Thursday, October 11, 2012

Comments on Korea Facing: Countermeasures

By Don Southerton, BCW Editor
Once again we have received considerable feedback on a weekly posting. See the previous "Korea Facing: Countermeasures" post.

Readers have noted that the topic was "timely," "great insights," "....come to the same general conclusion very painfully through trial and error," and "Again, your consultation and advice is invaluable!!! Keep it coming."

I'd like to share Jennie (Chunghea) Oliver's well presented comments. Jennie is a regular contributor to Korea Facing. She brings out some interesting points. ( BTW your feedback is always welcome, too.)

Dear Don, Thank you for sharing your post!

As a person who grew up in Korea and participated in the Korean workforce, I can understand why Korean participants in the discussion mentioned that they will prepare at least three counter-measures for senior leadership.    

At the same time, I can also understand about the approach that American teams use, focusing heavily on problems rather than solutions, as a person who benefited from American higher education and participated in the American workforce.

I thought about these two very different approaches for a while and had a thought provoking conversation with my husband, Zach, who is also an organizational leadership professor, entrepreneur, and author.

During the course of 11 years in America, I have come to realize a couple of salient factors about myself as a Korean.  First, through primary and secondary education in Korea, individuals are highly encouraged to grow up to be solution-oriented.  And, let it be said clearly that: There is nothing wrong with this perspective.  And, in the spirit of bridging the cultural divide, being "solutions-focused" is, after all, featured on so many bright eyed MBA's resumes in America as well.  However, I must also acknowledge that this approach does not necessarily lead to effectiveness and efficiency.  When paying attention to solutions, one may actually miss the bigger picture and narrow down his/her perspective: hence, a limit will filter options.  I recognize that the encouragement, in your document, to look to multiple suggestions for counter-measures can be recognized both as a way of getting at a consensus of what a problem might be and how a team might effectively respond to it.  It's a solid way to also increase trust and empowerment across a stakeholder group, when used well.  This is never a bad thing.  At the same time, I've been trained to look at both side and offer you that a worst case scenario might even be that, when asking for multiple counter-measures, a team manager may be inclined to implement multiple counter-measures thereby setting the stage for increased inefficiencies, both financial and process, in a system and inadvertently damage an important strategic positioning which may have been long fought for.

Without working through a robust analysis of a problem from multiple angles and thinking about potential repercussions resulting from a subjective and potentially myopic analysis of it, a solid evaluation can never arise.  

Second, through my higher educational experience in America, I realized that Korean society does not promote reflective thinking.  Reflective thinking does not provide immediate effects as it must be grown gradually from a highly individuated core within each person's consciousness.  However, when one becomes reflective through consistent cognitive exercise, he/she is able to broaden his/her perspective and better see the bigger picture.  Reflective thinking requires not only acquiring knowledge, but also demands the application of one's own experience, admitting personal bias, and evaluative skills.  

Apparently, the difference between these two divergent approaches stems from the difference in philosophical and intellectual orientations.  

Personally speaking, having multiple solutions has not always linked to successful outcomes.  If the analysis of a certain problem is inaccurate, then presumably, the solutions will be inaccurate as well.  When the organizational culture focuses on finding solutions which can easily be identified in mechanistic and procedural inefficiencies rather than understanding the "real" problem which often is embedded in the textural aspects of human motivations and interactions, the technocratic and bureaucratic solutions brought to bear on the perceived inefficiencies actually force members to become less flexible, motivated, satisfied, independent, creative, and innovative.  In this case, thinking outside of box usually gives leverage.  Fortunately, when one looks through a particular problem with a reflective and conscious lens by investing an appropriate amount of time and energy into its analysis, effective solutions, which are both necessary and sufficient, present themselves.  

Through my training as a social scientist interested in the study of organizational leadership, I can say that the visible problem is usually the tip of an iceberg.  If the organization only tries to figure out solutions, then more problems may occur as a consequence.

I hope this makes sense.  Please let me know if you have any questions.

Cheers, Jennie

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