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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