The Korean had this comment in mind when he encountered this article, which perfectly illustrated the value of discipline.The end of the comments section begins to get into the difference between Korean and, let's say, Canadian culture. And that is, the value of discipline. It seems as though Koreans value discipline for discipline's sake. I remember reading in a book that Grammar Translation method (translating entire textbooks from English to Korean) was valuable on some kind of spiritual level. If you go to a typical Korean English classroom, you'll see a lot of discipline, but you'll also see a lot of glazed over eyes and hear many a droning, monotonous teacher. Where's the passion? My students are very diligent in rote memorizing, but outside of class the majority profess to HATE English. The idea that school must be horrendously boring, but long, to create disciplined people that have the ability to put up with endless boring work days, actually scares me quite a bit. That's life? What is the value of discipline if it is not accompanied by passion? I'd be interested to see some stats on the levels of job-satisfaction that Koreans feel relative to people in other countries. I get the feeling that Korean high school students, as a whole, are remarkably disciplined, but wholly unsatisfied. I wonder if this translates into the work world.
Case Study: LG Electronic's English-as-Official Language Policy
Every weekday at 9:30 a.m., the underground parking lot at LG Twin Towers in Seoul Yeo'uido-dong livens up, as the twenty-five chauffeurs for LG executives begin studying conversational English. They open their books and learn such English expressions as: "Welcome to LG Electronics," "I will be your driver during your stay in Korea." Instead of business English, they are learning "driver" English.
It has become a rare sight for LG Electronics to send an interpreter to accompany a driver simply to welcome a buyer from abroad. This is one of the changes caused by LG Electronic's "English as Official Language" (EOL) policy, implemented two years ago.
The First Attempt at English as Official Language in Korea
LG Electronics received attention by becoming the first Korean corporation to declare 2008 as the "Year One for English as Official Language" While there were many companies that emphasized the importance of utilizing English in everyday business, LG Electronics was the first company that actually implemented the EOL policy. Starting 2008, strategy meetings were conducted in English, and the email sent abroad had to be written in English as well. Various paperwork other than email had to be written in English also. Electronic systems regarding human resources, accounting, production and sales also changed into English. Some said the policy cannot last for long. The employees criticized it as "inefficient," and were subject to significant stress.
Two years passed since. The most notable change is that there are increasing number of employees who create and translate English paperwork on their own. Kim Nami, head of English Communication Center that supports the in-house translation, said: "There were many requests for translating paperwork in English two or three years ago, but now the majority of the request is speech interpretation," and added "Even the speech interpretation requests are usually from non-Korean employees who have active external business."
Speech ability improved as well. At the seminar held by Global Education Forum in November of last year, LG Electronics' Gyeongnam Changwon Consumer Electronics Headquarters -- considered the gold standard for implementing the EOL policy -- announced, "The scores for spoken English test (SEPT) went from Level 3.3 in 2006 to Level 5.2 in 2009."
Hong Jeom-Pyo, manager for HE Business Headquarters, said, "English feels a lot closer since the EOL started" because there were many more opportunities to face English in such places as the CEO's message, various reports and the company newsletter. Since the EOL policy began, the "English infrastructure" such as conversational English study groups rapidly spread within the company.
The HR policy also changed to become more English-focused such that without English skills, being hired or promoted has become more difficult. As a condition for a promotion, LG Electronics adopted TOEIC Speaking Exam that focuses more on conversational abilities instead of regular TOEIC examination. One-on-one English interview is also heavily considered for new hires. The company explains that such change was only possible because the policy was not simply to use Korean and English together, but to accept English as the official language.
More Power to the Overseas Branch
Overseas branches of LG Electronics are welcoming the global headquarter's EOL policy. There are increasing examples of the overseas branch taking the lead on creating high-quality "premium products." Previously, overseas branches mostly focused on middle- to low-level products because the language barrier made difficult the information exchange between the branch and the headquarters -- a crucial requirement for developing a premium product. But as the business cooperation increased in English, the research-and-development capacity for local subsidiaries is improving.
Because of the improved image that English is welcome even though LG Electronics is a Korean company, local candidates are more receptive to working for LG Electronics as well. LG Electronics representative said, "The number of applicants for overseas branch increased by two or three times because of LG Electronics' image as a global corporation rather than a Korean one."
The business exchanges between the overseas branch and the headquarter have become faster as well. In the past, the successive interpretation doubled the meeting time; now most items are simply discussed in English. The employees for overseas branch became more active and confident in cooperating with the headquarters. When a Korean document is sent via email to an overseas branch, non-Korean employees now feel more comfortable asking for an English translation.
Not a Choice, but a Requirement
There are still many voices of skepticism. One employee said, "I just feel embarrassed of myself when it takes me two hours of strenuous effort in English for a paperwork that I could have written in thirty minutes." Another employee explain, "It's fine most of the time, but it drives me crazy when I have to persuade someone in a meeting." These are the inefficiencies that LG Electronics must overcome.
There is also concern of overestimating the English ability when English is no more than a tool. The stress from considering English only as a condition for promotion instead of practically using the language may be excessive for the employees.
However, the greatest change in the recent times is that, regardless of English level, there is an atmosphere in the company that the employees are taking the EOL policy seriously. One LG Electronics executive said, "The employees who thought 'This can't last long' have given up and began to buy into it."
Prof. Mo Jong-Lin, a professor at Yonsei University Graduate School of Globalization who researches the EOL policy for corporations, said: "In order to attract the best non-Korean talent and succeed as a global corporation, the EOL policy is not a choice -- it is a requirement." A fitting message for LG Electronics, already a global corporation with 50,000 non-Korean employees out of the total 80,000 employees.
LG전자의 영어공용화 케이스스터디 (Dong-A Ilbo)
The Korean's thoughts about the value of discipline reflected in this article, after the jump.
Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at firstname.lastname@example.org.
While there are many topics in this article worth discussing, the Korean wants to focus on the show of discipline in this article. Take a step back and think about this: a Korean company, whose headquarter is filled only with Koreans for the most part, made English its official language. Not just one more language that everyone should know, but the only language that any of its employees can speak when conducting business. Even the chauffeurs -- the chauffeurs! -- are required to learn English every morning so that they can speak English while driving clients from the airport to the company building.
Of course, one needs some perspective. LG Electronics is one of the best companies in Korea. Generally, people who work for LG Electronics are no slouches; in fact, they are the best and the brightest that Korea can offer. But think about how this would play out in an American company that tends to attract the best and the brightest -- for example, say, Goldman Sachs.
According to Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stones,
"a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity,
relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money."
(But the Korean thinks it is simply misunderstood.)
Suppose Goldman Sachs announced this new company policy tomorrow:
How quickly will every employee at Goldman quit after this announcement? 10 seconds? 0.005 seconds? If a bookie at Las Vegas had to set an over-under betting line for the "time it takes for all Goldman employees to quit," the line would have to be set between the time it takes everyone to say, "I quit!" and the time it takes people to say, "Fuck this, I quit!""Dear employees. China is a rising economic power that is certain to be a major player in the financial world tomorrow, if it is not already so today. As the global leader in financial services, Goldman Sachs must seize the vast opportunity that lies ahead of us. Therefore, effective immediately, we are requiring every single Goldman Sachs business function conducted in Chinese. The firm will provide as much opportunity for tutoring and translation, but from this point on all Goldman Sachs business will be conducted in Chinese. All reports must be written in Chinese, all meetings must be run using Chinese and all emails must be written in Chinese. In addition, your Chinese ability will factor heavily into your performance review. Good luck."
Of course, because America is the best and strongest country in the world, this type of policy is never necessary for an American company. As America goes, so goes the world; that is the whole point of being an American. But obviously, the same is not true for Korea, which was -- if you recall -- a war-torn shithole that was not much better than Afghanistan of today mere 60 years ago.
And sure enough, while all Goldman employees might quit, LG Electronics employees stayed on. Yes, as the article describes, they have complained and gritted their teeth. They surely would have lost some hair and sleep because of the stress caused by the policy. But two years later, the official language for LG Electronics is English, and there can be no doubt that the company is better positioned as a global firm thanks to that.
What is the value of discipline, you ask? THIS is the value of discipline. With disciplined people, you can ask for the impossible -- and those disciplined people will deliver the impossible, like turning themselves into an English-using company in a matter of two years.
Of course, balance and moderation must be required. The whole society cannot be run like a military. The proper question is not "What value must be championed at the cost of everything else?", but "What value must we emphasize while recognizing the necessity for all else?" Critics of Korea (the Korean himself included) are absolutely correct when they say Korea's emphasis for discipline can sometimes go overboard. For example, the Korean thinks that Korean educational system often deny its students the opportunity to find something about which they are passionate -- and certainly, as Strayblog pointed out, passion is an important element of life. But at the end of the day, the Korean believes that Korean society and educational system (which shapes the societal values) are fundamentally on the right track, because they emphasize discipline first.
Putting passion first is no more than a ninny's excuse. (Where's the passion? Have you seen a Korean sporting event?) It is an excuse for immaturity that says, "I will only do what I like to do." If you are one of the few people who can live your life doing the work about which you are passionate, good for you. The Korean means it -- you are very fortunate, because the vast majority of the people never feel passionate about their jobs. This is true for all societies in the world. For those people, what will carry them through their jobs? Without discipline, what will make them strive for excellence? Even when people are at a job about which they are passionate, they cannot be passionate about every aspect of their job, not all the time. Even the most glamorous Hollywood actors and actresses -- the dream job for many people in the world -- must wake up at 5:30 a.m. in order to get to the location when the sunlight is just right.
Here is the simple truth: with a minimum level of intellect and diligence, virtually anyone will do well what one likes to do. Which means that doing well the part one hates the most will be the difference between one and one's competitors. This is such an important point that it bears repeating. It's not about doing what you like to do. Anybody can do well what she likes to do. It's about mastering what you are indifferent about doing, or even hate doing. And discipline is what carries you when you are trying to master what you hate. When a whole company exercises discipline, that company will do better than other companies. When a whole country exercises discipline, that country will do better than other countries. Only with discipline can you be better than you can even dream of. America's best era was built on the backs of people who had unflinching discipline. Korea's best era is yet to come, but you can be sure that Koreans are ready for the hard work.
And that, my friends, is the value of discipline.
Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at email@example.com.