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Samsung Plans To Give Up Authoritarian Ways, Act Like a Startup 98

An anonymous reader writes: Samsung on Thursday announced that it plans to reform its internal culture to act like a startup. Se Young Lee reports for Reuters, "Samsung's executives will sign a pledge to move away from a top-down culture and towards a working environment that fosters open dialogue. The flagship firm of South Korea's dominant conglomerate will also reduce the number of levels in its staff hierarchy and hold more frequent online discussions between business division heads and employees. [...] The pronouncement is the latest among sweeping changes attempted at a time of crisis by the conglomerate and carries echoes of a 1993 exhortation by Samsung Group patriarch Lee Kun-hee to executives to 'change everything but your wife and children.'"
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Samsung Plans To Give Up Authoritarian Ways, Act Like a Startup

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Sell their stock now.

    I've been in several companies that tried this to be "fast and maneuverable" but the reality is that corporation shattered into dozens of fiefdoms some with their own "warlords" who didn't want to work towards a common goal but were more interested in maintaining their own power. Good teams stayed good but bad teams got worse.

    An open culture is great but the hierarchy is there for a very hard and concrete reason - For the CEO to manage control of the company's production units.

    TL;DR -

    • by Qzukk ( 229616 )

      that corporation shattered into dozens of fiefdoms some with their own "warlords"

      So pretty much like every other multinational megacorp with hundreds of divisions each jostling for a share of the budget.

      the CEO just abdicated his role

      Did he abdicate? Or did he just throw a half-dozen layers of middle management out of the plane?

      • Did he abdicate? Or did he just throw a half-dozen layers of middle management out of the plane?

        why not both?

      • Did he abdicate? Or did he just throw a half-dozen layers of middle management out of the plane?

        No, he does the Hitler thing and encourages his underlings to jostle for his table scraps, so that they'll all be too busy to usurping him.

  • by jeffb (2.718) ( 1189693 ) on Thursday March 24, 2016 @01:34PM (#51770249)

    ...is definitely an announcement that top executives are going to sign a pledge. Ask any worker under conditions of strict anonymity, and I'm sure they'll cite the lack of executive-level pledges as their main day-to-day impediment.

    • by khasim ( 1285 )

      I once worked for a company where all the executives took a week long "retreat" to work on improving the business.

      After a week of working together, they added one line to the "value statement".

      Not the "mission statement".

      Not the "vision statement".

      They extended the "value statement" to include a line about valuing the employees.

      And a few years later that company went under.

      • by ffkom ( 3519199 )
        I once was a participant in such a "retreat". And believe me, even if you are a senior manager, you've got no way of telling your CEO that all this talk about "values" and "statements" is utter bullshit unless you actually start changing how you act, not just how you talk. But changing how you act might involve doing things with no immediate ROI seen by the C-level guys, so it does not happen. This "management retreat" stuff is just a complete waste of time.
      • by sjames ( 1099 )

        So close and yet so far! If they had stayed away another year or two, the company might have made a dramatic recovery.

    • ...is definitely an announcement that top executives are going to sign a pledge.

      I hope everyone realise that pledge isn't worth the paper it's printed on.

  • by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Thursday March 24, 2016 @01:37PM (#51770295)

    Samsung on Thursday announced that it plans to reform its internal culture to act like a startup.

    Big companies cannot act like a startup. The very structures [wikipedia.org] that allow them to be big prevent it from happening. They protect their current businesses and they ignore market opportunities that are too small to move their balance sheet. Big companies pay mouth service to trying to "act like a startup" but the plain fact is that doing so is impossible and unnecessary. Being big has lots of advantages. GE has been huge for over a century but they've updated their business as times have changed and have not acted like a startup since they were one.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Nonsense. Startups are defined by low compensation, promises of future prosperity, and vaporware. Samsung can adopt all of those quite easily without losing a single bureaucrat.

    • Thanks for paraphrasing, "The Innovator's Dilemma".

  • The pronouncement is the latest among sweeping changes attempted at a time of crisis by the conglomerate and carries echoes of a 1993 exhortation by Samsung Group patriarch Lee Kun-hee to executives to 'change everything but your wife and children.

    As if no executives are ever married to any men whatsoever? What a clodly thing to say.

    But on the other hand.. that lowly line will likely make a good story for tomorrow's Slashdot. It's a thorny issue indeed: why would you NOT want to change your children? Isn't the whole point of raising a kid to have it change into something semi-acceptable if not passable?

    • As if no executives are ever married to any men whatsoever? What a clodly thing to say.

      In an East Asian conglomerate?! You know, now that I think about it, the main reason has jumped the shark is because it's largely achieved its mission... but that's only over here. It still might serve a purpose in Korea, however... can we get them to take it off our hands? Everybody would benefit.

    • The pronouncement is the latest among sweeping changes attempted at a time of crisis by the conglomerate and carries echoes of a 1993 exhortation by Samsung Group patriarch Lee Kun-hee to executives to 'change everything but your wife and children.

      As if no executives are ever married to any men whatsoever?

      ~25 years ago? Probably not.

  • root causes (Score:5, Interesting)

    by supernova87a ( 532540 ) <kepler1@NOspAM.hotmail.com> on Thursday March 24, 2016 @02:08PM (#51770633)
    Hah... Doomed to fail, or make only very little difference, unless the company also leads social change as a national brand.

    Korean work culture is all kinds of fucked up, and everyone is unwillingly complicit. Everyone does it, for some unknown reason, so you feel you have to do it too.

    Examples:

    -- Expected late working hours until the boss leaves, sometimes >10pm, because showing your face at work is more valued than the work itself getting done. And the boss probably feels pressure to stay late, to not appear lazy. Very little actual work gets done in those late hours.

    -- Expected drinks with colleagues after work into the late hours, and not only that but also shady, overtly sexist atmospheres and goings-on at bars. If you don't partake you're viewed as not part of the team.

    -- If you get home early for some reason (say 10pm), your wife asks you if something is wrong at work?

    -- Even kids are in on the ingrained culture - they go to cram schools into the late hours past midnight, to prep for college entrance exams. Good training for later life.

    Something is deeply wrong with this culture, which one big company might be able change if it threw itself headlong at the problem and declared certain practices forbidden - to help change the "understood practices". But I doubt that is the extent they're willing to go.

    The sad thing is that if you take a Korean and transplant him/her to a different culture, they would do just fine living a normal, not fucked-up lifestyle as in their home country.
    • Expected late working hours... Expected drinks with colleagues after work into the late hours... overtly sexist atmospheres and goings-on at bars....Even kids are in on the ingrained culture - they go to cram schools into the late hours past midnight,

      So what you are saying here is that Samsung is already a tech startup.

    • Hah... Doomed to fail, or make only very little difference, unless the company also leads social change as a national brand. Korean work culture is all kinds of fucked up, and everyone is unwillingly complicit. Everyone does it, for some unknown reason, so you feel you have to do it too. Examples: -- Expected late working hours until the boss leaves, sometimes >10pm, because showing your face at work is more valued than the work itself getting done. And the boss probably feels pressure to stay late, to not appear lazy. Very little actual work gets done in those late hours.

      In the previous decade I worked for what was probably the 2nd most important American office for a major European telco. I don't like to name them because frankly they don't deserve any publicity, not even bad publicity, after they way they have treated their American employees over the years. Once I got sent to our HQ office in Europe and my co-workers were very honest with me and told me that almost every day they worked 10 hours or more, but the last 2-3 hours were a complete waste of time. They were

    • by jrand ( 539209 )

      The Korean drama Misaeng / Incomplete Life [viki.com] does a great job of capturing some of the pressures of Korean office culture. I was drawn into it because the main character was once an aspiring Go professional and there are frequent references to the game throughout the show, but the office drama is really the centerpiece of the show.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      -- Expected late working hours until the boss leaves, sometimes >10pm,

      Ha, I remember an anecdote I read a long, long time ago about an American office manager in Japan (which I assume is relatively rare).

      He liked to work late and this was causing a lot of tension in the office because, as you say, nobody wanted to leave before the office manager.

      He solved the problem, at quitting time he would put on his jacket, pick up his briefcase, walk out the door and take a leisurely stroll around the block.

      When h

    • On the plus side, this culturally enforced work ethic makes Koreans very good at esports.
  • An aircraft carrier can go fast enough so that you could water-ski behind it. It can launch more planes than some country's entire air forces. It almost certainly has some gun emplacements and many sailors with small arms. If pirates in speedboats attack it, they are toast... but not because the carrier out-maneuvers them.

    • by rhazz ( 2853871 )
      So Samsung is the aircraft carrier and the employees are the pirates?
      • No. The pirates are startups. The employees could be pirates though, if they quit and joined startups. The penalty for doing that would be considerably less severe than deserting the US Navy and joining pirates.

    • What kind of legal team does the aircraft carrier have?
      • I guess if we're going to extend the analogy a bit... allied nations and whatever ships they provide, or actual international laws that allow them to use deadly force to stop the pirates. As always, if it mapped perfectly it wouldn't be an analogy. It would be the thing we're talking about.

      • What kind of legal team does the aircraft carrier have?

        Remember that part about "It almost certainly has some gun emplacements and many sailors with small arms." Legal team in its most primitive form.

  • by SeaFox ( 739806 ) on Thursday March 24, 2016 @02:09PM (#51770651)

    Everyone work 60-80 hour weeks (as on-call for those "budding business emergencies") and take a 30% pay cut!

  • "Other moves in recent years to ease a rigid corporate culture include flexible working hours, a loosening of dress code requirements for weekend work and less pressure on employees to attend after-work drinking sessions that have long been a staple of Korean corporate life."

    Loosening of dress code for weekend work? Somewhat less pressure for mandatory binge drinking? Wow, thanks!!! [bows vigorously]

    • a loosening of dress code requirements for weekend work

      Anyone else seeing the irony?

    • "Other moves in recent years to ease a rigid corporate culture include flexible working hours, a loosening of dress code requirements for weekend work and less pressure on employees to attend after-work drinking sessions that have long been a staple of Korean corporate life."

      Loosening of dress code for weekend work? Somewhat less pressure for mandatory binge drinking? Wow, thanks!!! [bows vigorously]

      I'm not going to believe it until they loosen the dress code requirements for compulsory after-work drinking sessions.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Like by locking the bootloader on the S7 and S7 Edge? Is that our example of less authoritarian ways?

  • by T.E.D. ( 34228 ) on Thursday March 24, 2016 @02:24PM (#51770771)

    The fact that they think they can change the culture to not be so hierarchical by sending down orders to be less hierarchical is kind of amusing.

    When South Korea hired themselves a Dutch coach for their 2002 World Cup national team, he quickly discovered that there was an ingrained culture of deference that was really difficult to combat. I believe he eventually had to kick most of the veterans off the team to get his whole team on an equal social footing.

    In the case of a large company, I don't think that's really an option. I'm not sure how they could combat that. Heck, I'm not even convinced a native Korean upper-level manager could even wrap their mind around the problem.

  • by ErichTheRed ( 39327 ) on Thursday March 24, 2016 @02:29PM (#51770807)

    None of these "lean and nimble" things end up working out in the idealized, hoped-for way. I've been at a few mega-large corporations and even some medium sized ones that had developed a massive bureaucracy and an authoritarian culture. You don't change that overnight. I know a lot of long-tenure IBMers who have 2 full time jobs -- their real job and the internal political navigation job. Microsoft is like this now. GM is like this. Even if you went through with a chainsaw and cut all the management layers off the org chart, the business just wouldn't function without radical mind-shifts on everyone's part.

    This is some McKinsey/Boston Consulting Group pre-packaged consulting engagement that got sold to the board. I'll bet they came in with the same PowerPoints they used on the last one, with the logo changed. This usually involves one or more of the following:
    - Encouraging "collaborative workspaces" by adopting open-plan offices and removing personal space, replacing it with white, pink and green Ikea office furniture
    - Rearranging management deck chairs, maybe by getting rid of 1 or 2 layers
    - Forcing managers to establish things like open door policies
    - Hundreds of hours of trainings and meetings on the new collaborative, startup-inspired Samsung

    Nothing else will change, I guarantee it. Korean work culture is like Japanese work culture -- authoritarian is putting it mildly when discussing management style. The idea is nice, but you can't run a huge corporation whose employees depend on its continued existence as a startup. There's just too much chance some hotshot MBA in some division will end up tanking the whole thing. I've been at companies where it has somewhat worked out, but only after the company realizes they're still huge and bureaucratic, and focuses on getting individual teams to work better together.

  • I hear they are asking KPCB to fund them... begging for money? Now THAT'S a startup!

  • I had friends that started working in Samsung. They aren't friends anymore. The company grinds down employees till they break and you either take it or bail. Maybe the compensation is amazing, who knows.

  • I wish them the best of luck, and no doubt they are right about the problems of their management culture.

    But this sort of thing is invariable ugly. Like modifying an aircraft in mid-flight. When making the changes you usually get the worst of both worlds, for quite awhile. This can drive an organization to complete failure. Small organizations have better luck at this.

    • I wish them the best of luck, and no doubt they are right about the problems of their management culture.

      But this sort of thing is invariable ugly. Like modifying an aircraft in mid-flight. When making the changes you usually get the worst of both worlds, for quite awhile. This can drive an organization to complete failure. Small organizations have better luck at this.

      "All employees are required to abandon authoritarian culture now. Any employee who deviates from this rule will earn a verbal warning, followed by a written warning and possibly termination if such behavior continues. Supervisors are required to monitor their direct reports for adherence to this new improved culture and intervene when appropriate non-authoritarian behavior is not evident."

  • by null etc. ( 524767 ) on Thursday March 24, 2016 @03:28PM (#51771455)

    I'll admit to being pretty excited if Samsung can actually make this work. Samsung's excellence in product manufacturing has long been hampered by poor product vision, scattershot branding and marketing strategies, and a general lack of being on the same wavelength when it comes to anticipating what features consumers will actually want and use.

    If acting like a startup can help them shed these shortcomings, we can expect to see some exciting products coming out of Samsung in the next six to twelve years. That should be just in time for when Apple comes down off the revenue bubble presently sustained by its perpetual, but largely uninteresting, product updates.

  • Sociopaths are running nearly everything. A Samsung CEO isn't content making tens of millions of dollars a year; he needs to make billions overnight, like the Zuckerbergs and Brins. So who cares that 90% of startups fold, and that 99.999% will never see the fluky success of the big IPOs. Who cares that there's no logic or skill behind those flukes; no revolutionary ideas, just being the lucky SOB with the right incremental idea at the right time with the right suckers. Who cares that startups are lean becau

  • So, if they're going to behave more like a startup, does that mean that they're no longer going to make it difficult to customize their Android phones? Last time I checked, they were still locked down such that you cannot write to the boot loader and that means no rolling your own Android or using Cyanogenmod.

  • As someone with extensive experience in (*South* !) Korea, I'll note that this whole concept sounds as Korean as eating Corn Flakes mixed with kimchi.

    Good luck with that.

  • that sets them apart, and above.

    I have a Samsung Monitor and when you turn it on the power light goes off. Every other display the power light comes on, my Panasonic Plasma it's a red light set dead center at the bottom of the screen.

    • that sets them apart, and above.

      I have a Samsung Monitor and when you turn it on the power light goes off. Every other display the power light comes on, my Panasonic Plasma it's a red light set dead center at the bottom of the screen.

      well, when you think about it, having a light light up when the screen is on is kind of redundant.

  • then maybe some of the equally large and fossilized american corporations will try it.
  • A cultural change will never happen without the likes of a Chairman Lee Kun-hee to lead, and lead, and slash, and lead, and slash, and lead. He truly did lead Samsung from the stone age to modernity by relentlessly demanding the desired behaviour (Quality, Not Quantity) from his underlings and by punishing back-sliders. His shoes are now empty.

    Recently I was employed by one of their companies, Samsung Engineering Co., Ltd, and the culture of rewarding ineptitude and of accepting rigid self-serving idiots as

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