Let’s talk, not fight!

Karl Marxs gravestone famously reads, “The philosophers have only interpreted the world; the point, however, is to change it.”

 

For better or for worse? What would’ve happened if the likes of Mr. Marx or Mr. Rousseau met K’ung Fu Tzu? I doubt they’d rush into consensus of a shared enlightenment…

 

I attended the regular Korea Business Forum here in Seoul this morning, hosted by the KABC. Today’s Forum bravely tried to take on the topic, “Corporate Culture: can you teach a Korean workforce how to assimilate to western ways?”

 

OECD figures from 2005 were presented on labour productivity and put Korea way down the list. Korean figures (per hour worked) are about one half of the OECD average, and Korea’s down the list with Mexico, Poland and Turkey. Of course, there are exceptions to this low level of productivity. Productivity in manufacturing, for example, is higher relative to services and the rest of the economy. But it’s not as if Korean workers are kicking back and having a laugh; what’s more worrying is that Korean workers aren’t too happy about conditions either – along with Japan, the workforce is uncertain about their future and has become demoralized and frightened.

 

What does this mean: something’s not quite right with management structures? You’d think it’d be quite obvious.

 

The big fear is that Korea, facing today’s global business challenges, is not working smarter but merely harder. Instead of increasing productivity, it’s increasing efforts to reach the necessary output and with that: burn out.

 

Surely then, yes, you need to change the corporate culture?

 

An interested debate evolved. East meets West. US versus EU. Young Korea versus ageing Korea. Even inter-chaebol differences and how the character (or foresight!) of the family affects the corporate culture of the organization. The debate could have ran for hours…and it did.

 

And it made me think back to my years in London when on a sunny autumnal day I stumbled (almost literally) across Marx’s gravestone in Highgate cemetery and read that phrase. Why do you need revolution? Why tear down and fight against a corporate culture that isn’t going to change?

 

I go back to our Stakeholder data…my bedrock in Korea. The biggest driver of corporate reputation in this market is employee development and employee benefits – far outweighing management and product quality, very important drivers themselves. Yet when asked whether Korean corporations live up to their expectations in terms of communicating freely and openly with their employees, Korean opinion leaders believe that companies drastically do not live up to expectations (9% against an expectation rate of 59%).

 

So, did we get anywhere at the KABC Forum? Can you assimilate a Korean workforce to Western ways or can you bring management change to induce a more productive workforce? I think a better employee dialogue and relationship would be a good start.

 

Now…as for changing the world…

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