Monday, September 03, 2007
BCW Executive-level Commentary: Labor Day 2007
Several times a year I craft a brief commentary—partly a report on recent trends in Korea, and partly a suggestion or two for your organization. For this commentary, my thoughts turn to Change within Korea-based organizations.
In Korea, amazing economic growth occurred in the last decades of the twentieth century. Korea’s top corporations developed distinct corporate culture and practices. Today, most Korean corporate leadership and forward-thinkers recognize that many domestic practices and norms will not succeed globally. Different markets require localization. Global markets require a global mindset.
Recently I’ve found it interesting that there are two diverging versions of Korean global business. One more progressive style is shifting to a global business model and dropping many of the norms, practices, and customs that define Korean corporate life at Samsung, Hyundai, Kia, LG, SK, Doosan, Hyosung, etc.
In contrast, another and currently more widespread traditional version looks to export their time-proven methods overseas.
For the progressive model, two socio-economic forces have spurred change. The first is that recent graduates hired by Korea’s top firms are well schooled in international business, marketing, and finance. Many of this generation have undergraduate and graduate degrees from the top business schools of North American and Europe. More individualistic and bolder than their parents, these men and women are willing to speak out and push for change---some even willing to quit firms that hold on to the old norms.
The second social-economic force is aggressive recruitment of management from outside the organization. This new leadership has little attachment to the firm’s past norms. Moreover, they bring with them values and practices of their former often Western-based firms.
So, with lots of change occurring in Korea, you might wonder when these changes will have an impact your organization. It is occurring…but I’m sure for many of you it’s not fast enough. In the meantime, I do have a some suggestions.
My first suggestion is that your organization boldly foster and embraces Korean cross-cultural understanding. Remember, expecting cross cultural understanding especially of Korea and Korean business by Americans, Europeans, etc. (and visa versa) to unfold over time is an ineffective approach and leads to frustration and poor results. Teams need training and support.
BTW Even when working with a more progressive Korean firm, strong cultural dimensions still exist. For example, throughout most Korean firms generational lines occur—younger team members are more progressive and older management more rigid.
Shifting gears somewhat…. my second suggestion is that in the hopes of driving change; don’t think hiring a top Global-consulting firm will solve all your problems. In my experience, these firms have amazing talent and great track records, but structuring organizational, governance, financial, and management strategies and tactics is very different than shaping change rooted in tradition and culture. In other words, without a deep understanding of Korean culture and a firm’s heritage, expectations, and norms little will change.
This is where I can help…especially to align, coach, and aid in making for smooth transitions.
As always, BCW is dedicated to supporting you and your team. I hope my insights and commentary stimulate and provoke thought. I look forward to hearing from you,
Take care and great success,