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.
In this Part 1, I offer some insights into the overseas teams assigned to local subsidiaries.
Part 2 will cover my recommendations and best practices for supporting overseas teams, including work-arounds to common issues that surface—for example when department-level expats assigned to “support” local executives begin to assume more direct control over day to day operations.
Part 3 will look at working with Korean teams based in Korea.
We find with Korea facing international operations the communication channel between the Korean HQ and local subsidiary is through expatriates– although it is shifting some and I’ll cover more in Part 3.
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 expats 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 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.
Cognitively, they 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 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…
All said, I do have proven recommendations and workarounds, so look for Part 2 in the series.
In the meantime, I’d like to ask if you could share your experiences working with expat teams. Email me @ firstname.lastname@example.org Your comments, all kept private and confidential.
Other questions? Stacey, email@example.com, my assistant can schedule us a time to meet, or chat by phone. For urgent matters, text me at 310-866-3777.