Some thoughts ….
|Don Southerton on Korean Business|
From time to time concerns occur in the overseas workplace regarding communications between the HQ and local operations. This can range from feelings of being disconnected and being the last to know as global announcements are made or important news surfaces. This information gap can include working teams but is also felt by local leadership. Team members may even feel that information is being deliberately withheld. While there may be some truth in the disconnection, the feeling that Koreans are withholding information deliberately is most often a perception not reality.
What may be a surprise for western overseas teams is that Korean staff in their home offices must make quite 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 a significant impact on projects.”
For my own work with Korea-based companies, nightly chats via phone and frequent emails and texts are required or I, too, would be ill-informed and “in the dark.”
It is not uncommon when I ask a Korean colleague and even leadership on news, their response is one of surprise—not in me asking, but this may be the first they knew of this even in the media. This implies that silos within the company limit the sharing of information. More so, those not well connected are out the loop or rarely given an advance heads up. I find it interesting that colleagues within a company often remark and see me as one well connected—a very positive trait.
As a caveat, teams do make an effort to keep their trusted friends, colleagues and management well informed—even on sensitive and confidential issues.
Savvy management in turn continually seek out news on issues, projects and forthcoming announcements from their colleagues and networks to stay informed as well as to avoid being caught off guard or blindsided. This network can play a critical role in one’s career and advancement, too.
That said, for most Korea facing international operations, the communication channel—informal and formal—between the Korean HQ and local subsidiaries is through expatriates. (The same goes for western companies located in Korea, as westerners there serve as expats.)
Roles vary within each company, but most frequently with Korean global business an expat’s primary role is to be the 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 information which is appropriate.
Filtering becomes an issue when information is withheld until the last moment, whether for clarity, to avoid confrontation, or to how best 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 information is often held back until a 100% certainty is reached on an outcome or upcoming event. What appears to be silence on important news is actually an attempt based on their years of experience working with the mother company to spare local teams from concerns that could and probably will change over time. So instead of constantly having to return to the local team with a shift in plans, an expat may stay quiet until the last moment and a firm confirmation.
There are workarounds, but one needs to recognize that much is strongly rooted in a company’s culture. This can include legal, PR, and leadership final approvals for time sensitive announcements, which in turn need to be expedited. This can mean little advance notification and discussion even among management.
All said, outside issues that are deemed as private, sensitive and confidential, few will dispute the need for strong internal communications and updates—shared across the organization.
Meanwhile, some best practices include:
1) Building a strong professional network—including colleagues local and overseas.
2) Maintain a reputation as one who can both share and be shared information—with a high degree of trust and confidentiality when appropriate.
Here as always. If you have a question or inquiry on this topic or another, let’s set a time to chat.