Questions and Thoughts at Work
During my five and half years of working experience in Korea, as an engineer (2 years) and a sales/marketing manager (3.5 years), I was following my predecessor’s footsteps without questioning, not allowed to share my opinions in many cases and drinking almost every night with vendors, teammates and other teams until 2–3am then still expected to be at the office by 7:30–8am. All of those day-to-day tasks that most of the Korean businessperson experiences throughout his or her career made me tired of keep walking inside the squirrel treadmill created by Korean corporate culture.
Also, I could not motivate myself enough to learn more things about the industry, learn more about how the world is going and so on, because there were not that many rooms to use my added knowledge even if I learn more things and I did not have enough time to use on my own with multiple corporate tasks and work related social activities every day. I felt like I am getting dumber every day, and I was worried that how can I survive mentally and physically with that lifestyle I had at that time.
I always wanted to go back to the United States after I experienced some of it in the year 2004–2005 while staying with my cousin in Chicago, so I pushed myself to divide little free times that I had and prepared GMAT and everything else for applying MBA.
I got into one of the MBAs here and time has passed, and I found myself working in the US for more than two years now. Obviously, there are a number of similarities and differences in US corporate culture and Korean corporate culture and I feel like I am lucky to experience both parts. Now I am not asking questions that I used to ask myself while working in Korea, but there are a number of different questions that I am asking myself every day.
How can I efficiently help our employees?
As somebody who fresh out of masters program, I had an “idea” of how I want to collaborate with my team members at the time (It was three people marketing team that I had to collaborate and lead) but I was not 100% ready for various situation I handled after I join the current organization. Every member of my team was used to work alone in our organization without close supervision and they had previous “histories” with each other that I was not aware of. At least I had enough knowledge and sense for marketing to make them follow my lead on projects, but it was a rough start with troublemakers.
Even though I was in charge of managing contract employees in Korea, but I was not leading the multiple groups of people at the same time like I currently do.
Now I am working with multiple teams in our organization and have more experience in collaborating with different levels of employees, but I still ask myself lots of questions whenever situations happen. Should I react this way or that way? Is this the right way to advise this person for her development? Was it too personal reaction of mine? Should I make my face more serious? The list goes on and on as my tenure continues here.
During my first few months, I think frequently about how would my teammates feel that they are working with an Asian guy from South Korea (It should not be “that” special, but my organization has 2 Asian male out of over 800 employees and we are located in Midwest). But now I know that they do not necessarily care too much about that fact as long as we are working and communicating well together. Also, I am getting used to working in the current environment and got much better than the first few months as I grow together with my co-workers and team members.
I work with a recent college graduate employee who is really excited to start her journey of a lifelong career, and I also work with an almost-retiree employee who is burning her last gauge of fuel to help one of our team tremendously. With the different stage of life that our employees are in and different tasks that they have to deal with every day, I need to be more efficient and need to work more to create a better environment for all of them.
One of the hardest things for me is how can I help my co-workers grow, and how can I be the better resource (Sometimes mentor?) for anybody who works with me. Our organization is not in the best shape for its employees to grow internally, and I do not want to make them to accept this environment granted just because they are working for the company. It might be empty thoughts and empty questions since most of the employees that I working with are older than me and worked longer than me in this industry, but I believe that I have something that I can share with them and make their work life worthwhile. I hope to help them grow, not just breath under the day-to-day routine.
How can I change the corporate culture? What is the best way to set the expectations?
The company that I am currently working for is not a multinational organization or international organization, and we are a family owned company that operates in several states here in the US.
Sometimes I consider my company as a 40-year-old start-up, since i) our leader has a very strong entrepreneurial mindset, ii) we do not have some aspects of the normal things that a seasoned company like us would already have and iii) there are more frequent changes in staff than any of my previous companies.
The employees must enjoyed flexibility and chances to try new things, but that created some of the problems that our current culture has within the whole organization. We lack centralized control of resources and people, accountability and focus. I can go on a little bit more, but I am still working here at the end of the day and I love my job.
One of the most ambitious things that I would like to achieve while I am working here is to change part of the company culture, thus to achieve a better efficiency. We are a great bunch of people who regard each other as a family, and our mission/vision/value contains something that I really want to follow for a long time. We should keep the positive part of the culture that we already have, but we also really need to take a serious look at what we are currently doing less efficient and what we are missing.
Make workers work, make supervisors supervise, make supporting teams support in timely, effective and professional manner should not be regarded as a change that attacks our great cultural ground that we had for a long time. We started with one location and now we operate more than 50 locations in different states, so our operation should have been changed as we were growing bigger. However, some of the people in the organization still stay in the long gone past that is not going to come back. They often openly describe an unrealistic and unclear past as the golden time of our company that we should follow. I believe that it might be true in a certain level, but I also believe a better way to remember the “golden time” is to continue following our mission, vision, and value, rather than stick with some inefficient practices that we had.
I saw above cartoon in LinkedIn and I spent more time than I should with afterthoughts about the cartoon itself and how it can be applied in my organization.
In many cases, our communication goes totally opposite way than what cartoon says. I have numerous emails that I can remember that I had to explain where I am coming from a line by line, and I also remember a number of “follow-up” emails between high-level managements on many meaningful/less-meaningful/meaningless topics. I remember some of the emails from newly hired associates that contains very short sentences with wrong/upside-down attachments. I found it very interesting.
There can be many explanations for this situation that we have, but I think this comes from how we set the expectations for each of our role and each situation. What are our expectations for the executives? What are our expectations for the associates? What if they are not at the level that we wanted when we hire them? Are we expect them to educate themselves then suddenly perform better? What are new hires expect us to do? Are we providing enough training on this?
It will be difficult for us to build the exact same level of understandings on each business across the board (Since we have various businesses we operate very differently), but high-level managements should have the same level of understandings on basic principle, operation philosophy, and culture. There are things that should not need to be explained or discussed too specifically among the certain level of employees, but we sometimes spend too much time on those communications and cannot focus on more important and urgent tasks.
Culture, expectation, and accountability are things that I consistently thinking about every day ever since I realized how important to set those things straight within the organization. I do not have definite answers to my numerous questions right now, but I believe that I will be getting close to my answers in any shape or form.
How can I make the most out of this experience?
While it is extremely intriguing and exciting to experience all above with my current company, it is hard for me to not to think about whether this experience is going to give enough help for me to move forward.
Even though I half-jokingly wrote above that I feel like my company is a start-up, it is not a start-up as people in the business world acknowledge, and it is not a Fortune 500 company like many of my MBA classmates are currently working for. I think the size of my company cannot explain all of my experiences and skills that I learned here, but I know that it might look like a lesser or weaker experience than an experience from bigger and fancier organization in some people’s mind.
So, what can I do to make my days more valuable in the current situation that I have?
- More detailed and wider communication : I want to take advantage of my current situation that my company has relatively fewer employees. I am mostly only working with managements and higher level supervisors because of my marketing projects, but I think I should communicate more with lower level workers that we have. Since we have a smaller number of employees and most of our employees are located in close distance from my office, I am sure that I can have more intimate communication with them and that will give me more learning experiences daily.
- Keep myself updated on the industry and other things : It is really challenging to keep myself updated on the newest information (Law, offering, model changes and new movements) while spending most of my times on day-to-day operations, but I think I should make use of my time more efficiently and force myself to check how and where the industry is going. I read many things every day on Twitter, Facebook, Newsletters and RSS Feeds to catch up, but I really need to prioritize my topics with less time available for me to fully focus.
- Keep working hard : I believe in hard working and I kept myself working hard since my first day in this organization. Some of the questions and worries I have should not prevent me from working hard and delivering results here. It is going to be really ridiculous if I keep asking myself great questions and not delivering my work at the organization while doing that, and that is why I should continue working hard under current circumstances and continue looking for ways to upgrade myself.
Also, I really want to expand my network out of my job and have somebody (A mentor) that I can have a conversation about the industry and the work itself. I keep making excuses to myself that I am too busy for all of that, but I really cannot stay as is and I need to be out there.
I sincerely believe that what I learned and what I will learn from my working experience in the US will help me a lot to grow and mature in many different levels, and I also believe that I need to ask questions like in this post regularly to make myself realizing that how am I doing inside and outside of the organization.
I know that I am truly blessed to have this opportunity, and I will work hard to make changes a little by little every day.