[SERI COLUMN] Brains over brawn in modern business

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[SERI COLUMN] Brains over brawn in modern business

“Smart” is probably today’s buzzword in media and business.

In the 20th century, the age of industrialization, one only had to work hard, as instructed. But in the 21st century that is not enough.

It is necessary to also work creatively and intelligently to meet ever-changing customer needs. Indeed, a paradigm shift is under way in which Korean companies that have enjoyed rapid, intensive growth during the past 50 years need more brainpower to compete.

To find out how to work smarter, let’s break the word “smart” down letter by letter.

To start with, there is “s” ? which can be understood as shorthand for “space management.”

A company’s office space design should enhance creative thinking and smooth execution, as well as promote successful teamwork and collaboration.

Uniqlo, a Japanese casual wear firm, removed personal desks to improve team work and took chairs out of meeting rooms to speed up decision-making. IDEO, a design consultant, and

Google also practice work space innovation. Their office design respects privacy to maximize individual creativity and work concentration.

The second letter is “m” ? for “method management.”

This refers to innovative work methods. Points to consider here are pursuing the essence of work, restructuring work, timing and risk management. Duties that interfere with assigned work and routine work that lacks added-value should be removed.

Simple repetitive work should be made more efficient, and work methods themselves need to change, taking into account the essence of work.

Third is “a” ? for “acquaintance management.”

Advanced companies effectively solicit and respond to opinions and ideas from interested parties both within and outside the company.

IBM holds an annual “Innovation Jam,” gathering together employees, client companies and contract companies across the world to brainstorm ideas for IBM management.

Tremor.com, a word-of-mouth marketing organization developed by Procter & Gamble, has about 288,000 volunteer agents who purse public relations activities.

Fourth is “r” ? for “result management.”

Employee performance in corporations are evaluated by results, not time spent. This is because outstanding individual performances lead to high corporate performance. It is thus necessary for companies to operate systems that enable employees to challenge without fear of failure, discuss ideas freely and execute them.

A representative example is the Results Only Work Environment (ROWE) at Best Buy. Under ROWE, employees can work when and where they like, as long as they get the job done. At Best Buy, a team that adopted this system enjoyed 41 percent higher productivity than teams without the system, while job turnover fell by one-ninth.

The last letter is “t” ? for “time management.”

This is about using allotted work time as efficiently as possible to create high added value. It creates conditions for an efficient balance between work and play by reducing chronic overtime.

To do that, companies must allocate proper amounts of work to employees and give them sufficient time for rest. Meanwhile, employees should maximize their work efficiency by getting rid of time-wasting habits.

HP and IBM both stimulate creativity by promoting a four-day work, or allowing employees to work half-time three months per year. Korean companies, including telecom giants and top steelmaker Posco, are working hard to raise work efficiency by banning overtime and shortening reports from many pages to just one page.

As previously mentioned, “Work Smart” initiatives at advanced companies do not mean working less but working creatively and raising added value.

It is crucial that companies adopt Work Smart systems to secure core talent and to motivate employees. There are imperatives to corporate competitiveness.


As for core new-generation employees, preoccupied with their individual lifestyles in particular, it is necessary to adopt Work Smart initiatives to enhance efficiency and maximize individual performances. This ultimately leads to their natural absorption into an organization.

Meanwhile, companies should accurately analyze their corporate cultures for Work Smart initiatives to take root and spread.

Based on their findings, they can identify weaknesses and prioritize parts of the operation that need the most attention, rather than pursuing all five components of the “smart” approach to business simultaneously.

In addition, the workforce needs to genuinely accept the Work Smart initiative because both employees and companies should be confident that Work Smart is a path to development.

*The writer is research associate at Samsung Economic Research Institute.


By Ahn Byung-wook
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