Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Korea Facing 2014: Process

This is the first commentary in a new series on Korean global business. My hope is you respond in an email and share your thoughts and comments. 

Like with my previous works, I will edit the series into a new publication (yet to be titled) and incorporate the valued comments and input. 

Don Southerton, Author

Process: Cut Twice, Measure Once?

During a recent workshop I polled participants on the differences they experienced between the Korean and western workplaces.  One attendees comment centered on how the Korean planning and execution process differed from not only his previous western background but also the Japanese model. 

When asked to elaborate, the participant shared that Koreans tend to move fast and make necessary adjustments as needed going forward.  This was in sharp the contrast to his experience with the western and the Japanese process in which time is taken initially to explore all the potential pitfalls and plan accordingly before implementing.

Others in the group added that the ability to report that the project was underway seemed of utmost importance to theIr Korean colleagues. Additionally, in most cases timelines for projects were considerably truncated a potentially year-long project might be reduced to 3-4 months.

Reflecting on the group's comments, I recalled that a colleague once noted the Korean model might be seen described as cutting twice after measuring oncea variation to the adage measure twice, and cutting once.

From a cultural perspective, the Koreans approach to managing projects differs from the West. To better explain dynamics in the Korean workplace, we need to draw on two cross-cultural terms. The first is "mono-chronic" in which people proceed according to linear plans made well in advance of the project start and carry out tasks one at a time from start to finish. For many this is considered a very western approach. The second term is "polychronic" in which numerous tasks are addressed but not necessarily linear. Multiple issues can be dealt with simultaneously while other assignments can be put on hold or elevated in priority. In many cases, this is the Korean workplace.

A polychronic work style can result in negotiations, planning, and project activities proceeding at major levels with conversations jumping back to earlier discussed issues mixed with new issues. On the positive side, Korean organizations are flexible and teams are used to change. Frankly, however, this can conflict with a workplace culture of high risk-avoidance and limited risk taking.

All this said, I have some suggestions.  First, recognizing this is the Korean model and adapting accordingly will save considerable frustration and stress.  I have seen efforts by western firms working with their Korean partners to institute a structured project management process to align teams.  In some cases this means bringing in experts and outside consulting firms to put in place a western project control system. Although the Korean teams are open to the training and cognitively agree in the value of the procedures, they rely on their own time-proven systems and defer to their own methods, especially when under a deadline. This can apply in U.S., global and Korea-based projects.

And, a final thought to consider.  Recently, I have found that Korean companies expanding internationally may spend considerable time researching the new market but stop short of a detailed action plan. Probing deeper into this approach, they see these first ventures as a 'learn as you go' experience and are open to what works and what does not.  Lessons learned are then used as a foundation for future bolder market entry project efforts.


Comments requested :)

No comments:

Post a Comment