Stepping back to August 2005, I was conducting cross-cultural training and coaching sessions at a manufacturing facility. In the early months of the plant operations, tensions between the American and Korean teams were mounting.
Startup operations are always a daunting task. The additional cultural dimensions and language differences only compounded the odds of having a smooth launch.
Recognizing the challenges, senior Korean leadership asked if I could provide team- building workshops that would allow the respective managers to better address escalating concerns and issues.
Consensus was that the problem was “cultural”—Koreans not understanding Americans and visa-versa. I had been working across their organization for several years and I had dealt with what I thought were similar situations.
However, a few hours into the team-building workshops I uncovered the true cause of the strained relationship, but it was not what I had expected.
Most of the American teams were production veterans—hand picked because they had been top performers at Ford, Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Mercedes Benz, and GM North American plants. In contrast, the Korean teams were career employees—most having worked for a decade or more at a sister plant in South Korea.
What surfaced in discussions was that many of the new American managers had been searching in earnest for a Way—documented policies and procedures that would guide them in decision-making and day-to-day work. For example, former Toyota managers looked for a model similar to the Toyota Way, while others who had worked for Ford Motor Company sought standard operation procedure manuals (SOPS). Not finding a set Way resulted in some Americans feeling that there might be a communications and language issue. More concerning, a few hinted strongly at trust issues and that Koreans were deliberately withholding vital information.
Listening to the group, I had a realization. Over the years working with the company and other Korea-based businesses, I found sharing historic background and differences between Korean culture and other cultures as a proven, effective and commonly accepted cross-cultural learning model. Nevertheless, it became crystal clear to me that what was truly needed in this situation was to clarify and impart an intangible—the Way or vision.
A Shared Mindset
Jumping forward several years… on a number of occasions I have shared my quest to better understand the companies’ Way (and triggered by the work at the plant ) with veteran Korean staff and executives. Time and time again, I found those long employed by the Company reflecting for a moment and then stating frankly that the company’s approach was not easy to explain.
For example, one senior Korean pointed out that within company there are several management styles and approaches to tackling an issue depending on the person’s lineage.
Groomed by their seniors, junior members of teams adopt the mentor’s methodology and leadership style—some “hard” and demanding, others “soft” and preferring collaboration.
Another executive imparted that their Way was acquired over time. He added that,with the exception of some minor differences among the sister companies, the transferring of key people among divisions, creates a shared mindset.
At a minimum, Korean teams understand the thought process and methods of others across the organization regardless of the affiliations.
The Korean executives did agree that understanding the corporate mindset by both Koreans and non-Koreans working across the organization was vital to the continued success of the Company.
Recognizing lessons learned in incorporating a Way in the operations of other American plants, I’d like to share a success model. In 2009 Korea based Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia’s senior leadership took a bold approach Day One. The crafted their “Kia Way.” Key elements include:
- Continuous Improvement
- One System One Team
- Effective 2-Way Communication
- Cooperative Mindset
- Harmony Teamwork Trust
At the core, the “Kia Way” aligns teams—Korean and American. In particular, it provides continuity as new Korean expatriates are assigned to the plant, as well as Americans formerly employed within the manufacturing industry and who join the team in Georgia.
All said, I am strong advocate of crafting a “Way,” for Korean operations overseas—one that addresses and tailored to local needs while still aligning with the global organization Culture.
Would you like to schedule a time to discuss steps to implement a “Way” in your organization?
To facilitate and with my rather demanding workload and travel, Stacey, my personal assistant at firstname.lastname@example.org can schedule us for a time.