Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Guide for Project Management Consultants in Dealing with Korean Engineering & Construction Companies (Part 2)

Here's the Part 2 of the article...

This article focuses on understanding the Korean way of doing business from the perspective of an employee. 

Working with Koreans can be rewarding, only that you have to understand well their culture. 

At the core of it, Koreans are more humane in their dealings and familial in business practices.

With this, I mean, Koreans value harmony. As such employees of Korean companies should behave or at least be perceived as harmonious. That is why, you can't be too pushy if you want to get results. There is a right way to do that. You have to follow-up in a gentle way, though you have to be persistent if still you can't get the results you need.

Another thing to consider is the hierarchical structure of Korean society. A junior staff cannot push (in a western sense) his or her superior as it is generally viewed disrespectful. As such, it is advisable for project management consultants to go directly to the superior if he/she needs something to be done. It will be more efficient for there is generally no rigid work procedure in place. The "work procedure" is left to the wisdom/prioritization of the superior in-charge.        

Many Koreans also like efficiency that is why they also act fast. This emanated from their 'pali-pali' culture which means that Koreans are always in a hurry. The downside to their 'pali-pali' culture is that sometimes critical details are overlooked. That is why, if you are working with Koreans, you have to be very careful so that the outputs will not be problematic later on. 

Let me expound further on the Korean concept of harmony as I might be accused of being biased if I will not mention this. In the workplace sometimes, there are higher-ups who would shout at each other if they disagree. Sometimes, Korean folks are expressive of their emotion especially when they are angry. This might seem counterintuitive to the claim that Koreans value harmony. While those that I mentioned occur in the workplace, it is not a prevalent sight or it is just confined between the disagreeing persons. So then, Koreans still want harmony to prevail in the workplace.

Among the complaints I heard from fellow Filipino engineers is that their Korean boss or counterpart does not trust them. This is manifested by the fact that they are given menial tasks or their opinions are not being listened to.

What I realize from this  situation is that this is not just true for Koreans. This is also true for any nationality. The common tenet is that, in order for you to be trusted, you have to exhibit trustworthiness. Your Korean boss/counterpart might at first be skeptical of your abilities. But as you go along, show him/her what you are capable of doing. If you already established your trustworthiness, that's the time your Korean boss/counterpart gives their full trust and they might listen to your opinion.  

Companies the world over would describe their workforce as a "family." Indeed, this notion of a workforce as family is clearly substantiated in Korean companies. The evidence of this is that Korean companies usually provide their employees with meals, accommodation or gym membership among others. They regularly conduct team building activities in which the head of the department/section leads it in a paternal way. Korean bosses would also appreciate if his/her subordinates are open to him/her about their concerns or problems regarding work or colleagues. Sometimes, even with personal problems, they are willing to extend help. If the boss is reassigned to another project, he would prefer to staff it with people he has already worked with. This in essence, a Korean company operates like a true family.

For some, it is daunting that in some instances Koreans do not follow exactly the contract. More so, the policies change from time to time. The way I see it, Korean business practices tend to be flexible and more accommodating. They do this in ways beneficial to contracting parties and project participants.    

What I can only conclude having worked for several companies in the past years is that there is no such thing as a perfect company or workplace. There is only a company which can give opportunity to a certain extent optimal. And certainly, that is what Korean companies can offer. Aja!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Guide for Project Management Consultants in Dealing with Korean Engineering & Construction Companies (Part 1)

For those project management consultants who have dealt with Korean engineering and construction companies first time, the Korean business practices might seem perplexing. In reality, it is not. You just have to ride with the Korean way and reap its benefits.

As mentioned in the book of Thomas Coyner and for many westerners, Koreans are criticized for having their own logic. In fact, westerners are amazed that in spite of that, Korean firms are stunningly successful. 

Having worked for Korean companies, I can attest to the fact that indeed, Koreans have their own 'logic'. For many, that logic seems not sound nor practical but the underlying principle conforms to that espoused by western management. 

Why is that so?

Indeed, the Korean way of doing business is focused on RESULTS. So with RESULTS what do you expect? There is a good business. 

While it is true that there are a lot of challenges in working with Koreans, many of those can be tackled by prudent approach.

The way I see it, the major hurdle to overcome is communication. This is because many Koreans are challenged to communicate in the English language. 

The most obvious problem is on communication re-contextualization. Sometimes you say something and you mean it this way. But they understand it differently. This can be addressed by asking back how they understand your statement. If they understand your message exactly as you intend it, then you have no problem. Otherwise, you have to tell them clearly what you mean.

Coming from a hierarchical culture which values harmony, Koreans usually express themselves in a mild or subtle way. That is why, don't be surprised if they tell something indirectly. Like my boss in one of his answers to my email he wrote, 'there seems to be no problem.' For many of us, the use of qualifications such as 'seems' could mean something not certain. But for my boss, what he really means is that 'there is indeed no problem.' 

More on this topic in my next post. Please watch out!!!

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Book Review: Outliers: The Story of Success

Author: Malcolm Gladwell 
Title of the Book: "Outliers: The Story of Success" 

Year of Publication: 2008  
Place of Publication: New York     
Publisher: Hachette Book Group   
Number of Pages: 336 
Price:  USD 9.62 (Paperback), USD 18.59 (Hardcover) 
ISBN: 978-0316017930 

In Malcolm Gladwell's thought, one may ask, is being an 'outlier' also means being 'eccentric'? Probably not.

For statisticians, an 'outlier' is something or someone who is beyond what is considered normal. But in Gladwell's sense, an 'outlier' is someone who can reach their full potential for success.   

Gladwell in this book asserts that circumstances have a hand in an individual's destiny for becoming an 'outlier'. As such, his assertions are focused on nurture over nature. 

In reading the book, one can retain two things in mind. The first is about the the imperative for 10,000 hours of practice so that one can master his/her craft. The second is his so-called Power Distance Index which he used to explain the disasters in Korean airlines and later on was corrected.  

While Gladwell's assertions were backed-up by solid evidences, I would think that there are some loopholes. First is that, he failed to present his methodology for coming up with the evidences. Second, he failed to realize that there are two kinds of 'gifted' people. The first kind are those who can identify opportunities and leverage on them and the second are those who are blind to such opportunities. 

Despite of this however, the book provides glaring insights on what could be the likely reason for success. But still, hard work has its payoff.