I think one of the issues I've had with the hagwon business as I've experienced it is the utter disregard for genuine consistency in how rules are applied to students or parents alike. Or worse, the utter lack of rules. It's about relationships but everything is therefore subjective and unpredictable to someone "not in the loop." I guess there's nothing wrong with trying to have a personal relationship with each of your customers, but it makes for an unscalable business model on the one hand, and it makes for unpredictable quality of outcomes on the other. I get really tired of the line "well, for this student, do this way, because her mom wants that, but for this other student, do this other way, because his mom wants that other way." Some students stay late when they don't do their homework; for others it's forbidden. Some get "level up" even though their test scores are inadequate; others stay behind despite better scores. Some get special schedules: "little Haneul only comes on Monday's and Fridays, so you have to remember to tell her about the Wednesday homework."
This comes about in part because of all these personal relationships. But… there's no one tracking it all. It's not in any system that anyone has ever told me about. It's utterly unpredictable and unscalable. And ultimately, I think it leads to poor quality outcomes.
The end result is that you're not able to track your progress as an institution, you're not able to compare one student to another because they're all being treated differently. I have nothing against providing personalized attention and even bespoke curricula to students. But at some point, there has to be an objective standard: where are we trying to get this student, ultimately? What constitutes acceptable progress, and if the student isn't meeting benchmarks of progress, what should our response be? It's quite telling that I'm not even able to have this conversation with my coworkers, much less get any kind of answer. They are befuddled that it should concern me. The only thing that matters is: will the student continue to enroll at our hagwon? That's putting the cart before the horse… provide a quality education to your students, then customers (parents) will recognize that, and they will continue to enroll.
My boss has an ambition to be a successful
businessman. I know that he thinks highly of an entrepreneur like Steve Jobs – he somewhat idolizes him. In light of this, I'd like to make an observation about Jobs' business style, as I've understood it. Steve Jobs
never seemed worried about how much market share he was getting. Until
recently, Apple was always a "minority" product – a niche. Jobs would
identify a niche market at the "top end" and focus on quality,
consistency and attention-to-detail. He never worried about who was
interested in his product. He was happy to turn away customers who were
not interested in his product. He was happy to tell customers to go buy the competition if he wasn't meeting their needs. That created an elite and clubby feel to his niche, and conveyed an image of extremely
high quality, which may or may not have been really accurate. I think that kind of strategy can be successful in a Korean for-profit hagwon,
too. It's a similarly fragmented and commodified market, despite the huge differences. Don't try to be every thing to every customer. That's impossible.
Decide what students you want to teach, decide what kinds of parents you
want to work for, and stick with them. Never be afraid to say "I'm
sorry, but this hagwon is NOT a good place for what you want. Please
shop somewhere else." There are many parents and students who might be
too expensive – in both time and effort – to match what you can offer.
many niches in the English hagwon market. Choose ONE. Only ONE. Then… do it better than