Esmeralda Rachel Sitorus
JVI, a joint venture company between Korean Conglomerate Inc. (KCI) and Western Systems Inc. (WSI), sent Ellen Moore, a systems consultant, to manage a project in Korea. The project, called Systems Implementation (SI), has a team involving five Korean and three North American consultants. For the first seven months, the Americans were to be involved in pursuance of assisting the Koreans on the knowledge and expertise of system design and implementation, an area in which the Koreans had little experience. Andrew Kilpatrick, the principal of SCG and thus Ellen’s superior, was the one who secure the contract with the client due to his depth of understanding of the subject. Ellen was personally chosen by Andrew to lead the project because of her strong project management skills and valuable international experiences. In Korea, Ellen discovered that her colleagues/subordinates were far less experienced than expected. Additionally, Jack Kim, JVI’s consultant representation from Korea, wasn’t advised on his position as co-manager with Ellen, and thus issuing tensions between the two managing regarding the scope of the project and the stance in leadership for the team. The problem culminated as the project was clearly behind schedule and the Korean consultants were disorganized in terms of following orders and directions. The Koreans insisted that Ellen was the problem, much to Andrew’s disagreement.
To find the best alternative solution, it is significant to first identify and analyze the issues at hand. The problems are an accumulation of miscommunication between the main parties involved, Jack and Ellen. From the beginning, controversial issues had emerged between the two co-managers. For starters, Jack was misinformed that he was the sole project manager for SI, and Ellen had prior expectations of her team being more skilled. This resulted in confusion of position and responsibilities. As Ellen seized the initiative to lead, Jack was at a dismay. He continuously had informal meetings with the consultants, without Ellen. Within the Korean culture, there is a long history of inequality between the status of males and females in the workplace. Males are to cater the public sphere, and the women the private life of home. Though improving, businesses are nevertheless dominated by men and women are generally paid lower than men. Having a woman in the Korean business community, especially in a position of power, is not too common. Jack’s inability to allow Ellen have authority might be due to the Korean culture of save face. In other words, Jack was preserving his dignity as a man, in front of his underlings, though he was aware of Ellen’s expertise in the area.
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Andrew’s lack of understanding of the Korean culture also contributes to the issue of the case. In the beginning of the project, Andrew selected Moore to be full-time project management because of her skills and experience. However, Andrew did not take into account the gender equality possibly affecting the project’s operations and progress, not to mention Jack’s and the Korean consultants’ inadequacy for the project. Wrongful assumptions and inadequate hiring are the reason for the conflict.
South Korea, at a score of 18 based on Hofstede’s cultural dimension, is a collectivist society. Having more connection, the Korean consultants upheld loyalty to Jack by refusing to follow Ellen’s directions, as the two were evidently not aligned in management. The lack of communication between the leaders created an insufficient working environment. Not only were the consultants confused, the orders executed were coming from one who was not proficient on the subject. In consequence, the project was severely delayed, and the communication between Jack and Ellen did not improve. Furthermore, the Korean culture restricts to actively include the client in the execution of the project, thus eliminating the team’s ability to advise to the client in regards to what method is preferred to complete the task. The hierarchical issues between the client and the service provider, because of Korea’s beliefs in Confucianism, is evident in the organizational structure as well. Mr. Song, the director of JVI, blamed the inefficiency of the team performance solely on Ellen, that Andrew completely disagreed. Andrew’s talking straightforwardly to Mr. Song may also be extremely disrespectful, according to Korea’s high power distance, as Andrew was Mr. Song’s inferior. The case displays how the management of international human resources is highly dependent on national context and culture.
To prevent the project from being severely handicapped, there are several alternative solutions. A solution may to send Ellen home, as per Mr. Song’s opinion. This will not solve the problem, as Jack is clearly incompetent and thus not in capacity to complete the project well. To fire Jack’s inexperience and unprofessional attitude is improper alike. The consultants clearly had respect for Jack, and directly replacing Jack with Ellen may increase the dislike for Ellen, toughening her job that much more. Albeit firing Jack will clear the reporting structure and realign the schedule, the social implication may not be as agreeable. Furthermore, the relationship of the joint venture may be harmed.
An alternative may require Andrew to head the project with Ellen and Jack reporting to him, along with training Jack to take over as he and Ellen leave in 3 months’ time. This will allow the tension between Jack and Ellen to be removed. One leader may create a more comfortable setting for the Koreans to accept orders. Furthermore, Andrew is extremely knowledgeable and experienced with the project. Having Andrew present increases the odds of completing the project on time and JVI obtains the intended leader in the first place. However, Andrew may still be unavailable due to his other projects and may not be able to pull off the project within the required timeframe.
The best possible course of action is to rectify Jack’s and Ellen’s title and revamp Jack’s and Ellen’s relationship. As the guest, Ellen may need to take a modesty approach and show her respect and open-mindedness to the Korean managers and Jack. Ellen may first schedule an informal meeting with Jack. Here, she may need to apologize to Jack for the previous events for the sake of mitigating misunderstandings with Jack. Andrew, then, with Mr. Park’s and Mr. Song’s approval, may adjust Jack’s and Ellen’s positions. Ellen may be in charge for the operational plan and scheduling of the project, and Jack may be the human resources manager for the project by communicating the plan to and motivating the consultants. Accordingly, Ellen may educate Jack on the subject, to demonstrate her willingness to compromise and collaborate, as well as to help Jack save face. Upon this, the team should develop a clear sense of purpose regarding the project’s mission, objectives, and priorities. The main focus is to finish the project for the client. This way, the project may be implemented more effectively. A downside might be Jack’s unwillingness to accept the change. Jack’s resistance to adapt to his new position will further jeopardize the team and the project.
As the world of business is increasingly global, interactions among people of different cultures and increased. International managers must do extensive research on the desires and expectations of colleagues, superiors and subordinates, both in professional and social settings. Simultaneously, managers have to support the control and coordination of dispersed activities in the competitive global market place. Failure to address cultural differences may damage projects and alliances. The more understanding of the other culture, the more feasible it will be to arrive at a shared way of working together.”