It appears we are entering a new phase of COVID-19, now more than ever we need to approach business with flexibility and open-mindedness.
That said, in Korea, there has been a considerable effort to offer more flexible working environments even before COVID-19.
Beyond more flexible workplace hours and casual dress codes, even in Korea with their decades of rigid hierarchal workplace norms, we have seen more new progressive efforts being made among Korean companies.
This is particularly visible in those Korean companies dedicated to technology and global business such as Samsung Electronics, Hyundai Motor, LG, Naver, Kakao, SK Telecom, Amorepacific, and Nexon—who have all worked to foster a more horizontal and creative work culture.
Still, Koreans and Westerners alike note that if there is a lesson learned from COVID-19 it is the need for businesses to be open and flexible. As an example, we now see the widespread adoption of video conferencing during the pandemic instead of insistence on in-person meetings.
Richard Chin, President and Head of Global Development within the SK Group, one of Korea’s top conglomerates, too, has noted that the pandemic has served as a wake-up call for companies across industries. It has accelerated the shift to a business model where trial and error is not just part of the process—it is the process. Chin points out that years from now, we will be looking at this period as a make-or-break moment for businesses. Those that shift their mindset to the faster, more nimble approach to innovation will grow and succeed
He adds that companies must streamline their decision-making process. They must empower those closest to the market and the business to take meaningful actions, so they can respond to new challenges and take advantage of new opportunities.
Solutions and Options
If we at look at another side of business flexibility, a best practice is to be flexible in the processes by which Westerners and Koreans seek out solutions and options.
A few years ago, while I was conducting a team-building leadership workshop, in one of the discussions, a Korean participant pointed out that they typically look for options to solve a situation. He went on to explain that when a problem surfaced in Korea, they would prepare at least 3 or more “counter-measures” for senior leadership to review.
Just pointing out and restating the problem, he said, was not productive, noting that his boss and the team already knew there was a problem. Leadership wanted to see multiple options. More so, in Korea, individuals have been highly encouraged to be solution-oriented. This stems back to and is rooted in years of pragmatic schooling within the Korean educational system.
There is nothing wrong with this perspective and there are considerable merits in solution-based thinking.
That said, and in contrast, it is not uncommon for Western teams to first spend time focusing heavily on looking at the problem rather than jumping to solutions.
A solid evaluation can rarely arise without working through a problem from multiple angles. I’d layer on the importance of thinking about potential repercussions that could result from a subjective and potentially myopic analysis.
Not to mention, when paying attention to only the solution, one may actually miss the bigger picture. This mindset can narrow down and limit perspectives as well as filter out a range of potential work through options.
In closing, in the spirit of being open-minded and flexible, I recommend a COVID-era strategy that acknowledges and gains consensus as there are merits and strengths in both Western and Korean approaches. I suggest collaboratively stepping back to clearly understand the situation, take time to pull apart what may be occurring, and zero in on a solution, and provide options.