A Global Approach: A Roadmap For Korea Management Teams, Part Three

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So what are the best options for an overseas Korea-based organization’s leadership? I share what i feel works well…. and what does not. Check it out.

Our suggestions and some guidelines for selecting the right local management.

In Part 2, we noted the major issue in staffing an overseas operation is not in the recruitment of a local Korean resident over a Korean expatriate or a westerner but in the hiring of a highly qualified individual—Korean or Westerner. Setting aside my personal bias, I have worked under all three scenarios and found times when each scenario worked well and times when each was less than successful

I find that even the leading Korean groups with decades of international presence have no one model for staffing their overseas operations leadership (COO and CEO/President level). Therefore, it is not surprising that I see the Korean brands new to overseas expansion facing the same dilemma when they look to go global.

To restate the options with some additional elaborating

In some cases, Korean expatriates serve as key leadership for a subsidiary. The best scenario is when this Korean management receives the assignment after a career in the Group’s overseas divisions with past positions in Europe, the Middle East, Asia-Pacific or the Americas.

In other situations, local non-Korean talent holds the executive level positions. An equally strong model is when the Western leadership has held long time management positions in the organization and over time has gained the trust of Korean leadership and has risen internally to Executive Vice President, COO and CEO/ President ranks.

As I note, both situations have merit and can work quite well.

This said, there are a number of situations that do not work as well.

In particular staffing senior executive ranks with westerners who may be seasoned industry veterans and may even come into the situation fully acknowledging the need to accommodate Korea facing nuances has pitfalls. In actuality the expectations of these new hires are that the Koreans will step aside in key decisions and let the westerners “run things.” Adding to this flawed expectation, they assume they will have the ability to communicate upward in the organization only to find they have limited direct dialogue with Korea with most approvals and information to and from headquarters channeled through Korea expatriates in the local office.

What also works poorly is assigning talented Koreans who may have had successful careers within the organization in other positions, such as logistics, audit or finance, but have little or no specific experience in other business sectors. When newly assigned to a top leadership role in overseas’ market, they do over time come to understand the new responsibilities and the local market, but this typically occurs at a huge cost in ramp up time.

As one insightful reader with considerable first hand experience has shared, “The lack of industry knowledge leads to indecision and changing decisions based on influence from [their Korean] colleagues as opposed to decisions being taken on the basis of real understanding and experience of the market.”

Even in cases in which the expatriate may have an excellent track record in growing their brand in an emerging market, running an organization in a mature market, for example, North America, takes a seasoned professional.

A more recent approach to staffing has been the hiring of high potential Korean talent from outside the company and assigning them leadership roles abroad. In part, the thought is that a new perspective will spur even further growth. Sadly, the local organization (expat Korean and westerners) and their partners often find this new blood hinders growth since the new talent may have little or no support network and may lack industry and market insights.

All Said. I strongly recommend supporting ALL overseas’ leadership, regardless of model chosen. This support must be more than the usual department by department updates. Mentoring and coaching is the key. Because experience and skills vary, each program must be tailored to address individual needs.

More significantly, successful mentoring requires a coach who understands both Korean and western business, not to mention the specific Korea-based firm and the industry in general.

Frankly, I often serve in this role. Working across groups, such as the Hyundai Motor Group in the US, Korea and internationally, over the years, I have found that needs and circumstances vary even among sister companies.

Expecting leadership to simply “get it” seldom works—and even if this happens, this approach takes time, is costly, and contributes to stress, poor productivity and even employee turnover.

As an example A few years ago, I had a conversation with a Korea-based C-level executive who was being let go from a top 5 Korean group at the end of his contract. The western executive openly shared the challenges of working for the Korea firm. He was most surprised by the lack of orientation and training programs. Senior level executives had to take it upon themselves to learn the nuances of the company. Their Korean peers were sensitive to the situation but acknowledged that few resources were in place for these activities. Instead there was an expectation that the executive would quickly adjust and engage in work as they would in any other company.

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Disclosure

In this series of commentaries I depart from a previous focus on sharing insights specifically to non-Korean global teams working for Korean companies.

Instead I now provide a roadmap and best practices to Korean management and overseas divisions. This includes new Korean brands eager to launch their products and services outside Korea.

The series is also applicable to established Korean brands already in overseas markets who could benefit from benchmarking “what works” and “what doesn’t.”  

Frankly, too often I see the same missteps re-occurring. What is frustrating is witnessing one company enduring the challenges in their market entry only to see the same scenario repeated by another Korean brand entering the global market. .

So what are these common missteps and how can they be addressed? That is goal of this commentary.

 

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Part 2, A Global Approach: A Roadmap For Korea Management Teams

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Commentary 1, Part 2

In contrast to Part 1 (LINK) in which I discussed the disadvantages of dispatching dedicated teams from Korea to manage a local overseas operation, another alternative is the hiring of Koreans permanently living abroad. The thinking is that these first and second generation Korean locals will be able to better represent the brand than Korean expatriates dispatched from their headquarters.

This approach does have merit.

Koreans living abroad have been educated and employed locally and have considerable localization insights. They are hired with the assumption that their understanding of the Korean language and heritage enables them to bridge the cultures.

While language and cultural understanding are huge pluses, a gap occurs as a result of the very advantage that local knowledge brings. These employees tend to be more comfortable with western business practices than with Korean workplace norms.

I have encountered two common situations.

One is the Korean locals who truly hope their heritage will help them overcome the cultural barriers but find working with their Korean counterparts to be more difficult than expected. The new hire eventually leaves for another opportunity with a western company and the more comfortable work environment.

The second situation occurs when the Korean local does not want to offend corporate management and becomes passive, avoiding pushing back against decisions and plans that are contrary to local practices and will not work outside Korea. Like with the previous outcome, they become frustrated with the situation and eventually explore other employment options.

Local Korean or Westerner

This said, perhaps the real challenge is not the recruiting of a local Korean but the hiring of a highly qualified individual—Korean or Westerner. Outside broad fields, such as Law and Finance in which Korean locals support launches very well, Sales, Marketing and Operations leadership require seasoned veterans in their market sector.

As always we welcome your comments and thought.

Look for the next in the series in which we discuss seeking out the right local management, partners and vendors.

Disclosure

In this series of commentaries I depart from a previous focus on sharing insights specifically to non-Korean global teams working for Korean companies.

Instead I now provide a roadmap and best practices to Korean management and overseas divisions. This includes new Korean brands eager to launch their products and services outside Korea.

The series is also applicable to established Korean brands already in overseas markets who could benefit from benchmarking “what works” and “what doesn’t.”  

Frankly, too often I see the same missteps re-occurring. What is frustrating is witnessing one company enduring the challenges in their market entry only to see the same scenario repeated by another Korean brand entering the global market. .

So what are these common missteps and how can they be addressed? That is goal of this commentary.

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A Global Approach: For Korea Management Teams— A New Work in Progress

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This is a new work in progress– feedback and comments appreciated.

By Don Southerton
Feedback on my writings, including my most recent book Korea Perspective is always welcome. My readers have considerable first-hand experience working for and interacting with Korea-based companies so their input is appreciated and highly valued.

The following is a paraphrase of comment from one reader.
After reading Korea Perspective, I can only agree with your very accurate analysis. Leadership within Korean companies is crucial, since very little action is left to lower level of management. For example, the Western reflective behavior, as you describe in your book, is not encouraged by the leadership. The focus is solutions and quick action.

The comment further notes:
I think a good topic and matter to be studied more is how Korean Companies can really expand and/or consolidate their overseas business without considering a change in their leadership. Unfortunately what I have experienced is if this leadership is ONLY Korean these big companies will face hard time in the future, of course against American companies but I would say also with Indians and nowadays Chinese.

A Roadmap for Korean Management
Mindful of these remarks, in this series of commentaries I depart from a previous focus that has shared insights to non-Korean global teams working for Korean companies.

Instead I provide a roadmap and best practices to their Korean management and overseas divisions. This includes new Korean brands eager to launch their products and services outside Korea. The series is also applicable to those established Korean brands already in overseas markets who could benefit from benchmarking “what works” and “what doesn’t.”

Frankly, too often I see the same missteps re-occurring. What is frustrating is to witness challenges one company endures in their market entry only to see the same (something or other but without repeating “challenges” repeated as another new Korean brand goes global.

So what are these common missteps and how can they be addressed? That is goal of this commentary.

Challenge #1 Dispatching a Korean team to spearhead local U.S. or overseas operations outside Korea.

When expanding into new oversees markets, all companies need to have their HQ operations represented in the local markets. The Korean model for overseas markets has evolved– improving some over the years. In the best cases, the major established brands have recognized and learned through trial and error that key local leadership and teams, especially sales and marketing, need to be non-Korean and industry veterans.

In addition to local teams, they may still assign expatriates, called ju jae won. In the larger overseas subsidiaries, these Korean expats are assigned to the major departments, including sales, marketing, HR, and product development, along with engineering, and design divisions. In many, if not most, cases these expats are not assigned manager roles but operate as a “shadow management” with considerable oversight of local operations.

For westerners unfamiliar with the Korean model, this “oversight” usually translates into the Korean expats requiring signing 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. Cognitively, the Korean teams recognize localization is needed but, especially if under pressure to perform, may defer to their Korean company procedures and cultural norms. In other cases, Korean firms have also initially resisted local management guidance and followed what they felt would be the best approach. Sadly, the Korean-led teams perform poorly and eventually yield to the local teams.

That said, it seems to be common practice that new Korean brands with little overseas experience follow a path that rarely is successful–feeling their best approach is to dispatch HQ personal to the new market and let them figure it out. In many cases those assigned are among the top employees in the Korean HQ operation—knowing their company and its product well. However, to succeed in the West an entirely different set of skills is required. Foremost is a strong knowledge of the industry—one acquired over decades.

All said, the most effective model is to hire a strong local, non-Korean management team but not constrain them with a Korean “shadow” management team that must approve or sign off on all the local decisions. This includes the Finance team assigned to the local operations but always independent of operations and reporting to their own teams in Korea.

Why? To be truly effective, local teams must be empowered to act based on their experience and judgment. Layers of approval may be commonplace in Korea but slow down the process in overseas markets, especially when the Korean support teams have little or no experience in that market or try to operate the business as they would in Korea. Inevitably, the work stalls, frustrating and demoralizing the local teams.
In part 2 of Challenge #1, we will discuss an option in lieu of dispatching a team from Korea. Should the hiring of local teams of Korean heritage with the assumption they will be able best represent the brand in America be considered as an option?

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Korean Business Expert Don Southerton Releases Ground Breaking Book

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Korea Perspective offers a road map to avoid common pitfalls while overcoming challenges, addressing issues that frequently surface with Korea.

http://www.prweb.com/releases/2015/01/prweb12479689.htm

Golden, Colorado (PRWEB) February 02, 2015
Korean global business consultant Don Southerton has released his latest publication, titled Korea Perspective. Southerton notes, ” As a result of my interacting with Korea facing business on an almost daily basis, Western overseas teams, as well Korean leadership and teams, have openly shared their challenges and pressing concerns. In turn, I have worked to provide them with a framework, strategy, and solutions. This book is based on these daily interactions.”

The intended audiences, the author points out, are Westerners employed by Korean-based companies outside South Korea, firms providing services or products to a South Korean overseas subsidiary or operations and global companies that have significant business with a Korean company.

Southerton adds, “All in all, this book offers a road map to avoid the pitfalls, navigate around the roadblocks, and thrive.”

Korea Perspective is available through Amazon Kindle, Nook and most popular booksellers.

About the author
Don Southerton has a life-long interest in Korea and the rich culture of the country. He has authored numerous publications with topics centering on culture, new urbanism, entrepreneurialism, and early U.S.-Korean business ventures. Southerton also lectures extensively and writes and comments on modern Korean business culture and its impact on global organizations.

He is a frequent contributor to the media (WSJ, Forbes, CNN Fortune, Bloomberg, Automotive News, Korea Times, Korea Herald, Yonhap, Korea Magazine, and FSR) on Korea facing business and culture. He heads Bridging Culture Worldwide, a Golden, Colorado based company that provides strategy, consulting and training to Korea-based global business. An avid martial artist, Southerton has pursued the study and practice of Korean traditional arts for more than forty years.
The author is available for media interviews.

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Korea Perspective By Don Southerton Publication Date: January 2015

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Overview Korea Perspective is based on daily consultancy interactions in the support of the Korean automotive, golf, land development, Green sustainability technologies and retail sectors. Western overseas teams, as well Korean leadership and teams, have openly shared their challenges and pressing concerns along with the inner workings of their companies in the interest of improving communication. In turn, I have worked to provide a framework, strategy, and solutions.

About the new book This book builds considerably upon topics shared in my two previous and well-received publications: Korea Facing: Secrets for Success in Korean Global Business and Hyundai Way: Hyundai Speed. In particular, the new book explores more deeply into issues many working for Korean based companies may experience. The target audience and focus is the ever-growing number of Westerners employed by Korean-based companies outside South Korea. This book will provide you with greater awareness into the Korean workplace and mindset.

Likewise, if your firm provides services or products to a South Korean overseas subsidiary or operation, this book will offer tactics to strengthen and maintain the relationship.

Finally, if your company has significant business in Korea, but leadership and headquarters are located in the West, we offer suggestions to key management on how to effectively deal with pressing issues and challenges that surface.

All in all, this book offers a roadmap to avoid the pitfalls, navigate around the roadblocks, and thrive.

About the author Don Southerton has a life-long interest in Korea and the rich culture of the country. He has authored numerous publications with topics centering on culture, new urbanism, entrepreneurialism and early U.S.-Korean business ventures. Southerton also extensively lectures and writes and comments on modern Korean business culture and its impact on global organizations. He is a frequent contributor to the media (WSJ, Forbes, CNN Fortune, Bloomberg, Automotive News, Korea Times, Korea Herald, Yonhap, Korea Magazine, and FSR) on Korea facing business and culture. He heads Bridging Culture Worldwide a Golden, Colorado based company, that provides strategy, consulting and training to Korea-based global business.

The Author is available for interviews.

Contact:

Don Southerton c/o Bridging Culture Worldwide

dsoutherton@bridgingculture.com

1-310-866-3777

Offices in Golden, CO; Irvine, CA; and Seoul, South Korea

 

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Korea Perspective: Chapter 6, Pieces to a Puzzle

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Chapter 6 Pieces to a puzzle…

A Western client recently explained that a huge challenge within their company was engaging the Koreans teams in the U.S. in discussions about complex situations and long-term planning. Specifically, there was little joint discourse related to potential trade-offs and risks in projects assigned to the local subsidiary. The Western team was consulted only to validate pre-conceived ideas or to implement directives from Korea. In most Korean companies leadership determines direction and the paths to resolving major issues. In turn, the working team’s role is to focus on producing immediate results.

Contemplating this challenge, particularly within a narrow and myopic workplace approach, one can draw an analogy to jigsaw puzzle building. The pieces to a puzzle have many sides but only some are visible. What is required is to look diligently at all possible options.

As a Korean colleague once pointed out, their society beginning with grade school does not promote reflective thinking. Reflective thinking does not produce immediate effects. More so, in contrast with the Korean workplace’s collective thought process, reflective thinking stems from an individual’s core consciousness.

Reflective thinking requires not only acquiring knowledge, but also calling upon one’s own experience and evaluative skills and admitting personal bias. The result is a broader perspective and a better view of the bigger picture

Often as a consequence of this myopic analysis, more problems may occur. 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.

Part 2 of this chapter will provide hints to engage Korean teams in a more reflective approach, as well as a strategy to work effectively within a workplace with two divergent approaches—Korean and Western.

 

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Korea Perspective: Chapter 4, One way communications?

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Building on Chapter 4’s Short on feedback theme…

Withholding

Amid growing tensions between a joint U.S and Korean launch team in a US-based facility, the first US venture for the Korean company, I was asked to conduct a series of cross-cultural coaching sessions. Polite consensus by the leadership was that the problem was “cultural”—Koreans not understanding Americans and visa-versa.

Most of the American team were well seasoned —handpicked because they had been top performers in their previous jobs. Likewise, the Korean team members were highly experienced—but this was their first overseas’ assignment.

What surfaced during our discussions was that the new American management had been searching for documented policies and procedures to guide them in decision-making and day-to-day work. For example, those who had been former Toyota staff looked for a model similar to the Toyota Way, while others who had worked for Ford Motor Company sought manuals of standard operation procedures (SOPs). As a result of not finding guidelines, some of the Westerners were concerned that the Koreans were deliberately withholding vital information as a form of control and power even though the Korean and Americans were to be considered equals in decision making and project oversight.

Probing deeper, I found that the Korean managers, although limited in their overseas experience, were sincere in sharing responsibility and relied heavily on the American staff. What also surfaced was that there were, in fact, no formalized procedures or processes. In part this was rooted in the Korean mindset discussed in Chapter 2; Korean projects remain flexible and continually change. This, of course, was a stark contrast to the American teams who were groomed in a western production model.

What I also uncovered and shared with the Western management was that the Korean management actually respected the Western production model. In fact, there was an expectation that over time and based on know-how the American teams would fine tune the transplanted process and standardize procedure for the US operation.

One way

Several years ago during a group workshop which I hosted for Korean and Western senior managers, the discussion quickly focused on one-way communications. The local American teams voiced puzzlement over receiving little or no feedback on any reports or studies they provided to the headquarters in Korea. For example, at the direction of HQ the local team devoted considerable effort to the benchmarking of competitors and compliance testing but received no feedback. This, of course, led to considerable frustration, because in their previous employment the Westerners had been actively involved in high profile projects with considerable feedback and follow-up.

Summing up their frustration, they felt that information flowed only one way. Korea would request, and their job was to simply fulfill.

Collecting his thoughts, a senior Korean participant pointed out that local input was respected, but he, too, rarely received direct feedback for the work performed in the local office. In fact, what comments he did receive centered on achieving deadlines or were questions and requests.

Continuing, the Korean manager explained that despite what might seem to be an endless flow of reporting back to the HQ, he personally felt that senior management reviewed those options and took them into consideration. In fact, Korean leadership placed high levels of trust in the local teams and their judgment.

Listening attentively, I added that in Korea the formal communication channel was usually top down. The role of staff in the ranks was to execute, not question, and then report their findings to leadership. Seeking to change that model would be a challenge. Instead I suggested another option– both teams meet weekly for a joint lunch meeting. The local Korean team could share news as it surfaced and add their perspective. In turn, the American team could use the opportunity to present new ideas and approaches to ongoing projects. Over time they would at least improve inter-team communications, leading to better understanding.

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Korea Perspective: Chapter 4, Short on Feedback

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Chapter 4
Short on Feedback

Sharing their feedback from a request for comments, a client noted: “My experiences on major projects have been frustrating at times as HQ’s review process is much too long, bureaucratic & short on feedback…”

The most common frustration in the overseas workplace is tied to communications between the Korean HQ and local operations. In the best cases, teams in local offices feel somewhat disconnected; in the worst cases they feel information is being deliberately withheld.

What may be a surprise for overseas teams is that even the Korean staff must make an effort to stay informed. As one entry-level employee of a major Korean group lamented, “If I did not spend an hour daily networking with fellow workers, I would be in the dark on issues major and minor that could have significant impact on projects.” For my own client work with Korea companies, nightly chats via phone and frequent emails and texts are required or I, too, would be ill informed and “in the dark.”

Filtering
That said, for most Korea facing international operations, the communication channel between the Korean HQ and local subsidiary is through expatriates (ju jae won) who are often referred to as “Coordinators.” In the larger overseas subsidiaries, these Korean expats are assigned to the major departments.

In many, if not most, circumstances the expats are not assigned managerial roles but instead operate as a “shadow management” with considerable oversight of local operations. Roles vary with each company, but frequently a coordinator’s primary role is to be liaison between Korea and the local subsidiary. Frankly, some expats are more open to sharing information than others. Regardless, I feel this is less a deliberate withholding of news than a “filtering” — that is, a review of communications from the mother company and then a doling out of that which the coordinator considers appropriate. Filtering becomes an issue when the expat withholds information until the last moment to avoid confrontation or to address a delicate situation. Delaying communication often forces local operations to drop everything and deal with an issue that would have been less demanding and disruptive for the teams if conveyed in a timely manner.

In other situations, I have found expats “filtering” information until they are 100% certain of an outcome or upcoming event. Activities, events, travel and schedules are continually changing. So instead of constantly having to return to the local team to shift plans, the expats stay quiet until the last moment. What appears to be a holding back on news is actually an attempt based on their years of experience working with the mother company to spare local teams of concerns that could and probably would change over time.
Part 2 of Chapter 4 will highlight 2 scenarios and my suggested countermeasures.

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Copyright BCW 2014

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Korea Perspective, Scenarios

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Another preview of the new ” work in progress.”  Questions and comments welcome.

Chapter 3    Place, or no two equal, part 2

Two Scenarios

Hierarchical status driven interactions, communication norms, and the day to day situations that surface can dramatically impact the overseas’ workplace. On a number of occasions I have been tasked to assist clients in overcoming impasses. Most often I see a common thread–one rooted in a mismatch in status, title and position.

For example, a major American brand was negotiating with a large Korea retail group interested in a licensing arrangement. Time had passed with little progress to the dismay of the American CFO/ COO who had felt initial talks with the Korean company’s CEO would lead to a solid agreement. When I quizzed the American executive on the negotiation channel for the potential partnership, he indicated that all communication was with a Ms. Shin. The US executive quickly added he had never personally met Ms. Shin and that all interactions were via email. He also pointed out that she was very professional and capable.

After some further questions, the CFO/ COO mentioned he had Ms. Shin’s contact information. Upon review, I determined the Korea team member’s rank and position—daeri or Assistant Manager to the American executive’s surprise. He had assumed he was dealing were with a more senior level manager. My follow up was that we needed to ask Ms. Shin to kindly arrange a meeting between the American CFO and the Korean Group’s CEO to rekindle the negotiations and resolve issues that appear to have stalled the talks.

In a second example an American company was supplying product to a Korean manufacturer. The American plant manager who oversaw a division of the company was frustrated in dealing with ongoing supply issues and follow-up. Although he saw the Korean team overseeing day-to-day operations as cordial, little was ever resolved. Because of these unresolved issues the American company was now considering dropping the account, although it was a major revenue stream.

Again my approach was to determine the title and position of the Korean teams directly involved. They were in fact chajang (Deputy General Managers)—and from what I could determine oversaw all the day-to-day operations at the Korean manufacturing plant. Meeting with the American executive, I noted the position title on his business card was General Manager (GM). Quizzing him on the title, he explained that within his manufacturing sector a GM was commonly responsible for overall plant leadership. That said, in Korea a General Manager is seen as a highly respected member of the team but a tier below leadership positions. In turn a plant manager in Korea would hold a Managing Director or Vice President level ranking.

Probing deeper I asked if the American plant manager had ever met his customer’s leadership. He noted they had met briefly years earlier, but on his 2-3 trips to the Korea each year the meetings were with the chajang Deputy General Managers and limited in scope to day-to-day operations. What became clear was that issues were not being resolved in part because they never moved beyond the working team level. What should have been reconciled between the leadership of the two firms was never elevated within the Korea company because the Korea team viewed the American executive as their peer with senior manager rank versus a Managing Director or Vice President.

My coaching was to reposition the American plant manager as leadership with a Vice President rank. Meetings were then arranged with Korean senior management to tackle the outstanding issues.

A better approach

In short, determine titles and positions early in the relationship. Also, request an organizational chart and provide one to the Korean team. In some cases adjust American rank designations to better align with the Korean organization.

Remember titles and position are based on time and seniority with one’s age matching the position. With age in most cases tied to rank in the Korea workplace, norms dictate entry-level staffing are in their early to mid 20s, middle management those in their 30s and leadership individuals in the 40s and 50s.

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Korea Perspective: Chapter 3 Place, no two equal

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Before sharing a sneak peak of Chapter 3 Place, no two equal…some recent feedback on last week’s Chapter 1 Connected, Fluid and Conditional

Hi Don,

This is very fascinating.

In my personal studies with Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, he often uses the term “inter-being” to highlight our collective interconnection with everything.

In my workplace and personal interactions with both Eastern and Western cultures, I have also witnessed the inherent conflict between collectivism and independence. There are quite a few jokes in Western circles around the “efficiency” of committees. In fact, most of the stated perspective about collaborative decisions is one of weakness and delay.

I wonder, then, how these different perspectives have been able to inter-operate as well as they have.

Will (or does?) your book include examples of successful inter-actions?

Regards,

D.N.

Chapter 3   Place, or no two equal

As noted in Chapter 1, innerconnectiveness or oneness is foundational and overarching in the Korean workplace. Norms and practices that may appear as routine and day-to-day are rooted in the concept. This chapter looks at “Place” within the social matrix. Introduction “meet and greets,” the sharing of business cards and a person’s company title are visible examples of Place in the workplace.

Broadly speaking, within the Korea workplace and society everyone occupies a position—a few individuals at the top, some in the middle and others in bottom tier. No two individuals ever share the same status within this social stratification.

Within this paradigm and from a cross-cultural perspective Korea is seen as a high Power Distance society. This means there are substantial gaps between those in middle and lower ranks and those at the top. Still in contrast to the West’s “Us and Them,” in Korea all are seen inclusive and part of the same connected framework.

Introductions, business cards and company titles serve as useful tools in better determining and fine tuning place in the matrix for Koreans who share a common culture and heritage. For example, when two Koreans meet for the first time a polite greeting is followed by the exchange of business cards. The role of the business card is to provide the person’s title as well their company affiliations—again as with individuals, no two companies ranked the same. That said, considerable significance is given to Fortune 500 firms and/ or global brands, such as Apple, Cisco, Samsung, or Hyundai. For academics, public sector officials and professionals the business card provides the same function by highlighting if the person is a Ph.D., Consular General, MD or graduate student. Additionally, the business card provides information about associations with a well-known university, government agency or hospital. Together the company or institutional affiliation and title provide a means of positioning a person within a workplace hierarchy.

Next both parties in an introduction commonly face a litany of questions beginning with the middle and high schools they attended their college education, marital status, number of children along with other inquiries that a Westerner may consider personal, such as church or religious affiliations. If a third party is present for the introductions, that person, too, might add to this conversation, embellishing each person’s life accomplishments and status whenever possible.

Combined with non-verbal clues, dress and appearance, one’s employment, title and education, all come into play in internalizing the placement of that person within society—again, while still considering each individual as a part of the greater whole. Once this place is determined, the new acquaintances will also then follow norms for interacting and communicating in business and day-to-day matters.

“Part 2” of this article will look at these hierarchical and status driven interactions and communication norms, a number of which differ from the West and can dramatically impact the overseas workplace.

BCW 2014

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