Quitters are winning

The South Korean government has strong aspirations to be a respected voice in the startup industry. The growing “Pangyo Techno Valley”, South Korea’s Silicon Valley, embodies their dedication to this goal. With increased funding and support from the Korean government, the Korean startup scene is growing and becoming more concentrated. With new Korean startups surfacing every day, there is a growing demand for bright minds to lead these companies into the future. Therefore the question of how Korean startups can keep their talent is based on the mindset of the said startup.

The talent shortage is a very real problem. In today’s “gig” market, “quitters are winning”. (David Harrison, Eric Morath. July 4, 2018) The Wall Street Journal noted that employees who voluntarily leave their job with the confidence and the right skills can potentially be rewarded with a 30 percent increase in salary. A paradigm shift is underway, especially in the tech sector. Quitting used to be frowned upon but as we move into 2020, it has evolved into another badge on the resume.

Not Easy to Find Talent in Korea

Startup Interview

Attracting top-tier talent in Korea is not easy and HR processes transcending in-house algorithms into human psychology. Even if a Korean company manages to find the talent they are looking for, holding onto them can be challenging. This could be cultural issues or the harsh working culture in Korea. However, this problem is not just in Korea. The tech industry, in general, has one of the highest turnover rates of any industry, reaching highs of 13.2 percent in 2017. Even Apple boasts a measly two-year tenure before their employees look for greener pastures. This can also be seen in Korea where in the past, working for Samsung or LG was considered a dream. Now you have Samsung and LG employees looking to start their own business.

Tech companies with strong retention are sparse and despite the best efforts of the larger tech firms with innovative office spaces, flexibility to work from home, and countless employee amenities, they still struggle to keep their talent within their walls. Hiring is expensive and time-consuming and with tenure lengths continuing to trend shorter you would expect problems to arise but larger tech companies appear to be doing just fine. Why is this?

Why it is hard to get a job at a Korean company?

If you don’t speak Korean, it will be very difficult to find a job in Korea, especially in the tech industry. This is because a vast majority of Korean startups and enterprises mainly focus on the Korean market which has a population of over 50 million. Many are content with this market and only those that have dominated the Korean market will then look to go global. However, if they want to expand into Singapore for example, they will hire talent in Singapore, not Korea.

While there are many startups in Korea, there are not so many that move on past the Series A round, and even fewer end up expanding into the global market. For those few that are looking to go global, the core team will usually be in Korea. Therefore global talent in the United States for example will have to deal with a 17-hour time difference. There will only be an hour or two of overlap between the US team and the Korean team. This is why getting a job at a Korean company will mean you will have to speak the Korean language and work in Korea.

Holding on to Talent Vital for Startups in Korea

Korean startups, on the other hand, do not have the luxury to afford the “revolving door” hiring strategy that bigger companies employ. All startups are financially vulnerable in their infancy. They do not have the luxury to lose their most valuable asset, their trained hard-working team. There are numerous strategies that can be employed by startups in Korea to improve employee retention.

Retention starts on day one

Too often recruiters in Korea promise in the recruiting stage and the company ultimately under-deliver in the workplace. Often the root of why employees in Korea leave dissatisfied or are caught daydreaming about their next career move is due to unrealistic promises that don’t come to fruition. Recruiters may be eager to usher new employees in the door, but you can’t fit a square peg in a round hole.

Startups in Korea should discuss what makes them great and exciting and bring to light the best aspects of the company. An invigorating culture and accurate job description can help curry favor for your startup brand. HR staff should be wary of promising what they can’t deliver.

“Don’t ever promise more than you can deliver, but always deliver more than you promise.” – Lou Holtz

Cultivate innovative thinkers

Startups in KoreaKorea has always had a heavy emphasis on education. Therefore you have a lot of “book smart” youth in Korea. However, creative and innovative thinking has never truly been embraced in Korea. Times are changing, however, the key is to have University teachers in Korea focus less on test scores and more on cultivating innovative thinking.

In the school system, great teachers don’t just half-heartedly teach students. They strive to develop students into individual thinkers that will at some point “outgrow” the teacher. This same concept can apply to the Korean startup industry. Korean startups should do their best to create leaders that think outside the box. Cultivating minds that are daring enough to innovate will be key to any startup’s success. Involving your employees in the decision-making process can create a significant lasting effect on how appreciated and respected they feel. Your most valuable employees are usually not seeking huge paychecks but are energized by the tough problems they want to solve.

Think Outside the Box

There are many tactics startups in Korea can use to increase retention and employee satisfaction while staying within the budget. Being realistic with job descriptions, creating a culture/environment that fosters leadership development, and bolstering skillsets are a few potential methods to avoid losing your talent to competitors with deeper pockets or different HR mindsets. Retention in the startup realm is especially important and should begin on day one. Use best practices. However, be sure to be malleable and find the style of retention that suits your company and its unique qualities.