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Fueling high-performance culture in KIA Motors

Explore the journey of the biggest Kia Motors assembly plant in Europe in today's Leaders talks with the Head of HR, Mr. Lakatos, who is driving the HR organizations. Learn more about how Leadership combined unique cultures, implemented innovative technologies, and successfully cultivated talents.


Mr. Marian Lakatos in the KIA Motors manufacturing plant

Q: Tell us about the journey of your organizational culture development in your company.

The main specificity, not only in HR, is the motto "#Nothing is #Impossible." Every new employee, if he wants to survive successfully with us, must forget words like "Impossible," "I do not know," "Never," or "No" during the first months. Suppose the employee wants to be successful in our company. In that case, the employee must set up the mindset on positivity and perceive obstacles as challenges and as an opportunity to improve themself and the company. An essential feature of the Korean mentality is also the so-called "#Pali" culture. In translation, it means "#Quick, fast," in practice; I can explain it very simply "What you have to do today, you should have done yesterday."


Another important specificity is the gradual empowerment and responsibilities transfer to local management. One might say that this should have happened a long time ago, a year, at the latest two, since coming to Slovakia. At that time, we were the first non-Asian plant of the Hyundai Motor Group. After the start of production at our plant, we gradually opened other plant plants in the Czech Republic, the USA, Russia, Brazil, individual research and development centers, dealership, and sales network. The Hyundai Motor Group has grown in recent years. Over the last ten years, we have become a globally operating company. That is why Globality is one of our core values. This value emphasizes respect for cultural diversity and customs. While in 2004, we had about 60 Korean expatriates in #Slovakia, and local managers did not fill any management positions. At present, we have only 42 expatriates, who mostly hold the functions of the so-called coordinators. They are the "bridge" between local management and Korean management, especially at its headquarters in Seoul. Local Leadership covers more than 90% of all management roles in the company. We want to a respected global player in the automotive industry. I will not be modest when I say we want to be number 1 in the automotive industry.


Q: How you created mutual trust with the Korean Leadership?

Koreans are a hard-working nation. It stems from their history. Other nationalities occupied them very often, and they experienced the Korean War between 1951 and 1954. Their economy was one of the most underdeveloped in the world at that time. Thanks to their enormous efforts and #self_discipline, they have become one of the most advanced economies in the world. Their respect for elders and their hierarchical orientation comes from Confucianism, emphasizing stability and order while pushing the individual's well-being to the background. In a Korean company, it is essential to understand this fact.


There is no place for individualists, people without respect and esteem. If you understand this, it's an excellent foundation for building mutual trust. Koreans have a great sense of detail. The success of approving any new strategy, direction, and procedure are how you can put it on paper. Koreans like the visually simple reports, where they often use boxes, arrows, tables. Ideally, put the essential things on the first page.


You might say it's in every business. However, if the company president returns the report 2-3 times to redo it, you will better understand the report. Many new employees, sometimes even experienced ones, perceive this as a waste of time initially. However, it is part of Korean culture, a necessary condition for #success in building mutual #trust. #Hierarchically oriented organizational culture can seem a challenging place to express itself. Many say we have to listen and do what they tell us. However, this is not true.


On the other hand, you have to arm yourself with great patience. Many experienced managers paid their price as they wanted to achieve things on their way. It does not work in this culture. First and foremost, you need to build #trust and a #relationship. When you receive a task that you do not like, you can't reject it immediately in the first sentence. It would be a sign of disrespect, would quickly erode trust. The ideal answer is that you will try to find a suitable solution. Then it's up to your creativity to bring the alternatives. Sometimes, considering different options finds an even better solution than you initially thought. Mutual trust is built on both sides. Koreans learn to listen, to ask questions, and together we seek various compromises. For me, however, Kia still has the strength to surprise me even after 11 years. After all, this is also the official slogan of our company, "The Power to Surprise. "


Q: What does the Leadership expect from HR?

In today's automotive, HR must be a true #business #partner. There are two organizations in our HR working together – training & education and the employee relations team. HRs is not just about service and administration organization. Since the beginning of my career in Kia, I have felt that HR plays an important role here. I can proudly say we are a business partner in everything we do. HR is involved almost in all significant decisions in the company. The President of the company and the vice-presidents of departments perceive HR as an essential advisor. We discuss the possible impacts of various challenging decisions with them, propose alternatives, and play a vital role in communicating crucial company decisions affecting our employees. Personally, as well as my colleagues, we are always available to managers from all business functions. We are happy they consult with us on almost every important decision that has an impact on employees. Of course, some cases during the rush of work were learned in retrospect, but I can say that there is less and less of it. The Leadership expects us to deliver HR tools, implement and ensure that our #people will live our core #values ​​."


Q: Where do your candidates for managerial and expert roles come from?

We have been preparing candidates for managerial positions for a long time. So the answer to the question is clear - from internal sources. We hired for #executive positions from the external market like 6 or 7 years ago. Most of our managers started with us on junior jobs despite having previous management experience in other companies. We tried to hire local managers for senior management jobs during 2004 - 2005, but the success rate was zero. As for expert positions, they are identified based on the needs of the company. So far, we do not rely on an external source, but this may change in the future."


Q: How do you attract and hire top talents?

When selecting talents, we begin by identifying employees fitting to managerial and expert positions, which cooperates with department heads. At least twice a year, we sit down for a structured interview with individual leaders of departments. We map the department's current situation, ask how they are doing, and identify potential talents. We also question how the leader prepares the candidate for a management role and how we can help. At least once a year, we organize "assessment centers" (AC / DC), where we invite colleagues identified as talents by direct managers. Based on the results of AC / DC, we #communicate again with the leaders and, by mutual agreement, decide whether to include the colleague in the talent pool for a managerial, expert position or develop it further within the standard development plan. The path to the talent pool is open in both directions. Once someone gets there, it doesn't mean they have already won. It is similar to those who did not get there in a given year. We try to work with at least one, ideally with two candidates for management, expert positions within each department. In leadership roles, we try not to profile them narrowly but to have a broader scope. Therefore, we regularly organize internal rotations within the department but also between departments.


Q: Can you share with us what is an essential part of identifying and creating a strong talent pool?

The manager's recommendation plays an important role; we are interested in the talent #performance, #results, satisfaction with the #quality of work, and personal preconditions; also, we are interested in self-development and #motivation. Subsequently, talents are involved in a development program that lasts at least a year. A substantial part of the program consists of work on a selected project, within which they also undergo detailed training in project management. We announce the assignments by internal guarantors, quasi-mentors who consult individual projects from their start to the successful end. #Talent #development through these projects is a new way how we develop talent. We are launching it for the first time this year. Through these group projects, we try to intensify cooperation between departments. Previously, we provided various forms of internal training. Now we want to put more emphasis on active involvement in projects. For the last two years, we have also been working intensively with internal mentors. They are more senior local managers who undergo several days of training with an external coach/mentor. Subsequently, they also have the space to be coached/mentored themselves. The next step is to let them choose a project they then consult or appoint a newly appointed leader.


An attractive Leadership development program is our internal MBA program that copies the content focus of a standard #MBA, but it's specialized for the automotive industry. It is tailor-made to our needs. External lecturers, professors, consultants who have extensive experience in #automotive are conducting this program. This program is a must for further internal career growth of our managers. In addition to the above programs, we also offer various development programs in cooperation with our headquarters. Several of them are organized directly at the company's headquarters in Seoul. As for the expert job are identified based on the company's needs, then filled by a suitable candidate. Here, however, we do not pursue development in people management but expertise in a particular area.


Mr. Marian Lakatos explaining the corporate values

Q: Tell us more about the framework you implemented to resolve staff issues.

I know that this may sound quite strict when I say that we have a so-called disciplinary board. However, the whole system of resolving violations, the organization of the disciplinary commission, has very positive feedback. We have been operating for over two years. Still, since the establishment of this commission, we have received positive feedback from managers and individual employees, including people on the shop floor. Managers and supervisors cannot do what they please in disciplinary matters. It used to be the case, and we have seen very different approaches to people. We now have a lot of work to do in the #HR department, but basically, the point is that no one can take disciplinary actions without the commission meeting. The Committee meets every two weeks. The staff concerned have the opportunity to come to it and explain the circumstances of the case. It means that both parties confront each other in front of us. They can discuss the whole problem in front of us. Our job is to facilitate this entire meeting and find out the real cause of the problem. We often find out that the problem is not in the employee but the system or the superior's approach. Based on the positive feedback, we consider renaming the disciplinary Committee to the "Fair Treatment Committee."



Q: How can your employees express their complaints and how do it process them?

We have an established system for processing complaints from employees since 2005. Employees can consult any suggestions and comments from the work area in person with colleagues from the employee relations department once they visit consulting rooms located directly in the production halls. Internally, we call them #Harmony #Rooms. If they do not like a #personal #meeting, they can also use mailboxes for anonymous suggestions or telephone numbers and e-mail addresses reserved for this purpose. We report recommendations from these sources directly to the Vice President for Administration every day, thus increasing the success and speed of resolving various complaints. In this way, we can catch many problems right from the start. I want to say that this significantly contributes to increasing the satisfaction of our employees. They are happy to advise, explain, and help them in various situations involving work and sometimes even interpersonal relationships. We also use the counseling rooms for legal advice provided by our legal department. At the same time, the equivalent of an #employee #council, the so-called Harmony council, in which all departments have their representatives. The board's mission is to address proposals from employees to improve working conditions at #regular monthly meetings and mediate communication with the company's management.


Q: Your organization has brought to life some exciting innovations. Do other manufacturing sites in your group use these innovations as well?

I am happy to say that we won first place in evaluating individual plants within the Hyundai Motor Group last year. In addition to standard production indicators, the group also assesses the implementation of #values, health and safety, #corporate #social ​​responsibility, and others. For the second year in a row, our human resources won first place in the automotive industry in Slovakia in a competition organized by PwC - HR Leading Organization, which also contributed to the overall result within the group.


Being the first automotive manufacturing plant outside the Asian continent, many companies come to us for inspiration. I'm happy we inspire others.


As Steve Jobs said: "Innovation is what sets leaders apart from followers." I believe that we will remain our Leadership thanks to innovations.


Thank you Marian.


About Mr. Lakatos


Marian Lakatos is an HR Leader at Kia Motors Slovakia, delivering HR services to the only and the most significant automotive assembly plant of Kia Motors in Europe. Marian helped to roll out the plant and led several HR-related projects in close cooperation with the group. Marian holds a Master of Psychology from the University of Trnava.


A series of MENITY Leaders Talk interviews.

Interview with Mr. Lakatos by Mr. Nemcok, a partner at MENITY.

Pictures © MENITY.