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Total quality control in Korea: is there a personality conflict?

Total Quality Control In Korea: Is There A Personality Conflict?

It is easy to meet Korean technocrats who claim that TQC (Total Quality Control) is the only way out for the present Korean economy. If you ask why, they will answer that it guarantees perfect products and services, and that Korea should emulate Japan, which prospers with and is the home country of TQC.

I am ready to agree on their argument that reliable Japanese goods and TQC are strongly related. Yet, there remains the question: Will TQC really prosper in and help Korea.

Reports on the degree os success in Korea are not to be found. It seems that there has been no attempt to evaluate the matter. The statistics about the number of companies talking about TQC are meaningless. Whatever the Korean Standards Association (which consumes national budget money to transplant TQC) argues, I can safely point out that Korean industrialists are not as eager and devoted as their Japanese counterparts regarding the application of TQC. When I attend TQC-related meetings like training sessions, conferences, demonstrations, etc., I meet only the "passive followers" as far as the practicing industrialists are concerned. They are being forced to be there, and they are being asked to "imitate" TQC.

Why are these hard-working industrialists, who will try anything to raise productivity, so indifferent to--or at least not crazy about--TQC, which they know to be the most important contributor to Japanese success?

I believe that the answer is to be found in the cultural differences between Korea and Japan. I adopt the in-depth conceptualization about the essential characteristics of Korean and Japanese nationals of Professor Y.W. Kim.

Two answers have been put forth regarding the general indifference toward TQC. The first is a lack of commitment on the part of executives. It is true that executive commitment is critical to successful implementation. But the real question, then, is why are Korean executives not motivated, or at least not working hard, to lead the adoption of TQC, when they know well that TQC has contributed greatly to Japan's success? This shows that the first answer does not really answer.

The second answer is that the Korean value system, which despises manual labor, is drastically hindering industrialization--not to mention TQC. This may be more related to the question than the first answer. But it is quite contradictory to observe Koreans working so hard. It is true that their ancestors despised physical labor and sweating, according to the Confucian teaching, but it might be unfair to describe contemporary Koreans in the same manner, especially when they denounce that Confucian teaching as absurd. Farmers have overworked themselves. Koreans know they should do the same thing for the industrial production and business services. Koreans have proved their industriousness and excellent adaptation by winning the championship for eight consecutive years at the International Vocational Training Competition (alias the Technicians' Olympiad), as of 1989. As long as Koreans acknowledge that they should work hard to produce, serve, and trade with the fervor of their farmer ancestors, what traditional values matter? The second answer is superficial.

At long last I realized that Korean industrialists simply do not like TQC. The Japanese love TQC. Why not Koreans? Why do Korean industrialists simply not like it?

Simply, Koreans and Japanese are not alike.

This conclusion was not easy for me to reach because I had been unconsciously biased to think that Koreans and Japanese are relatively homogeneous, as descendants of the same Korean fathers. But as Professor Kim points out, entirely different national stereotypes can evolve from the same roots.

While it would be inappropriate to discuss Kim's theories in detail here, let us summarize the principles. Borrowing psychology terminologies, the locus of control is "out" with Japanese, and "in" with Koreans. Japanese are quick to reason that they should obey certain powers, while Koreans think they are masters of their own fates. Japanese think they can become Buddhas by concentrating on their works, while Koreans think they are already Buddhas and have to pursue more universal values.

The point is this. Korean industrialists do not like TQC, because they are not "masters" in TQC. Their role would be to suggest "perceptually" minor problems regarding product qualities and work environment. This is not what the Korean "masters" expect. There is too little initiative left for the masters. They want to be related to directing the companies.

Koreans outperform themselves when they are high-spirited. They become high-spirited when they are treated as masters.

TQC is for the Japanese, and not for Koreans. TQC does not and will not succeed with not only Koreans but also like-minded Americans, Europeans and Australians. They need approaches that treat members as masters. To my knowledge, the best alternative that allows this "mastership" is MBO (management byobjectives). In "Principles of Management," the authors say, "Management by objectives is now the most widely practiced managerial approach..." MBO is successful and rapidly spreading in the States, but it is overshadowed by TQC in Japan.

Statistical quality control (SQC) is an American achievement. We are apt to consider TQC as a simple extension of SQC, but TQC is "SQC plus alpha," and this alpha defies the idea of simple extension. This alpha is big, and requires a special mental attitude which is full of fears, and hence enables continual QC (quality circle) training, and allows obedience. This is very Japanese. The Japanese personality stereotype is unique to Japanese, is not shared by Koreans, and is one that still struggles with nature, the emperor, and supervisors.

Mushin Lee is professor of management science at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology. He received his PhD from Carnegie-Mellon University.
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Title Annotation:Opinion
Author:Lee, Mushin
Publication:Industrial Management
Date:Mar 1, 1990
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