A Korean Business “Working Within the Culture” FAQ

Share

Korean Business and Why do Americans/ westerners need Korean cultural training?

For westerners this may be the first time working with Korean business and a Korea team. This opportunity brings with it the need to better understand their new partner’s culture, workplace norms and expectations.

In most cases, the western team will be interacting with a Korean expatriate team. Some of the expatriates will hold a line managerial position with day-to-day responsibilities alongside western managers, while others will hold key management C-level positions, such as CEO, COO, or CFO. In many, if not most, cases these expats may operate as a “shadow management” with considerable oversight of local operations.

With the best of intentions, the expats will look to build strong collaboration and teamwork and advocate less a sense of us and them. However, they do bring with them Korean work norms that can conflict with western work-life balance and western ways of working.

More so, Korean teams may make seemingly one-sided decisions with the best interest of the company in mind but without consulting local teams causing mistrust.

A solid training program followed by on-going support can address differences, such as sharing work styles, hierarchy, and comfort levels, plus providing work-arounds.

 What are some typical issues that arise, especially without training?

As with all individuals, no two of us are alike –and the same goes for westerners and Koreans… Each has his or her unique strengths, skills, experiences and personalities.

That said, expecting local teams to simply “get it” without support and training seldom works. Even if a better understanding of the work culture eventually occurs over time, this “learn as you go” approach we see as costly, contributes to stress, poor productivity and even employee turnover.

 What have Koreans told you about Americans? Work habits, commitment, etc.

If you ask Korean expats how they perceive Americans and westerners in general, responses would be very positive and respectful, especially toward western work ethics and work habits. Koreans see great value in American and western teams providing them with new insights and perspectives, as well as best practice

What might be covered in such training?

I see the training as two fold — 1) providing teams with an understanding of the Korean partner’s history, heritage, trends and popular culture and 2) looking at the Korean workplace and its norms, practices, and expectations.

Above all I feel a best practice is to share similarities and shared values when possible, along with instilling an awareness of and respect for cultural differences.

Addressing the team’s questions and concerns is also vital with issues, such as work-life balance, safety and quality processes and procedures and the overall expectations of Korean partners.

 Anything else?

To conclude, the need for Korean business cross-cultural training programs for local employees and management is a high priority.

The assumption that local and expatriate teams can bridge cultural gaps through practical on–the–job experience might work with those few highly intuitive individuals with the exceptional ability to assimilate cultures.

What stands out in numerous studies, however, is the need for ongoing multicultural training, that can successfully impact people, especially those who need to quickly adapt to new or changing business culture and values, while fostering sensitivity and teamwork among all members of the company.

Finally, I would add that I have found a Korean business tiered service model – training, mentoring and on-going strategic support — to be the most effective approach for an organization.

http://www.bridgingculture.com

###

Share

Still Time in 2017

Share

With a few weeks left in 2017, I’m happy to report that this year we offered over 33 Korea 101 and 201  “working within the Culture” workshops. Most were the new 2 hour format. We offered the Korean business sessions to not only across North America, but also to teams in the UK, France and Ireland.

BTW  There is still time left in 2017 for sharing the training to your teams.

And, the program is a great way to end the year strong and prepare the team for the many changes coming in 2018.

Contact me at 310-866-3777, Text or email.

Regards,

DS

 

Share

Everything Korea: What’s Different? What’s Similar?

Share

By its very nature Korean facing business is the interaction of worldwide teams.  This necessitates colleagues of different cultures working together on a daily basis.  How we see others culturally is often in the differences and similarities.

The Differences
Particularly for western teams in Korean overseas operations, I believe in the importance of learning about the workplace in Korea—the norms, practices, and day-to-day life. These insights allow us to better understand our HQ-assigned Korean co-workers and their expectations. Recognizing “true differences” can dispel stereotyping, prejudices and ethnocentrism.

The Similarities 
Adjusting does vary with an individual. Factors can include distance from the home country, scope and responsibilities of the new job, local social support, and duration of assignment. I would also add frequency of visits to new counties or regions is also a strong influencer.

For example during my recent trip to Ireland, I found that adapting to local culture was exceeding fast. Maybe no more than 24 hours. I found a number of similarities such as language, a well-educated middle class, and even a close-by Starbucks.

Recognizing similarities is one of the most powerful cross-cultural bridges. In other words, to what can you relate in routine day-to-day life? This requires identifying  the local beliefs, values, expectations, and traditions of host culture.

That said, as a best practice and to avoid issues I deal with often in Korean business expatriate teams need to defer to local norms — this includes Tripartite Socialization—the local culture, the host nation’s business culture, and the company’s corporate culture.

Outcomes
Although there is bound to be friction between home and host country cultural values, a successful model accomplishes:

• Awareness and appreciation of both the home and host country with the ability to gain an insight into one’s own personal traits, strengths, weaknesses, attitudes, and interests.

• Realization of similarities and shared values, along with an awareness of and respect for the cultural differences

• The ability to adapt quickly to the new workplace cultures, ideas, and challenges on the job and in the home.

In closing this week I have a request-

How do you see this applying to you and your own experiences as well as working with Korean expatriates?

I look forward to your thoughts and comments.

Share

Everything Korea October 2 Episode — Exclusively Korea Business

Share

In Ireland again this week. Very engaging Korea facing project.  Love the people, and the country. With a strong economy, it’s easy to see why Ireland is seen as the Celtic Tiger. (BTW South Korea has also been called an Asian Tiger)
That said, regardless to where I am at the moment in best sharing my work it’s exclusively Korea business focused.

A big part is supporting Korean global business outside Korea. In particular backing teams and leadership worldwide working with or for the major Korean business Groups—like Hyundai, Kia Motors, the SK Group and others.

Much of this is immersion. My approach is sharing common issues, workarounds, do’s and don’t, the context behind Korean business practices and above all “solutions.”

This can range within an organization to mentoring newly hired C-suite executives and leadership who are assuming key roles within a Korean overseas subsidiary, as well as working closely with team members new to these local operations.  Both I find highly rewarding.

Over time this support moves to mentoring and coaching– addressing issues as they surface.

In many cases I am also engaged to provide sound project strategies for major initiatives to ensure they align culturally with their Korean teams, leadership and HQ.

This is critical as many local projects fail to gain the needed support and traction without the proper approach.

One more thing, I have a number of resources in supporting local teams and leadership that I am happy to share. These include books, articles and cases studies…. Feel free to reach out and we’ll get you copies.

Share

Everything Korea, September 18 Episode Global Work Korean Teams

Share

A change is underway.

There is a shift to ever-increasing daily interactions for local western teams directly with Korean HQs via the web and phone conference. This leads to a need for deeper practical Korea facing business insights for “working within the Culture” along with new skill sets.

Why?

For decades, the expatriate, Executive Coordinator / Advisor model, has been effective although it had limitations. That said, Koreans assigned as expatriates do learn local norms and adapt to the market well over time.

This means the Coordinators mold to local operations with little need for the local teams to become skilled in Korea workplace norms.

In contrast today with many in direct contact with Korea-based teams a new level of understanding is needed into the HQ and company norms. In particular, Korea teams, unless having been previously worked outside Korea, are not likely to model after or adapt to their overseas subsidiaries.

So what are the common issues and if any the workarounds?

Noting there are many, but as one example, perhaps the most common issue we find in day-to-day direct Korean team interactions is requests for local market data and information. This adds considerable workload to local teams—already stretched thin with projects and deadlines.

Often these can also come at end of day for the western team (a new day and morning for the Korea-based team). Compounding the situation is often the local team member is an hourly employee working a shift with no flexibility to stay after their scheduled work hours and able follow up immediately on the request.

A gap in workplace culture occurs when in Korea a request may require them to stay late into the evening and even over-night to fulfill—most seeing this as just part of the job—like it or not.

Workarounds

Frankly, I’ve found it always more a matter of relationship building over a process or tactic in workarounds.  The stronger the ties, the most flexibility in dealing with pressing issues.

In this particular case and dealing with the urgent request, I have found best to clarify exactly when the data or information is actually due.  Not all projects despite the tone of the request are needed ASAP.

Many can wait especially when building upon one’s strong ties and sharing colleague to colleague 1) it will be a top priority, and 2) when they can expect to receive the follow-up answer.

All said, I find that each situation requires drilling deeper to truly grasp and provide solid resolution….

Question, comments, thoughts…

Stacey, stacey@koreabcw.com, my assistant can schedule us a time to meet, or chat by phone.  For urgent matters, Text me at 310-866-3777

Share

Everything Korea September 11 Episode. A Revisit- Working with Korean Teams

Share

For most of my career I have worked with Korean teams—many based in Korea, many in local overseas operations. I find both exchanges rewarding, but very different and require a varying set of skills. I’d like to offer some best practices.

To begin

We find with Korea facing international operations the primary communication channel between the Korean HQ and local subsidiary is through expatriates—although in some cases this is shifting.

In key positions, Korean expats serve in roles including the CEO who is responsible for managing the local company or region. The CFO and technical support can be expats, too. Most often these Korean expats along with local leadership executive form the core for business operations in the host country.

By the way, the expats below senior management are often referred to as “Executive Coordinators” or “Executive Advisors” in the West. As a caveat, this model does vary some and in some organization we see a mix of “Coordinators” and Korean assigned as line managers. However, the Korean term for these expatiates is ju jae won.

In the larger overseas subsidiaries, the Korean expats are assigned to the major departments.

In many instances, as I mentioned, the expat Coordinators are not assigned a direct managerial role but still hold considerable oversight over the local operations.

Roles vary with each company, but frequently a Coordinator’s primary role is to be a departmental liaison and communication channel between Korea and the local subsidiary.

That said, for westerners unfamiliar with the Korean model, this “oversight” usually translates into the Korean expats requiring sign off on all decisions—trivial to substantial.

This can be a huge challenge when newly assigned expats have little specific background in or knowledge of the host country’s operations and market. More so, when their decisions are motivated by what they feel would please the HQ in Korea.

Cognitively, they do recognize local management skills and expertise, but especially if under pressure to perform and meet expectations may defer to engaging in decision-making.

Of course, this can be a challenge.

New ju jae won are skilled and accomplished in Korean style business operations, norms and practices.

However, they are now assigned to an overseas subsidiary where norms, practices, expectations, and laws differ. Adding to this “Managing westerners” is very different than overseeing a Korean team…

Next, I’ll cover several scenarios with best practices for supporting overseas team. All take finesse and collaboration, plus recognize norms and practices differ… as well as require working “within the Culture.”

To again clarify, my perspective is based on years working with Korea and especially in daily mentoring and providing strategy for their overseas operations—Koreans and Westerners.

Scenario One

It’s common for a Korea expatriate, frequently called a Coordinator, to directly request members of the team to gather information or data on the local operation. Usually, Korea has asked for this information and the Coordinator is executing the request. These always have a sense of urgency.

The Challenge is the local departmental head may be circumvented (often unintentionally)…. and requests disrupt operations and designated priorities. More so, the line of management for the department is blurred—i.e. staff confused on “who is in charge.”

The Workaround centers on an effective working relationship between the Coordinator and the department head. An understanding must be reached that when requests from Korea (or from the senior Korean leadership at the subsidiary), it is first brought to the department head… and they handle who will execute.

In particular, the local western manager is more familiar with their team, individual workloads, any special situations and skill sets. In fact, with a clear communication channel the work will be performed with better results by the individuals tasked with the assignment, and less stress on the Coordinator asked to acquire the data.

As a caveat, one burden on a department can be when a high percentage of work and tasks teams are engaged are to support Korea and not the local operations.

Scenario Two

As noted, a Coordinator’s role is to support the local operation. Local teams and specialists are hired with a high degree of knowledge and experience. A clash occurs when decisions best left to those in the know are deflected.

The Challenge occurs when Coordinators override a decision or unilaterally make the call. This can range from the hiring of new employees to pushing off a much-needed program.

Again, the Workaround is a clear Company-wide defined role for the Coordinator. They are advisors who can provide much-needed input and an HQ / mother company perspective… but not assume line manager responsibilities.

In other words, clarity must be established in regard to as long as they are acting on behalf of the mother company considerable weight must be given to their input. That said, even when they have the company’s best interest in mind, their own personal views must be gauged and moderated.

Scenario Three

Perhaps the most challenging situation is moving Coordinators to make a decision.

The Challenge In most Korean companies leadership decide on direction and major issues. In turn, the working team’s role is to implement or gather needed information. This role/ skillset changes when working level Koreans are assigned as an overseas Coordinator.

Workaround When conducting a meeting where a decision must be made recognize that your Coordinator will have considerable say in the outcome. First, since the topic and subject matter may be new to your Coordinator, I recommend you share prior to the meeting any needed background documents (best provided in PPT format).

In addition, have an informal pre-meeting Q&A with the Coordinator to brief and update them on any specifics. Note: they may need a day to review proposals and agreements, so timing is critical.

Even in the best cases, expect that the Coordinator may want to postpone any decision until they can carefully review and perhaps confer with Korea. I suggest all documents and meeting PPTs be immediately forwarded to the Coordinator.

I’d create a sense of urgency with a timeline for execution and implementation. Regardless, expect some delays and be patient.

Over the years, I’ve found that Coordinators appreciate when their overseas co-workers recognize that the internal approval process takes time and be ready to offer, as needed, additional supportive data or documents.

BTW, if you are a vendor and your firm provides services to a Korea-based partner, it’s best to provide both the western and Korean teams with background information prior to any meetings. Moreover, be prepared to share the meeting’s content in digital format afterward with the Korean team, too.

With the shift to ever-increasing daily interactions with Korean HQs via web and phone conferences, western teams need even deeper practical insights into working within the Culture along with new skill sets.

In particular, the Executive Coordinator/ Advisor model has had its limitations…but the Koreans assigned as expatriates do learn local norms and adapt over time. This means the Coordinators mold to local operations with a little need for many of the local teams to become skilled in Korea workplace norms.

In contrast, working with teams based in Korea takes a different approach.
Korea-based teams follow deeply embedded HQ and company norms. They are not likely to model or adapt to their overseas subsidiaries.

This now means 1) becoming acquainted with Korea norms, understanding the Korean workplace “in’s and out’s” and “do’s and don’t.” And, 2) developing strong skills in managing the relationship with effective cross-communication taking on a new heightened significance.

Over the past years, I’ve shared solutions in my books, articles and case studies… that said, I find that each situation requires one having to drill deeper to truly grasp and then provide a solid resolution.

Thoughts?

As always, Stacey stacey@koreabcw.com, my assistant can schedule us a time to meet or chat by phone.

For all urgent matters, text me at 310-866-3777

For more information on my work…. www.learnmore.Koreabcw.com

 

Share

Everything Korea; September 5 Episode, Korean Business Relationships Amid Acceleration

Share

Korean business with Don Southerton

Amid disruptive market conditions perhaps the greatest ripple effect challenge to Korean global business is how best to maintain positive and collaborative working relations between Western and Korean teams.

From a cross-cultural perspective Korean commerce is dependent upon relationships and interpersonal interactions. Western business, in contrast, leans toward process and procedure.  Therefore when Korea-facing working relations are strained culturally, there is a heightened impact throughout the entire organization.

Without discounting market conditions and intense pressure to meet aggressive sales goals, I see impact of adapting to a rapidly changing and disruptive business landscape at the core of many strained relationships.

As author Thomas L. Friedman points out in Thank You for Being Late:

“As we transition from an industrial-age economy to a computer-Internet-mobile-broadband-driven economy—that is, a supernova-driven economy—we are experiencing the growing pains of adjusting. ”

Drilling deeper, I have found this acceleration has markets and industry sectors ever shifting. For example, the automotive industry is witnessing and adjusting to new consumer preferences, such as collaborative consumption shared ride services of which Uber, Lyft and Maven are examples, self-driving autonomous technology and eco-friendly vehicles.

That said, we as a society are also experiencing the need to adapt more frequently and at a more rapid pace than ever in the past.  The good news is we are perhaps adapting faster than anytime in history.  Still there is a substantial gap in the high rate of change and speed we adapt. This gap is disorienting and business models that worked in the past have become outdated further adding to stress and frustration.

In my work, this leads to a Korea driven climate of reactive and hopeful second-guess decision-making, or, in some cases, the opposite in stalled action. In both situations, I feel we need to embrace a middle course— a well thought out and responsive plan.

Again Thomas Freidman, too, recognizes this need to ponder.  He notes, and I paraphrase:

Patience… space for reflection and thought. We are generating more information and knowledge than ever today, but knowledge is only good if you can reflect on it.

In closing I return to my original point of the vital importance of maintaining relationships amid the current market condition.  No matter how challenging the situation we need to take time and work to forge strong collaborative bonds within teams Friedman again remarks:

“And it is not just knowledge that is improved by pausing. So, too, is the ability to build trust, …to form deeper and better connections, not just fast ones, with other human beings, our ability to forge deep relationships—to love, to care, to hope, to trust, and to build voluntary communities based on shared values—is one of the most uniquely human capacities we have.”

 

Share

The Korean Business Toolbox 2017

Share

I’d like to share a new Korean business Toolbox that provides solutions to a recurring and deep concern by western management of South Korea-based companies. I find this issue surfacing often and so draw upon what I have found to work best to overcome and move forward.

Here’s the Link.  http://www.bridgingculture.com/assets/toolbox-2017_-intervention.pdf

In crafting the Toolbox over the past month and sharing sections as drafts, it’s received considerable feedback and positive reviews. These are always much appreciated.

As always we look for your comments and thoughts, too. So please share.

DS

 

 

Share

Consequences in Korean Business

Share

In my last commentary, I noted the huge challenges surfacing because of the current disruptive Korean business climate.

In particular, I shared the “why” behind Korean expatriates intervening in the local decision process. In some cases, these decisions are one-sided, lack collaborative and mutual engagement and have consequences.

In turn, western team see themselves consulted only to validate preconceived ideas or to implement directives from Korea.

Drilling Deeper

This has lead to local management seeing their input and expertise being marginalized– more so with complex situations and long-term planning “drilling deeper” may uncover ramifications.

More specifically, Korean teams under pressure are driven to take immediate action this can result in little joint discourse related to potential trade-offs and risks in projects assigned to the local subsidiary.

Particularly with a narrow and reactive workplace approach, one can draw an analogy to jigsaw puzzle building.

The pieces to a puzzle have many unique sides. There may be different ways to place them into the puzzle. What is required is to look diligently at all possible options.

Like all challenges, one needs to explore the different possibilities to find the right solution and how the piece fits into the overall puzzle—essentially one needs a reflective mindset.

As a Korean colleague once pointed out, their society beginning with grade school does not promote reflective thinking and instead looks to promote a thought process that leads to more immediate results. In fact, Korean high school students spend more than 14 hours a day studying, memorizing and preparing for exams—a model that stifles creativity.

I also see a cross-cultural aspect with many Korean decisions the result of a team workplace’s collective thought process, and in contrast, reflective thinking stems from an individual’s core consciousness.

Bottom line reflective thinking requires taking acquiring knowledge and then calling upon one’s own experience, utilizing evaluative skills and admitting personal bias.

The result is a broader perspective and a better view of the bigger picture.

Without working through a robust analysis of a problem from multiple angles and considering potential repercussions a solid evaluation can never arise.

All this said, by allowing one to think outside the box through a reflective and conscious lens, the time invested in analysis will lead to effective solutions—required in times of high stress.

All noted, in my next commentary I will provide some workarounds to soften the Korean reactive inclination to jump into implementing and producing immediate results—something we find dominating the current Korean business climate.

www,Learnmore@koreabcw.com

###

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Share

Korean Business “Intervention”?

Share

I was recently asked to address a Korean business concern by local management.

Before sharing, I would like to state I work closely with Koreans daily. Many serve as expatriates, many on overseas teams. Like all individuals, no two of us are alike –the same goes for Koreans…each with their own unique strengths, skills, experiences and personality.

All said, the challenge I was asked to address is the company’s Korean expatriate partners (commonly referred to as Executive Coordinators) were intervening in what should be broad local decisions.

Probing deeper, local management felt based on their long experience in the market and industry that these decisions were often short-sighted, reactive and not aligned with their well thought out strategy. Of greater concern were decisions were one-sided and not a collaboration.

In any case, local management felt their input and expertise was being marginalized.

Frankly, this intervention is very cyclic.

Most recently pressure to meet “Sales Targets” had grown, so too, do we see increased intervention by the Korean teams.

Add that Koreans expats who’s DNA are rooted in a collective society and mindset where they feel not only the local stress, but also the Group’s broader pain (China and domestic sales down).

I find two drivers in the spike in recent intervention.

In recent years, overseas branches have had considerable success.

  1. In turn an expatriate working in an overseas branch could take credit for this success and they would see a boost their career when they returned to Korea… Many assigned, for example, to the U.S. and top markets in the EU and the Middle East move upward on to higher positions within the company.

Respectively, when sales are down … and they perceive that their careers will suffer if numbers are not met… it forces them to engage more and more…

  1. The second driver is Korea leadership pressuring their Korea teams to engage, come up with a plan, take immediate action and push themselves.

In some cases this has translated into serving less of a collaborating liaison with the Korean HQ and advisors—to now, the key decision maker.

Some background

Most Korean overseas subsidiaries have Korean management assigned to the host country.

The general term for these representative employees is ju jae won. Within the local overseas organizations, they may be called Coordinators, Executive Coordinators or Executive Advisors.

Some, expatriates also can hold a line managerial position with day-to-day responsibilities alongside western managers, while others hold key management C-level positions, such as CEO, COO, or CFO.

The Korean expat model has a rotation cycle in which teams and executives are assigned to overseas divisions for 3-5 years. They then return to Korea for reassignment with a replacement expected to take over—often with little preparation.

Strengths, skills and experience can vary, too.

For some, this is their first overseas assignment. This means it is also the first time newly assigned Korean expats may be required to directly participate in the decision making process.

In Korea, senior management makes decisions and their teams execute the plan.

Roles vary with each company, but most often, as I noted, a coordinator’s primary role is to act as a liaison between Korea and the local subsidiary.

So where is the challenge?

Ju jae won are skilled and accomplished in Korean style business operations, norms and practices.

However, they have now been assigned to an overseas subsidiary where norms, practices, expectations, and laws differ.

Moreover, their responsibilities and assignments in the subsidiary may be in a department or specialty, in which they had little or no experience in Korea.

Layer on stress and we often see reactions ranging hopeful second-guessing to risk-avoidance and holding back on any decisions.

More so recognize that expatriates are cognitive that local markets and management styles differ from Korea.

This said, under stress we see a reverting back to what working well in Korea.

This is often tackled with Korean colleagues as a team pondering over a challenge and developing a plan of action.

Where the disconnect may occurs in overseas operations is when they defer to their own or the Korean colleagues (locally and in Korea) in decisions over collaborating with local management.

Workarounds   I do have them…

That said, and not trying hold back or avoid sharing but some details are best known as every situation needs to approached differently…

I’d be happy to discuss and share my suggestion for a workaround…

Stacey stacey@koreabcw.com, my assistant can schedule us a time to meet or chat by phone.

For all urgent matters, text me at 310-866-3777

For more information on my work…. www.learnmore@Koreabcw.com

###

Share