Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Samsung Field Internship

Recently I received an email from Brian, a Korean who recently moved to our city. Brian is a Christian and wanted to find a church to attend so my wife and I asked him to join us. After services we had lunch and he told us his story.

Brian is a PK (preachers kid) who works for Samsung. His company sent he and twenty-two other Koreans to live one year and do research in this culture on business practices. Though Brian is married with two children, they did not come with him to the country. The structure of Brian’s one-year internship is not well defined, though he is expected to send reports to Samsung regularly on what he is learning. After this internship he may return to this country as one of their overseas managers, though that is not guaranteed.

As a trainer in cross-cultural studies I, of course, was interested in this program. At first blush I observed a few things that was both positive and negative in this internship model. On the positive side, I liked the idea that Samsung has sent people out to ask questions first, rather than coming with a market assumption. This is a continual drumbeat for me -- ask the questions before giving the answers. Too many times in businesses, including church business, there is a focus on selling the product before even knowing if the product has a market.

I’ve told this story before, but before I moved to Asia I spent a good deal of time visiting leaders to learn what the need was. I believe what I do is vital, but I wasn’t sure (a) if anyone else saw “my product” as important and, (b) if there was anyone else already here providing the same service as I do. No need to sell a product that is not needed or try to sell something to an already saturated market. If the church and missions would follow this model, I believe our work would be more effective.

The other thing I liked about Samsung’s approach was that they made it clear that, though twenty-two came over together, they were to live and work separately. After one year it will be interesting to analyze the notes of each intern. What are the common experiences? Who did well and why? Who did not do well, and why? What did each of them learn about the culture and how can they use that information for the benefit of the company?

Living separately also insures that the participants actually lean on the host culture or other expat business people for their cultural discovery, not just from their own cultural group.

The fact that the family is not involved in this project is both a strength and a weakness. It’s a strength in that the husband can focus on the job he was sent to do and not be consumed with making the family comfortable. New people coming to the field spend half, or more, of their first term dealing family adjustments (housing, schooling, etc.). The weakness in this approach is that if Brain is assigned to this country after the internship there is no guarantee that his wife and kids will adjust. Companies of every business suffer with attrition because the family cannot cope in an overseas environment. What the Korean family has over American family is the extended family structure. Brain’s family lives with his parents and is well taken care of, but that doesn’t mean that his wife will adjust to an overseas environment.

The major weakness of the program is that Samsung did not provide ANY pre-field training before sending this group on their internship. So, basically, these people are trying to discover the answers without having an idea of what questions to ask. Even a one week intensive on cultural anthropology designed to help people think about what to look for in another culture would enrich their internship tremendously. To send people to find their own way is a huge flaw in strategy.

Brian will probably do well. I think Samsung will be happy with this man’s work as he is mature and seems to have a well thought out plan for what he will be doing for a year. I would encourage all businesses, and especially those involved in Kingdom business, to think about how to better prepare people for cross-cultural work.