Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Everything Korea, October 5 Episode, Connected and Conditional

In Korea Perspective, which I released at the beginning of the year, I discuss the complexity of the Korean workplace.

What stands out in Korea facing work is the innerconnectiveness of their workplace. Author Richard Nisbett describes the concept well in The Geography of Thought:

To the Westerner, it makes sense to speak of a person as having attributes that are independent of circumstances or particular personal relations. 

This self— this bounded, impermeable free agent—can move from group to group and setting to setting without significant alteration. 

But for the Easterner (and for many other peoples to one degree or another), the person is connected, fluid, and conditional...    

The person participates in a set of relationships that make it possible to act and purely independent behavior is usually not possible or really even desirable.

Since all action is in concert with others, or at the very least affects others, harmony in relationships becomes a chief goal of social life.

In addition philosopher Donald Munro pointed out that East Asians understand themselves in  "their relation to the whole, such as the family, society…” I would include the workplace in Munro’s paradigm.

An Example
The Korean workplace is a complexity of interrelations. Decisions must consider relationships and the impact to the organization. To share an example from a global project in which I was engaged, a meeting concluded following a high level presentation to division heads with the Korean leadership pleased, but deferring decisions until they “internally discussed.”

To the dismay of the Korean project leads in the days following the presentation assignments for portions of the project were distributed to a number of departments. In private the project's lead team was not pleased but accepted the mandate. There was no recourse since the parceling came from leadership.  The team did not wish to create an issue despite knowing that the other teams with only domestic Korea experience were poorly equipped to handle the global assignment. Following the cultural norm, the lead team accepted the situation and sought to maintain harmony above all—even knowing their project would suffer.
Questions, Comments?

Korea Perspective book link

Monday, September 28, 2015

Everything Korea, September 28 Episode, a Simple Answer?

Over the years I have shared that overseas Korean operations go through times when the local organization experience less oversight by Korean teams.  More recently through direct feedback of western teams in America as well as my own observations some overseas subsidiaries are experiencing greater demands by Korean management.

In part this is now due to downturns in China, Russia, and other emerging markets—that Korean brands had high hopes. Under such global pressure ensuring key markets like the U.S. perform well can mean an increased concern, worry, and stress on the part of their Korean teams… in turn this results in increased governance, micro-management and scrutiny, in particular, by Finance.  

So what’s the solution?
Frankly most of us recognize that support, especially mentoring for ALL newly hired and western management is needed.  This may sound as a simple answer to dealing with a complex issue.  I agree.  That said, in a time of heightened oversight, teams need even more coaching and mentoring. The alternative is high turnover of the best management and employees, with an increasing difficulty and cost in the replacement of team members, not to mention the ramifications in loss productivity and poor performance across the organization at a time of when many are counting on U. S. sales to buffer the global downturn.

Like the exposed section of an iceberg American teams working with Korean-facing business do recognize there are difference in management style, work habits, body language, food, hobbies, etc.

What is hidden and needs mentoring is to better understand the differences, along with attitudes or beliefs, social norms, cognitive process, popular trends, opinions, viewpoints, preferences, tastes, and specific knowledge of their company and its practices.  I provide this hidden side of the iceberg.   

I often refer to this understanding as providing as Context over Data—1) the Data as the obvious differences and 2) Context as nuances that require mentoring and drilling deeper---situational and at times broaching on the sensitive.   

I’d be happy to discuss how this Context over Data impacts your company and organization.  This link shares times we can best discuss.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Everything Korea: September 21 Episode, Where to Begin

Where to begin?  What are the essentials to better understanding the Korean mindset with regard to Korean business? I fall back on to three fundamentals.

Hierarchy—place and order
Hierarchy is one of the most distinguishing characteristics of Korean culture and deeply embedded in the Korean workplace in Korea and overseas.

Reaching back to Korea's Neo-Confucian past, social stratification is apparent in Korea's top companies. More so, South Korea’s authoritarian military regimes of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s reinforced the model.

For Koreans hierarchy brings place and order to society and the workplace. Unlike the West, within this hierarchy no two individuals have the same place within the social matrix--age, education, family, employment and title /position with a company or organization determining where one stands within this matrix. So deeply does it impact Korea that rankings from one’s class standings to consumer rating of the major Group global brands matter considerable.

Status—upmarket and Lux
Traditionally Korea was a status conscious society.  For the elites this manifested in a wide range of status markers from Celadon pottery, refined behavior, ritual robes, distinct cuisine, and table manners. Today a former rigid class structure no longer dominates—class distinction and status more determined by one’s education, employment, job position, and personal income. More so, we have seen considerable upward social mobility within Korea—a direct results of the nation’s economic successes.

Going hand and hand with the upward mobility has been the demand for luxury and premium goods and products.  In fact, these (most often Western) lux items have taken on the role of status markers.  This list can include designer eyeglasses, handbags, and watches, as well ties, scarfs, belts and name brand clothing.

Although some Koreans have shown concern over the desire for pricey goods, in the eyes of many Korean customers, the more expensive and the rarer, the more desirable the brand. Consumers equate value with a high price tag.

All and all what we see unfolding is an ever growing demand for upmarket goods and product in Korea—this consciousness driving a repositioning of Korean brands globally, too, -- Korean brands wishing to be seen as premium and among world’s leading consumer goods from cars to home appliances to electronics.  

Generations—shared experiences
South Korea’s dominant age groups have great impact on Korean business culture, so there is value in understanding the differences in Korean generations. In South Korea, a generational group is defined more by its shared experiences than by a specific number of years.
For instance, older Koreans (50:60ers) who lived through the Korean War and its aftermath are more conservative, strongly allied with the U.S., and uncompromising towards North Korea.

In contrast, a group called Generation 386 (a phrase coined more than a decade ago, and comparable in some aspects to American baby-boomers) grew up in a period of great student unrest and tend to be more socially conscious and liberal than their forbearers. 386, no longer literally accurate term, stands for Koreans in their 30s in the late 1990s, born in the 1960s, and educated in the 80s.  (Re-coined now as 486’s in some circles.)

A third generation of South Koreans, those in the age group of 26-35, is commonly referred to as the New Generation or Shinsedae. Many of this group have studied abroad, worked most of their careers on overseas support and projects, are fluent in English (and often another language or two), and have a global perspective.

This group grew up after the 1997 economic meltdown in Asia, which strongly impacted South Korean culture. This younger generation of Koreans is less concerned about ideology and more pragmatic. Their primary concern is finding a job. They are also a strong “gotta have it” consumer class and individualistic as a result of the impact of globalization, the Internet, television, and the high percentage of students who attended U.S. schools and universities.

All three noted, I see hierarchy, status and generations as a lens to better understand the Korean mindset, both within their society and in the workplace across their global organizations.  

For more insights, questions or comments, I am available to discuss.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Everything Korea, Episode September 14, Ten Insights

In this episode I’d like to share  “Ten Insights into Korean business.”  This is something I often incorporate into one on one coaching and mentoring sessions.  It was also developed in collaboration with a senior Korea manager specifically to explain to his team’s Westerners on the company—the Westerners lacking first hand knowledge in the mother company and seeing the Company only in their local operations. In particular, there was a gap between how things were executed in Korea and had evolved locally-- to a model less efficient and with time-consuming procedures.

To begin,  
Trust There is a very strong trust within teams and in the company. This is often because of a legacy in achieving many bold accomplishments—often seemingly impossible tasks.

Family Traditional family norms permeate the work culture (Elder brother as boss, senior managers, etc.) and the related concept that co-workers are seen as family.

Challenge A one-word summary of the Korean workplace would be Challenge--both in what it has overcome and in what it expects of its global employees.

Input Companies are very hierarchical, but actively demands input from all levels. In fact, top management make decisions based on the expectation that the lower levels have considered all possible outcomes and challenges.

Teamwork Once a decision is made all dissenting or differing opinions unite to embrace success.

Solution In Korea, employees do not bad mouth or put down their company. In fact, employees feel that such an attitude is “part of the problem” and not “part of the solution.” Even among friends, negative thoughts are not shared.

Relationships From higher ranks to the lower ranks, they are very hierarchical. But, here are also very protective organizations. On one level, norms dictate that Seniors are demanding of their Junior employees. One reason is to make sure Juniors learn the work expectations, practices, and culture.

On another level, workers must ensure that mistakes are not made that could reflect badly on their Seniors the department, or the company. Once a Junior works for a Senior that Jr. is part of a network of other employees under the umbrella or protection of the Senior.

Expectations There are very high expectations that must be met.  Doing a great job is what you are paid to do….

Collaboration The American workplace process is often to receive an assignment, clarify details, go off, work hard, and come back to the manager with the result.

The Korean staff will take a different approach. They will receive an assignment, work and discuss it collectively with others, and go back to the manager on multiple occasions informally to make sure they are following the path the manager wants. This method takes times, but Korean workers know when the manager sees the result, it will be what the senior requested.

Adaptability Flexibility and acceptance of change. Projects are subject to lots of change—some speed up, while others stall.

Questions, Comments?  Want to chat?

Oh one more thing,
I was very pleased that my favorite Korean food brand Mad for Garlic is expanding into the Middle East.  Here are some links sharing more.  The brand would do well in the US. 

Plus one more link on US opportunity here,

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Everything Korea, Episode September 8, Differing Approaches


This week’s Vodcast is an excerpt from Chapter 2 of my Korea Perspective book. It shares divergent approaches tackling projects.

To begin,
From a cultural perspective, the Korean approach to managing projects differs from the West. To better explain dynamics in the Korean workplace, we need to draw on two cross-cultural terms.

The first is "mono-chronic" in which people proceed according to linear plans made well in advance of the project start and carry out tasks one at a time from start to finish. For many this is considered a very western approach.

The second term is "polychronic" in which numerous tasks are addressed but not necessarily in a sequential approach. Multiple issues can be dealt with simultaneously while other assignments can be put on hold or elevated in priority. This frequently describes the Korean workplace.

A polychronic work style can result in negotiations, planning, and project activities proceeding at major levels with conversations jumping back to previously discussed issues mixed with new issues.

On the positive side, Korean organizations are flexible and teams are accustomed to change. Frankly, however, this can conflict with a workplace culture of high risk-avoidance and limited risk taking.

Having said all this, I have some suggestions. First, in many cases accept this as the Korean model and adapting accordingly will save considerable frustration and stress. I have seen efforts by western firms working with their Korean partners to suggest a structured project management process to align teams. In some cases this means bringing in experts and outside consulting firms to put in place a western project control system.

Although the Korean teams are open to the training and cognitively agree to the value of the procedures, they rely on their own time-proven systems and defer to their own methods, especially when under a deadline.

Questions, Comments? Want to chat?

Interested in a copy of Korea Perspective.  Here’s the link for free PDF copy

Monday, August 31, 2015

Everything Korea, Episode August 31 Agreements and Expectations

As a trusted friend constantly reminds me, Don, no one does what you do.
Share and inform. aspects of Korea facing business.

This notedContracts, legal agreements and negotiations go hand in hand with business. I was once told that in Korea the purpose of signing a contract or agreement was essentially to formalize the partnership. Over time terms would be subject to change and re-negotiation.

My Korea facing experience has been that the contract fundamentally solidifies the working relationship.  However, to maintain the partnership contractual obligations the contract will require on-going changes to reflect business conditions. In contrast terms in legal agreement in the West are seen as immutable.

Major differences in how Korean and Westerners perceive legal agreements can surface during the negotiation stage and even after the contract is in place. In particular, requests by Korean teams for changes to a Western companys standard agreements and contracts can cause considerable frustration, especially for their legal counsel. In the West some red lining of a document may take place but legal teams may see unprecedented levels of questioning the most basic contractual language. Great patience may be required to walk Korean teams through the Western legal terminology and clarifications of what cannot be changed within the document to maintain compliance with international laws.

Finally, it is not uncommon for terms to be re-visited and questioned by other departmentsoften with limited or no international legal or business experience despite months of work between the Western and Korean lead teams! 

Oh, one more thing
Ensuring success and sustainability in dealing with Korea-facing business partnerships will require well-communicated expectations and cross-cultural understanding. In particular any business plan and strategy needs to take into account differences in the cultural realities between the West and Korea.   Its here I can help., and echoing my opening statement. Don, no one does what you do.

Questions? Comments?  Want to chat?

Monday, August 24, 2015

Everything Korea: Episode August 24—A Longer Answer

In a June Vodcast I shared a “short answer” describing my work consulting for CEO and C-level management as well as the teams.

My short answer has been what client and long friend, a CMO for a major company best described my practice to others as Everything Korea… I also like having been introduced as “ a high power consultant” or Don is “the guru, the guy CEOs want to have their voice heard with…

In particular, I provide counsel and solutions based on my years working with Korean business—a good part in the international expansion into new markets and the challenges that surface. 

I also shared why I post weekly Vodcasts, frequent media commentaries, case studies as well as books on Korea facing topics.   They all serve as channels to educate and inform.   

This said, in my consultancy each engagement needs to be approached on a case-by-case basis—no two situations identical.

If you feel you might benefit from my Korean business insights, I’ve blocked out my availability to chat and discuss…. Just go to http://www.meetme.so/southerton

In closing, I’ve included a “Long Answer” List of varied media resources and interviews that share and highlight the scope of my work as well as advise for Korea facing companies.  


Wall Street Journal Korea Real Time 
“Southerton Advises Non-Koreans in Overseas Korean Offices”

Busan Hap
“Korea Facing: Interview with Korea Global Consultant Don Southerton” 

Korea Herald
“The Tall Man’ and the globalization of Hyundai Construction”
Wall Street Journal Korea Real Time 
“Hyundai Motor: Cruising or Skidding?”

The Korean Car Blog (a selection of articles authored by Don Southerton)

“New Urbanism”

Korea Magazine
Cover Story: “Songdo”

“How Korean car makers beat out the Japanese”

Leaf Chronicle
“Growth Summit Focuses on Global Jobs”

Oh, one more thing, even more links to resources are available upon request.