Samsung wants to change its internal culture to make the 300,000-person company operate more like a startup. Executives are planning to sign a pledge to pivot the company away from its traditional corporate structure to a more open working environment, Reuters reports. Changes will include holding more online internal discussions and reducing extraneous meetings; cutting down the levels of staff hierarchy; and reducing overtime and encouraging employees to spend their weekends with family or pursuing professional education opportunities. Samsung, which has been criticized for its infamously rigid working culture, is hoping that the cultural shift will help it execute on products more quickly.
These corporate changes come at the same time Samsung has said it's attempting to pivot from being a hardware manufacturer to becoming a software leader. Software has always been secondary to Samsung, executive vice president Rhee In Jong told Bloomberg this week. That's changed now. Samsung is actively seeking to acquire software companies, including those focused on artificial intelligence, according to Rhee. We've argued repeatedly that the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge make Samsung a design leader, but it's still left much to be wanted when it comes to software. At the same time, while Samsung's smartphone shipments still dominate the global market, it's seen a steady decline in global market share over the past four years.
Samsung is actively seeking to acquire software companies, including those focused on artificial intelligence
If Samsung is recognizing that the future of innovation is in software, then a cultural shift within the company might make sense. That said, Samsung probably knows it can't operate like an actual startup. This is much more likely an attempt to push its corporate culture in the direction of the large software companies it's spent years building hardware for — i.e. Google and Apple. Whether Samsung can pull off a product shift and a cultural shift all in one seems like a daunting task. It's managed to turn around on products quickly in the past, though. After the Galaxy S5 flopped in 2014, Samsung made a push toward improving its industrial design. By the middle of that year it delivered the pricey but handsome Galaxy Alpha, the inaugural member of a fundamentally reimagined smartphone line that's most recently delivered the S7 and S7 Edge.
How big of a shift will we actually see at Samsung following this announcement? Corporate culture isn't a product. But at the very least Samsung has proven it can make key changes when it needs to.