Korea is probably more heavily influenced by Confucian values than any other business culture (including China).
Confucian ethics permeate all aspects of working life, from management systems to interpersonal relations and although both
Western and Japanese influences are becoming stronger, there is a deep well of conservatism within Korean society which makes change difficult, slow and somewhat painful.
Confucian ethics emphasise the value of collective group harmony, respect for authority (and therefore management), as well as the all embracing importance of family, clan and friendship. Thus, as in countries like Japan and China, the quality of the relationships developed are the real key to business success at both a personal and a corporate level. A Korean saying highlights the all-important nature of networking and relationships -
'make a friend first and a client second.' The key to creating good relationships lies in one's ability to play the Confucian game. It is important to appear to be an honourable, trustworthy and respectable person.
The economic downturn experienced in South Korea during the Asian currency crisis (as well as many other Asian countries)
South Korea Business Structures
Korean companies have traditionally been characterised by a high degree of both centralisation and vertical hierarchy. Most large chaebols (large business conglomerates)
have been family affairs with the founder's family continuing to exert a great deal of direct executive authority.
This has led to a system where most decisions are executed at the top and delegated downwards along strong lines of authority.
Basic Confucian tenets of respect for age, seniority and family have ensured an adherence to and acceptance of this system. The introduction of modern, western management theories (often introduced by American educated Koreans) will obviously add new tensions to this approach and the recent economic problems have added impetus to the calls for reform of Korean company structures and dependencies.
As well as the formal hierarchy which often stresses specialisation of function and task, those dealing with Korean companies would do well to try to gain some insight into the informal structures which are often the real internal power mechanisms. These informal structures are usually dependent upon a complex web of personal relationships and loyalties and can be difficult to see or understand without the help of a local 'guide'.to inward investment. precipitated a period of great introspection which has in many traditional beliefs and approaches being challenged both internally and externally.
Thus, South Korea is a business culture at a significant crossroads with a great need to find an accommodation between traditional values and modern management practice.
Etiquette & Customs in South KoreaMeeting Etiquette
. Greetings follow strict rules of protocol.
. Many South Koreans shake hands with expatriates after the bow, thereby blending both cultural styles.
. The person of lower status bows to the person of higher status, yet it is the most senior person who initiates the handshake.
. The person who initiates the bow says, "man-na-suh pan-gop-sumnida", which means "pleased to meet you."
. Information about the other person will be given to the person they are being introduced to in advance of the actual meeting.
. Wait to be introduced at a social gathering.
. When you leave a social gathering, say good-bye and bow to each person individually
Gift Giving Etiquette
. Gifts express a great deal about a relationship and are always reciprocated.
. It is inconsiderate to give someone an expensive gift if you know that they cannot afford to reciprocate accordingly.
. Bring fruit or good quality chocolates or flowers if invited to a Korean's home.