Archive for Commentary

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

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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.

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Everything Korea October 2 Episode — Exclusively Korea Business

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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.

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Everything Korea, September 18 Episode Global Work Korean Teams

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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

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

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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

 

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

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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.”

 

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Consequences in Korean Business

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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

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Korean Business “Intervention”?

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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

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Everything Korea: May 16 Episode Global Mandates Part 3, a Caveat

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Several years ago as Korean brands like Samsung, Hyundai, Kia and LG soared during the global recession, I coined the term K-lobalization (Globalization with a K for Korea).  I saw a trend as Korean firms instead of deferring to the local organization to boldly promote their own unique management style and corporate culture internationally and across many markets.  Much of shift this was the result of the Korean brands succeeding as their rivals Western and Japanese product suffered in the downturn.

As pointed out in Part 1 and Part 2 of this series on Korea-directed organization-wide, corporate mandates…. from core value, vision, and management training directives to most recently how they should brand or even target specific consumers in local markets.

One caveat has been the roll back of locally assigned executive coordinators; expats working in the overseas subsidiaries whose roles are to serve as liaisons with the Korean HQ. We see instead teams in Korea directly reaching out to local teams by videoconference, email and phone.

There are some very positive sides to this such as requests go directly to those engaged in the work, long term personal relations are developed and nurtured as well as open two-communications strengthened.

Less constructive is in many cases Korean teams are unfamiliar with nuances in local governance, or the complexity of a project / services. In turn requests might require local teams hours to compile or research—their days already stretched thin.  In some cases, requests are stacking up with new inquiries coming in faster than teams can complete.  In fact as of 2016, this has become the issue I am most frequently asked how best to deal with…

So what are the recommended work-arounds? In Part 4 in the series I will address.

In the meantime I’d like to solicit your input.  What situations are you encountering? Anything I missed?

For questions raised, Stacey, my personal assistant at stacey@koreabcw.com can coordinate a time for us to chat by phone, meet or handle by email.

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Everything Korea May 6th, The “other side” of Don Southerton

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Korea-facing business consultant, strategist, author, Hyundai Whisperer—and martial artist.

 

My public image is a trusted Korea-facing global business leader… I’ve also been an avid practitioner and Master Instructor of traditional Korean martial arts– a Mind and Body journey I have enjoyed for the past 44 years.

During the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, I trained extensively in Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do (now also referred to as Soo Bahk Do), much of this under the Korean system’s Founder and son, the current Grand Master.

Highlights of these years included serving as Chief Instructor/ Coach for the United States Military Academy at West Point. Before shifting my interest to academia, writing, and global consultancy my martial arts schools, Southerton Karate, were nationally recognized leaders in the industry and among the largest in America. My years as a competitor in the late 1970s were recognized in 2013 by the Official Taekwondo Hall of Fame.

As of late, I also serve as an advisor to close friend and long time colleague Stephen Oliver’s elite international martial arts business consultancy.

For my daily practice, in addition to my repertoire of over 35 traditional hyung—over the past 16 years I have added a number of complex forms of Chinese and Korean origin.  These Hyung are sets of combative movements martial artists’ practice to hone their bodies and minds.

In closing, I have always seen martial arts as not only a way of staying in shape through a wide range of stretching, kicking, and hand movements, but also a demanding mental and spiritual regiment.

More so, I attribute my success in business to the discipline, self-control, patience, and focus sharpened over a lifetime in the martial arts—not to mention bringing to my professional work a deep cultural dimension, which is an intricate part of the traditional Korea arts.

BTW You may find this interested, I have a dedicated Facebook Page with some my martial arts videos and photos—past and present.  See Some Cool Videos

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Everything Korea, Episode March 14, the Workarounds

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Addressing issues from a cultural perspective, in most cases the only workarounds that we have and I can suggest are centered on education for Western teams working with Korean teams.

Western co-workers need educated in and be sensitive to the Korean communications style. With less an emphasis on formal channels, in the Korean workplace considerable information is shared informally throughout the often-extended workday.

Foremost, the Korean workplace is ever changing, priorities shift day to day and even throughout the day.  For example, a directive might be altered after being requested—or the mission better defined or clarified.

Since change is frequent, many Korean expatriates working in local operations will refrain from sharing developing issues early on. To Americans for example it may appear they have been sitting on information that could have been shared much earlier—while in actuality instead of false starts, Korean expats want to make sure before engaging the local team.

An added dimension can also be Korea’s balli balli, which was topic of one of the past commentaries, and worth mentioning once again. It translates as hurry-hurry.  Actually, balli means hurry, but the word is always used in tandem adding to the need to move fast. It’s a defacto core value— with everything from immediately responding to requests for data to launching major projects.  More to the point, it means things need to get done today and now, not tomorrow.  I see balli balli also perpetuating a culture of waiting to the last minute.

Even in the best cases, expect that Korean teams may want to postpone any local decision until they can carefully review and perhaps confer with Korea.

To improve communications, I suggest all relevant information be forwarded to the Korean teams. I’d create a sense of urgency with a “suggested” timeline for execution and implementation. Regardless, plan on some delays, be patient and know that once a go-ahead is given the expectation is the task is executed immediately… if not sooner ☺

Over the years, I’ve found that Korean teams appreciate when their overseas co-workers recognize their internal processes and why they postpone taking action to the very last minute…. I’d also be ready to offer as needed supportive data or documents as the situations unfold.

For questions, Stacey, my personal assistant at stacey@koreabcw.com can coordinate a time for us to chat by phone or handle by email.

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