Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Korea Facing 2014: Process—the Feedback

My commentary titled “Process” provided insights into the differences between western and Korean project with a focus on planning stage. To recap, Koreans tend to move fast and make necessary adjustments going forward. In contrast, the western and the Japanese process invests considerable time initially to explore all the potential pitfalls and plan accordingly prior to beginning the implemention. In most cases timelines for Korean projects are considerably truncated— a potentially year-long project might be reduced to 3-4 months.  A follow-up commentary to ‘Process’ is underway; in the meantime I’d like to share some reader comments:

Thanks for the discussion.  I loved the topic.

These comments are like gold!
The conflicts between Western and Korean styles are really quite confronting  (baffling to any new staff), and your comments and explanations are like little rays of sunshine breaking through the black clouds. Please keep them coming.

A great piece. Matches my experiences to a T and helps put them in a context that I can understand. Captures some very important ideas.

Great read – my concern is cut twice measure once is not necessarily a proven option.

Thanks Don – you’re spot on here.

I’d also like to share Dr. Jennie (Chunghea) Oliver’s insights. Her academic work at the moment is focusing on globalization and international business.  As in the past Jennie’s input on my writing on Korea business is very much appreciated.

Jennie notes…
Understanding the cultural background of a host country is critical for international firms.  Culture, as a powerful force pervasively embedded in human interactions and behaviors, helps one get a glimpse of how society is organized and how members of society play their roles.  The differences between monochronic culture and polychronic culture, which also show strong connections to individualism and collectivism, have been widely discussed.  For example, while a monochronic person takes a serious commitment towards following plans, a polychronic person is willing to change plans as needed.  Another example is that while a monochronic person tends to tackle tasks one at a time, a polychronic person tends to multitask.  Besides these two examples, orientations toward relationships, time commitments, privacy, punctuality, and private belongings are also included in the differences described by Edward Hall in his book "Understanding cultural Differences: Germans, French, and Americans." 

Agriculture was a major element of the Korean economy up until the early 1960s.  In an agricultural environment, farmers plan their activities around meteorological factors which are uncontrollable by man.  In this kind of environment, time is cyclical as things are done around seasonal requirements.  As such, people tend to change their activities and plans as they go depending on the external elements, namely the weather and the needs of others if cooperative farming is practiced.  While waiting for the right time for seeding, planting, weeding, and harvesting, farmers tackle various other tasks.  Korean meals eloquently describe this tendency.  Korean meals typically consist of a bowl of cooked rice, stew (or soup), and 3 or more side dishes all at once.  The person who prepares the meal basically multitasks in order to complete the preparations in a timely manner.  While cooking rice, the soup and side dishes are made simultaneously. 

According to your comment about work process style, "measuring twice, cutting once" is standard in Western business practice (and Japanese) while Korean organizations seem to exhibit "measuring once, cutting twice" as their model.  These two perspectives show a stark difference in worldview.  Without understanding each other's work orientation and habits along with cultural background as described above, partnerships between Western companies and Korean companies is likely to encounter mistrust and dysfunction.  In this regard, there is a benefit of having outside consulting firms involved in partnership projects to help both parties meet their respective needs and expectations.

Working with others who do not share the same culture, language, and habitual norm is challenging for everyone and calls for a great deal of energy, patience, and strategic decision making.  There is no perfect business solution that works for all organizations.  Solutions that worked for some organizations may not have the same effect for others.  This thought also applies to work process style.  Some projects need a "measuring twice, cutting once" strategy while others need a "measuring once, cutting twice" strategy.  The local business environment contributes to this phenomenon.  Depending on how quickly the market moves, companies have to adjust their actions.  Nevertheless, there are business practices proven to be successful over time.  In this case, the best business practices are often taken into consideration for deciding on what kind of work process style is appropriate for a specific project.   

Jennie Oliver, EdD


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