Korea’s Natural Resource - People

By Steve McKinney

President, McKinney Consulting Inc. 

Korea’s economic development, often described as the miracle on the Han River, was no miracle. It was a direct result of the effective and efficient leveraging of the only natural resource Korea has always had in abundance: the will of its people.

Sandwiched between Japan and China, with virtually no natural resources to speak of, Korea's great strength has always been its people and its people’s desire to overcome whatever obstacles stood in their way. Endowed with an inexhaustible source of energy and a “can-do” attitude Korea’s populace never fails to astound. It is a natural resource the Government of Korea has come to rely on during the last 50 years of Korea’s race to modernity. When something needed getting done, government, management, and the military could count on the strength of the people to “make it happen.” The strength of the people included overcoming the after effects of war, famine, national division, and development. The Korean people have always “made it happen.”

Through these challenges, some companies rise to the top and survive while others fall off the figurative cliff never to be heard from again. In the business of talent management or more specifically executive search (more commonly referred to as headhunters or recruiters), the landscape is changing in Korea and globally.

The industry started over 60 years ago based upon a need that surfaced after World War II. Management Consulting firms began to expand their product offering to include searching for executives to fill positions in their client companies. In the 50’s and 60’s executive search grew rapidly around the world. However, since that time there is little change in the industry until now.

Now, it is imperative that the client feels that the search company is proven trustworthy. Not all are trustworthy. The search firm’s honest assessment of these candidates is imperative to establishing trust and respect.

Also, the ability to identify, manage the process correctly and present a wide range of high-quality candidates to choose from is the norm. With the advent of technology, finding people is much easier for everyone. However, finding talent is only one part of the equation. For example, if you want to find a house, simply look down the street. If you want to purchase a house, it is best to select a realtor. 

Without a choice, it is hard for the hiring manager to believe they have made the best hiring decision. If they, for example, have four strong candidates, all qualified to do the job to choose from; they will feel satisfied once they settle on one that best fits the position and the company.

To find a candidate that best fits the company it is necessary for the search consultant to understand the client’s business, their needs as well as their corporate culture. Consider that one candidate interviewing for two similar companies addressing the same market with almost identical products could be a complete success or a complete failure due to not matching with the corporate culture of the company.

Some consultants and firms are better at evaluating and assessing talent than others. In our firm, we have a methodology that closely mimics the corporate culture of our clients. We use this in our assessment, and it has proven successful. 

Another area of value is market research and the consultative approach. No one is better at this than the search consultant. He or she communicates daily with real people in senior positions of companies and knows the real truth of what is going on inside companies. What is of more value? A list of names of potential candidates alone, or accompanied market research that might tell you the behind the scenes story of why the candidate may be willing to leave his current role and what is going on with his current employer. 

The ability to provide a diverse group of candidates is of great value. How do you know if you are hiring the best if you have no other candidate to compare? The search consultant can find passive candidates that are not actively looking for a new position.  

The discipline and professional process of a search is of value because of the integrity that it brings to the process. It also spreads a wider net with no political or in-house territorial disputes involved. Expertise and insight into the marketplace, trends, best practices, competitive landscape and access to top talent is the hall \mark of a great search firm.

So, if this is all true then what is changing? More and more companies are getting into the industry that is less professional. For example, most of them are not members of the Association of Executive Search and Leadership Consultants which promotes the highest ethical standards within our industry because they do not want to provide or live up to these high standards. Clients can be caught unaware and by the services of a weaker organization and feel that the entire industry is the same when it is not. The search process has now added many new tools which aid in the identification and selection process for the better search firms.

Also, change has arrived in the form of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Many new industries and companies are popping up in Korea and around the globe. According to research completed by PWC, there are nine new technologies which are behind this fourth industrial revolution. These are:

1. 3-D simulation using real-time data to monitor and adjust various pieces of the manufacturing operations.

2. Horizontal and vertical system integration will allow companies, departments, and functions more integration.

3. Autonomous Robots will continue to evolve and be able to do more and interact with each other and humans more directly.

4. Additive Manufacturing such as 3-D for small quantities of products in addition to the research and development functions that it has been performing.

5. The Industrial Internet of Things will provide more computing functions.

6. Big Data and analytics from all kinds of sources will be used to make real-time decisions.

7. Cybersecurity takes on a whole new meaning with the influx of so much technology and new data and will become increasingly important to protect knowledge and know how.

8. Augmented reality-based systems support such as selecting parts in a warehouse and delivering it to a destination will be common place.

9. The Cloud is where everything will be stored and crosses all boundaries. Every system that we monitor could become cloud based.

As time changes so do the Koreans. For the nearly 30 years that I have been doing business with Koreans, they have focused on research and development activities and investment looking for the future. When I was the head of R&D for Adidas globally, our Korean R&D center was the best in the world. Korea has a track record of using their greatest natural resource, their people, and I do not see that ending anytime soon. 

Steven B. McKinney is the founder & President of McKinney Consulting Inc. (IRC Korea) a partner firm of IRC Global Executive Search Partners (Top 3 Globally) with over 17 years of experience as a consultant in executive search and leadership consulting placing 100’s of executives of multinational companies in Korea and Asia-wide. Mr. McKinney is also the co-founder of the Korea Business Leaders Association (KBLA). He earned the distinction of Certified Master Coach from Behavioral Coaching Institute and a certificate in Leadership Coaching Strategies from Harvard University. Previously he managed global footwear R&D efforts for Adidas International and oversaw manufacturing production and R&D duties for Reebok International in Korea.

Tags: executive, search, headhunter, recruit, recruiter, consulting, korea, south korea, Human Resource