Challenges for Foreign Manager in South Korea

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University of Maryland University College
AMBA 620

Introduction & Background

To put it mildly the cultural differences between the United States and South Korea are vast. South Korean culture according to Javidan, Dorfman, Sully de Luque and House (2006) is similar to Chinese culture in that it is rich in tradition and heavily influenced by Confucian values. The values of Confucianism funnel down to everything from family life to corporate life. Javidan et al. (2006) details that Confucianism “emphasizes the importance of relationships and community” (p. 83). Park, Rehg, and Lee (2005) mention that in South Korean culture it is important behave in an honorable, trustworthy, and respectable fashion as these attributes are all desirable in the Confucianism culture. South Korean culture places a strong emphasis on family(Hofstede™ Cultural Dimensions, n.d.). Hofstede, along with other experts, state that employees look to their manager as a “parental figure” (Hofstede™ Cultural Dimensions, n.d.; Javidan et al., 2006, p. 83; Saner-Yui & Saner-Yui, 1984, p.28). According to Saner-Yui and Saner-Yui (1984) employees are thought of as the children and if the team’s performance is poor then this reflects badly on management. Another interesting fact mentioned by Javidan et al. (2006) is the idea of “guan xi” or networking being the foundation of all relationships in the South Korean culture (p.83). Javidan et al. (2006) emphasize that a foreigner’s success depends on their ability to network and forge relationships. Working in consumer product manufacturing will allow me to work with various types of positions within the South Korean branch of my company. My role will allow me to work very close with the factory on site as well as the designers and engineers on prototypes. This will enable our team a faster turnaround being that we are based within the plant itself. Challenges

There are several barriers that will be important to address when managing a team in South Korea. Many experts in the field of organizational management researched different countries to establish “cultural differences… and how these differences influence leadership” (Javidan et al., 2006, p. 68). This research is known as the “Global Leadership and Organizational Behavior Effectiveness project,” known as GLOBE (Javidan et al., 2006, p. 68). The GLOBE Project developed nine cultural dimensions based on cultural practices and values. Of these nine values, there a several I will need to address before and during my stay in South Korea. One of the major obstacles I foresee is that I am a woman. In the United States gender discrimination has all but vanished, yet according to Project GLOBE’s “Gender Egalitarianism” dimension, South Korea is one of “the most male dominated societies in GLOBE” (Javidan et al., 2006, p. 70). Being male dominated, employees may feel they cannot take direction from a woman manager. This could cause a breakdown in communication, which is key to any management style. Being a woman is something I cannot change, however my approach can, as I will discuss in more detail later in the paper. Another dimension that I will need to address is what Javidan et al. (2006) call “In Group Collectivism” as classified in Project GLOBE, this how people express loyalty and pride in their work and family lives (p. 70). South Korea has a very loyal culture which reflects back to Confucianism (Hofstede™ Cultural Dimensions, n.d.). This goes hand in hand with Geert Hofstede’s cultural dimension of Individualism which is very low for South Korea (n.d.). According to his charts, South Koreans drawn to groups and are not interested in being an individuals. Relationships are paramount in the South Korean culture and this extends to both business and family relationships (Hofstede™ Cultural Dimensions, n.d.). Hofstede (2007) explains the paradigm of “Individualism verses Collectivism” as the biggest difference in...
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