering its customers a wide range of electronic products. To achieve this, the firm has integrated the concept of product diversification. Some of the product categories that the firm deals with include electronics, entertainment products, games and financial services (Sony 2013).

In the European region, Sony has established a subsidiary known as Sony Europe which is located at Weybridge, Surrey, UK. In the course of its operation, Sony Europe is charged with the responsibility of ensuring efficient distribution of its products within the European region.

Despite its success, Sony Europe is currently facing a number of challenges. One of these challenges relates to the high level of economic uncertainty as a result of the global downturn that is currently being experienced. In an effort to cope with changes that are currently being experienced, firms are increasingly integrating the concept of downsizing in their strategic management processes.

In 2012, Sony Corporation announced a plan to downsize its human resource base by cutting over 10,000 jobs across the world in the next 2 years. This represents a reduction in the firm’s global workforce with a margin of 6 % (Sony 2013). In line with this strategy, Sony Europe announced that it would lay-off over 2,000 employees in Europe. Moreover, Sony-Europe announced that it would apply a salary freeze to its employees in order to avert the negative effects associated with the deepening global downturn. The firm’s change initiative also entails transferring employees to one integrated team across Sony Europe (Sony 2013).

In addition to organisational restructuring, Sony Europe is also experiencing a challenge arising from the existence of cultural differences between Japan and the UK. According to Todnem (2005), culture is one of the fundamental components of a firms’ success. However, the existence of cultural differences hinders a firm’s quest to succeed.

Additionally, economic and social changes have led to an increment in demand for work-life balance. In the 21st century, organisations are operating in a society whereby employees are increasingly being faced with numerous commitments and conflicting responsibilities. To survive in the current business environment, it is essential for firms’ management teams to be effective in their strategic management. The objective of this report is to illustrate how Sony Europe can sustain its performance in the European region by incorporating strategic human resource management concepts. The report focuses on three main HR issues which include transition and resistance, cultural differences, and work and family balance.

HR issues

Transition and resistance

Todnem (2005) asserts that change is an all-pervasive element in firms’ operations. In most cases, the change process is continuous and rapid. Change can affect employees positively or negatively. However, the success with which firms implement change depends on the employees’ willingness and commitment towards the intended change. Shahzad, Rehman, Gul and Khan (2011) assert that employees react differently when they are faced with major organisational change initiatives. One of the reactions is resistance. Resistance to change can limit an organisation’s future success. This arises from the fact that it entails moving from what is known to the unknown (Shahzad et al 2011). Resistance to change is one of the major concerns amongst organisational psychologists.

This arises from the fact that employee resistance indicates the level of dissatisfaction towards a particular change program (Giora & Alistair 2008). Organisational change leads to the creation of cynicism and resistance amongst employees (Todnem 2005). According to Shahzad et al (2011), most organisations fail in their effort to incorporate change. Approximately 70% of all change programmes implemented by organisations fail (Todnem 2005). One of the reasons for such failures is employee resistance. Findings of a study conducted between 1993 and 1996 on 500 large organisations in Australia cited employee resistance as the major cause for their problems in implementing the desired change.

According to Arslan and Pang (2009), transitions can affect organisations positively or negatively. Consequently, it is important for management teams to positively influence their workforces’ perception regarding the intended change. To ensure effective transition and to deal with employee resistance, it is important for Sony Europe to integrate an effective change management framework. One of the areas that the firm should focus on relates to the human dimension. Giora and Alistair (2008) are of the opinion that managing behavioural aspects associated with the parties charged with the responsibility of implementing the desired change is paramount. In most cases, employees have their personal opinion regarding the areas that the management teams should change and how the change should be implemented (Giora & Alistair 2008). Nevertheless, organisations management teams ignore the human dimension when implementing change.

In the course of implementing organisational restructuring and freezing the employees’ salaries, the Sony Europe management team should conduct a comprehensive analysis on the impact of the desired change on the employees and their jobs. According to Armstrong and Murlis (2006), the analysis will aid in determining the specific aspects of change that employees are comfortable with and those with which they are not comfortable. During the analysis phase, Sony Europe’s management team should identify the negative reactions amongst employees. The firm’s management team should also put the effort into trying to understand the fears and feelings of the affected employees. This will aid in resolving unnecessary ambiguities and worries (Giora & Alistair 2008).

Sony Europe should ensure a high level of employee involvement when implementing change. Involving employees enable them to develop a feeling of ownership towards the intended change (Armstrong & Murlis 2006). Sony Europe should effectively communicate the intended change to employees. This will aid in alleviating unnecessary fears amongst the employees. The firm can achieve this by formulating an effective team briefing system (West & Turner 2011). However, the firm should ensure that widespread communication is created in the organisation (Hitt, Ireland & Hoskissonn 2009). Integrating an effective communication strategy can enhance the level of employee engagement. In its effort to implement change, Sony Europe should integrate the Lewin planned change model which is composed of freezing, change and unfreezing.

Cultural differences

Culture is a fundamental component in the operation of organisations in different economic sectors (O’Donnell & Boyle 2008). Hofstede asserts that culture contributes towards the development of a sense of identity in organisations. Culture promotes the development of various organisational issues such as language, meanings, values, norms and beliefs (Jayaraman 2009).

Findings of a study conducted by Geert Hofstede reveal that culture varies across countries. In most cases, national culture varies on the basis of the values held. Jayaraman (2009) defines organisational culture as ‘the collective programming of the mind that distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from that of another’ (p.53). Alternatively, organisational culture can be defined as the diverse values, patterns, and ways of dealing with various aspects that organisations face.

Organisational culture is determined by numerous factors. One of these factors includes the national culture. Sony Europe intends to develop an all-inclusive and cohesive organisational culture. However, the existence of cultural differences across countries is a major hindrance (Singh, Jain & Shakla 2010). To survive in the UK, it is vital for Sony Europe to appreciate Hofstedes’ cultural dimensions. Hofstede’s cultural dimension theory identifies five main dimensions that can be used to explain cultural differences across countries. The UK and Japan are characterised by diverse national cultures as illustrated by the chart below on the basis of the Hofstede model.

Cultural dimension Japan Japan
Uncertainty avoidance Very high-92 Lower -35
Individualism/collectivism Lower (collectivist)-46 High-89 (individualist)
Masculinity/femininity Very high-95 (a masculine society) Relatively lower 66
Power distance Relatively higher -56 Lower-35
Temporal orientation Long term orientation Short term orientation

By understanding the national culture difference between the UK and Japan, Sony Europe will be able to develop an effective organisational culture. One of the ways through which the firm’s management team will achieve this is by identifying issues that may affect the firm’s long-term survival. An example of such issues relates to communication. According to Hofstede, national culture differences can lead to a communication gap between the host and the domestic country. Effective communication is achieved if the parties involved in the communication process understand the intended message. However, the process is affected by differences in national and organisational cultures.

Understanding the cultural difference between Japan and Europe will enable Sony to develop an effective communication mechanism that is accepted in Europe. For example, the understanding cultural difference will enable the firm to determine the language to use in its communication processes. On the other hand, dealing with the communication gap between the two countries will enable Sony Europe to develop a high level of collaboration between Sony Japan and Sony Europe. This will enhance knowledge sharing between the two firms hence promoting the organisation’s long-term survival.

Cultural differences between countries also affect the management style adopted. Consequently, Sony should train its employees on the most effective management policies, styles, and practices to adopt in Europe (Cummings & Worley 2009). This will aid Sony Europe in its effort to position itself as a culturally diverse organisation hence enhancing its operational success in the European region.

Work and family balance

The labour market has undergone considerable transformations over the past few decades. Most organisations have experience dramatic changes with regard to their employees’ demographic profiles (Robyn & Hardy 2011). One of the factors that have led to these changes relates to the numerous social transformations that are currently being experienced. For example, the male gender is no longer considered as the breadwinner in the family. However, both genders are currently charged with the responsibility of providing for their families (Werner 2006).

To cope with the high level of economic instability, organisations in different economic sectors are integrating the concept of downsizing (Pravin 2008). This is well illustrated by the case of Sony Europe which announced a plan to lay-off 2000 employees. Consequently, level of job insecurity has increased significantly. Furthermore, competing firms are increasingly integrating the concept of poaching in an effort develop a strong workforce. To improve their employability, employees are developing new orientations. This is evidenced by the increased commitment towards career and personal development (Walter, Steffy & Bray 2007).

Despite these social transformations and economic transformations, employers are increasingly demanding a high level of employee productivity and flexibility (Valcour, Bailyn & Quijada 2007). To cope with these transformations, it has become vital for organisations to integrate the concept of work-life balance. According to Sims (2009), integration of work-life balance is fundamental in a firm’s quest to develop a strong workforce.

Findings of a study on work-life conflict conducted in the European Zone revealed that most Europeans experience a certain degree of work-family conflict (Lewis, Gambles & Rapoport 2007). Twenty-seven percent (27%) of the workers interviewed were of the opinion that they spend a lot of time at work. On the other hand, 28% of workers interviewed said that their job does not provide them with an opportunity to spend sufficient time with their families while 36% were of the opinion that they had little time to socialise. Fifty-one percent (51%) cited lack of sufficient time to engage in hobbies and other personal interests as the major cause for work-life conflicts (Shiekh, Qamar & Iqbal 2008). The study underscores the importance of Sony Europe to incorporate the concept of work-life balance in an effort to develop a high level of job satisfaction and employee retention.

To effectively integrate the concept of work-life balance, there are a number of policies that Sony Europe should consider. First, the firm should consider incorporating flexible working schedules (Kandula 2007). Examples of flexible working schedules that the firm should consider include providing employees with an opportunity to work from home, a part-time working schedule, and providing employees with career breaks and parental leaves.

Moreover, the firm should also consider integrating the concept of job-sharing. Job sharing policies provide employees with an opportunity to equilibrium between competing priorities. Other forms of assistance that the firm should consider entail providing employees with various forms of childcare assistance. This will contribute towards improvement in the level of concentration and productivity amongst the employees (Hellmund 2012).

By incorporating the concept of work-life balance, Sony Europe will be able to improve its performance. One of the ways through which this will achieve this is by improving the level of employee productivity due to a reduction in the level of work-related stress (Valcour 2007). Moreover, work-life balance will enable Sony Europe to minimise work-family conflicts amongst employees (Cooper, & Burke 2011). Furthermore, the incorporation of work-life balance policies will enable Sony Europe to develop a high level of job satisfaction amongst employees. As a result, the firm will be able to minimise the rate of employee turnover (Leblibici 2012).

Conclusion and recommendations

The report illustrates that there are a number of ways through which human resource management can stimulate the success of firms in different economic sectors. First, HR management enables organisations to deal with various issues that arise in the course of their operation. Some of these issues relate to transition and resistance. Currently, organisations operate in an environment that is characterised by a high level of dynamism. As a result, change is inevitable. However, employees perceive change as a threat to their job and tend to resist change. By incorporating effective HR strategies, Sony Europe will be able to deal with issues associated with transition and resistance.

Additionally, HR management enables multinational companies to deal with cultural differences between the host and the domestic country. The report has also shown that HR management can enable firms to develop a high rate of employee retention and job satisfaction. Firms can achieve this by integrating effective work-life balance policies. There are diverse work-life balance policies that firms can consider. To develop the desired level of competitiveness in the European region, Sony Europe should consider the following issues.

  1. The firm should ensure that employees are involved in the process of implementing change. One of the ways through which the firm can achieve this is by communicating to the employees regarding the intended change.
  2. The firm should conduct an analysis of the cultural difference between Japan and Europe. This will aid in developing a sufficient understanding of the cultural variations between the two countries hence improving the firm’s level of operational efficiency in the region.
  3. To develop a high level of job satisfaction and employee retention, Sony Europe should integrate the concept of work-life balance. This will enable the firm to minimise the level of work and life conflicts amongst employees.
  4. The firm should continuously evaluate its change management strategies. This will aid in determining its efficiency with regard to utilising HR management strategies. As a result, the firm will be able to make the necessary adjustments.

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