The Would-Be Pioneer Essay
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From reviewing Green’s fictional case study, (Green, 2011), the author acknowledges some good points for consideration when one has to determine how much a culture and environment will affect institutions and their management. In this review, Green explores the challenges faced by Ms. Linda Myers when she accepted a job as a VP in a Seoul, South Korea with SK Telecom. Ms. Myers had what seemed to be all of the right credentials on paper that would make her the ideal candidate for a foreign assignment, except one, she was female.
Although she realized initially that the agency contacting her for the assignment referred to her as “Mr.”, she pressed on and assumed it was a simple mistake, however, her experience would be reflective of this later as she reflects on her choice to accept the assignment and some of the things that went wrong (Green, 2011). When analyzing this case in depth and reviewing the entire tenure of Ms.
Myers time with SK Telecom in Seoul, there are some important issues that surface which caused this job scenario to go terribly wrong for Ms. Myers. First, based on her experience in traveling overseas and her career experience based in recruiting and training ex pats on how to handle overseas assignments, Ms. Myers incorrectly assumed that she had all the necessary attributes required to take on any country and its cultural challenges. This was not accurate. One of the first clues that there were going to be issues in South Korea that Ms. Myers should have realized occurred long before her accepting the job in South Korea and she choose to ignore it. That clue being the preliminary assumption by the agency sent to recruit a VP that she was male, not female, as mentioned earlier. The second red flag that should have been raised by Ms. Myers occurred when she contacted the Society of Human Resources and asked them to put her into contact with a female executive who had worked in South Korea to help her prepare for her assignment.
The return response from the Society was that “no one fit that criteria”, in other words, she was about to become a trailblazer (Green, 2011). Ms. Myers personality was one of succeeding not shying away from hard challenges; therefore, she let her enthusiasm and her confidence in her ability to adapt and overcome overshadow these forewarnings that she should have noticed before accepting the assignment. It was ultimately ignoring these early signs of trouble that later would lead to her shock at what she was going to encounter once she arrived in country and began trying to adapt and start working productively. Green’s case study points clearly to the fact that the South Korean culture is very different than the U.S. or many other less formal countries as compared to what Ms. Myers was accustomed to. She was facing a male dominated society that held ones age, title, and status in the highest of regards, especially among men.
This realization quickly put Ms. Myers in a difficult situation early into her assignment. Although the warning signs were there, she had ignored them and failed to adequately research and learn what would be the expectations and norms of her new environment and it was making things very challenging for her to fit in and begin making changes, which is what she felt she was hired to do (Green, 2011). In addition to being unprepared to face a male dominant society, Ms. Myers also had failed to prepare for the very challenging language barrier that would exist in South Korea. Unlike many countries where many of the executives speak English, in South Korea, the society is extremely homogenous and only has 2.4% of the population that is foreign, therefore, understanding the Korean language is almost a necessity if one hopes to find great success in working with their peers while living there (Green, 2011).
As a result of being unprepared for the male dominated culture and not having a good working knowledge of how to communicate, Ms. Myers ultimately offended one of her peers based on her incorrect assumption that there was a cultural misunderstanding which greatly embarrassed her peer and further isolated her from the team (Green, 2011). Within the first few weeks of her new assignment, Ms. Myers felt as if she had made very little impact on the organization, she was still struggling to communicate, and she had isolated her team members. She was frustrated, did not understand exactly what she was supposed to be doing in her role any longer and essentially started becoming a very miserable person at work. She loved the community and was absorbing local culture, however, this was not translating into a positive experience in the board room. Something had to change.
This change occurred oddly enough in the form of a perceived promotion or move for Ms. Myers to become the Head of Global Talent at SK Holdings. In review of this case it seems obvious that this was a move designed to get Ms. Myers out of the boardroom as VP and eventually out of the company within a year of her arrival. As Ms. Myers moved into her new role, she quickly realized that she was being isolated by the team and that shake ups were occurring and in early 2009, she was finally dismissed from the company (Green, 2011). From reviewing this case study it seems that the key issues that went wrong for Ms. Myers began with her assumption that she could easily adapt to new cultures based on her life and career experiences. The next thing she does wrong is to ignore some very poignant warning signs had she been willing to see them as opposed to ignoring them. Her next mistakes came in the form of lack of preparation and an inability to adapt her style in a manner that would meet the demands of the culture and company as they expected.
By allowing her attitude to become defeatist, she ultimately allowed herself to remain in a state of shock that ultimately led to her not making any corrections to herself to get up to speed and get moving in the right direction. She instead remained stagnant and this ultimately cost her missing out on the great opportunity she was in search of with SK Telecom. When one applies Hofstede’s 5 dimensions of culture to this case study, it becomes quickly apparent that there are some vast differences between South Korea culture and the United States. Had Ms. Myers applied the knowledge provided in Hofstede’s 5 dimensions model and utilized some of his tips, there is a very high likelihood she could have been successful in her assignment. For example, for each category listed below, here are the differences in scores between the U.S. and South Korea: Power Distance (PD) – In America, this score is 40 where as in Korea, there is much higher emphasis on this category and they score a 60.
So, understanding this, Ms. Myers could have recognized early on that she would be facing a more rigid corporate hierarchy with a centralized organization which places a much higher emphasis on their leader’s power and authority (geert-hofstede, 2012). Individualism (IDV) – This is the most dramatically different category between America and Koreans. In this category the focus is on people and their relationships or closeness and connections to each other in their communities and their willingness to help each other to succeed. In America this category scores high at a 91, where as in South Korea, this category scores very low at an 18. It appears that in Korea, unlike America, the people are much more focused on group connections and harmony and will suppress their feelings to help make this cohesiveness exist. Where as in America, large group sharing and dynamics are not real high on the priority list as people in America tend to be very individualistic and appreciate their privacy and keeping their connections close to family and select friends (geert-hofstede, 2012).
So, Ms. Myers would have quickly been able to determine that moving to South Korea, the people would be very traditional and support harmony and respecting wisdom and age more than many other factors she may bring to the table. Masculinity (MAS) – For masculinity, South Korea scores a 39 compared to Americas score of 62. Although both countries tend to accept women’s role in the work force, it appears that for Koreans there is even more respect for a powerful woman in the workplace than traditionally accepted in the roles defined between men and women in America. So, Ms. Myers could have exploited her powerful trait of leadership had she understood how receptive and respected it could have been in her VP role with the company (geert-hofstede, 2012). Uncertainty/Avoidance Index (UAI) – Here is another instance where doing business in America will be a far different experience than doing business in South Korea.
The score in this category which places emphasis on anxiety and people’s feelings in strange and uncomfortable situations shows that Koreans avoid conflicts and anxious situations by following strong traditions and rules and will go out of their way to keep things smooth. Their score in this category is an 85. Americans on the other hand welcome a good debate and encourage pushing the envelope and shaking things up and score a 46 in the lower quadrant of this category. Although there are some general guidelines of civility that people follow, America is much more open in the business environment to changes than Koreans will be (geert-hofstede, 2012). Long Term Orientation (LTO) – Here is another category where Ms. Myers could have greatly benefitted from having these scores available to her before arriving in South Korea.
LTO focuses on the emphasis society’s place on traditions and values, especially long term and short term values. In fact, it was Asian countries that closely followed traditions such as Confucianism that cause Hofstede to add this 5th dimension in the 1990’s. If Ms. Myers had understood this LTO score, she would have been able to research and discover that Of the South Korean population, 22.8% are Buddhist and so the Korean LTO score was high at 75% (geert-hofstede, 2012). Americans on the other hand score low at 29% again based on their push for everyone to be equal regardless of conditions, freedom of thought and expression, openness to challenge systems and make changes, and promotion of high creativity and individualism (geert-hofstede, 2012). It is obvious for Ms. Myers or anyone trying to function successfully in South Korea to understand and respect the traditions and long standing practices of the Korean people.
After thoroughly reviewing Ms. Myers decisions and actions in the case study and applying the scores and tips from Hofstede’s model, the recommendations that would have helped Ms. Myers succeed would be as follows. First, Ms. Myers should have never dropped her formal title of Sang Mu Linda as this immediately showed weakness on her part and confused the people that worked with her and for her. As noted by the scores in the PDI and VAI categories, Koreans put a high emphasis on titles and authority and communicate only in the peer roles, not so much up and down the ladder. By removing her official VP title and trying to use the open door, everyone is equal style that is so popular in American management philosophy; she had made a key miscalculation that cost her much needed respect (Green, 2011).
If she would have embraced her title and commanded that people respect her role as is traditional in Korean society, she could have been much more effective in her role. Second, Ms. Myers should have worked harder to demand more access to translators and make the necessary changes necessary to ensure communication was not an issue. By limiting herself to a limited staff of translators and not learning the language herself, she isolated herself from her Korean peers and as Hofstede’s model demonstrated, Koreans place a very high emphasis on real time communication and expect that from their leaders. She was not able to do this therefore she lost them shortly after arriving on the job (Green, 2011).
Lastly, Ms. Myers misunderstanding of how hierarchical and male dominated the Korean workplace is caused her to apply a not traditional management style from the west that did not work in Korean society. If she would have simply researched and understood what she was going into, she would have been better prepared, she could have adjusted her style to be more reserved when necessary and meshed better with her male counterparts, all of which would have made her much more successful in her once in a lifetime opportunity (Green, 2011)
Green, S. (2011). The would-be pioneer. Harvard Business Review. 89(4),