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 relationships is 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) precipitated a period of great introspection which has led to 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.