Sunday, November 10, 2019

Open Communications and Korea Facing Business

Checking emails at 2:30 AM.  

Trying to not doze off and miss a late evening phone or Facebook Message call.

Responding early morning to a previous evening’s urgent Text.

Waking up to a rather lengthy request for revisions on a multi-page document that the Korean team needs to finalize as is due that day in Korea. 

Don Southerton
This week we look at some of the new challenges as we’re finding more open and direct communications between Korean HQ and local teams. This is more and more commonly surfacing for teams. 

By its very nature, Korean facing business is the interaction of worldwide teams operating in different zones—with Korea and North America—their working days beginning as our ends and visa versa.

Beyond the different cultures globally working together on a daily basis, which I speak of often, we have seen the advancements in telecommunications as well as more open communications between working-level teams in the West and Korea.  

(BTW I can recall a time when an international call between the US and Korea was not only costly but few Korean office landlines even had international access.) 

That said, it’s now common for Staff in Korea to now pick up their mobile phone and reach out via an app for a one on one with a western team member.  This contrasts with the old model where all communication between HQ and local subsidiaries went through and was screened by the local expatriate team.  

The new model is not without its challenges. 

For one, email requests often need clarification and even a message received in the AM in the West with hopes that by the end of day (morning in Korea) there will be substantial progress—without some clarity—little may have been accomplished. 

More so, even if a request is made—local teams are often stretched thin—and any new workload can be seen as overwhelming.

Also common are End of Day requests—again sent at the beginning of the day in Korea—but received as the day is wrapping up in the West.  In contrast for an expat team their “second day” often begins around 4-5 PM as the Korean HQ is back on-line and their work often running late into the evening—but for western employees working late is most often not an option. 

I do have a number of work-arounds—most the result of nearly 20 years working directly with teams and leadership in Korea.  Here I share two among my many proven hints.

Hint 1

In the case of a last-minute request or a request that may require more clarity and/or substantial research….

As I learned from a senior Korean executive, in many cases Korea often requests local input so teams and leadership can finalize an important decision. They are aware of time restraints and that a comprehensive response could take days. Noting that they are looking for some input, even input limited in scope, that may help sway their decision—pro or con.     

Hint 2 

In the case of a request and not wishing to seem uncooperative—but unable to respond as requested due to commitments and workload….

Given my experience in dealing with urgent HQ request as noted in Hint 1, I suggest sharing with the Korean team that you’d be happy to assist but you’ll need additional time due to current deadlines, end of day, etc. 

As a caveat, I always ask for their timeline and then share some options on when you may be able to assist. I have found what is assumed to be an urgent request often does have flexibility. 

In closing, I feel the move to more open and direct communications between HQ and the local team is quite positive. It is not without its challenges as we learn to adapt, build relationships and work within the restraints in time difference, life balance and work hours. 

I look forward to your thoughts and comments.  


Saturday, November 02, 2019

Korean Business and Year-End Norms

Year-end timing for organization-wide promotions, restructuring, and new assignments are part of Korean corporate culture.

Each year, high-level moves are the norm we see among the major Groups—the first of these we saw last week. We can assume there will be more senior-level announcements with new leadership taking the helm in their new positions and roles soon, while some leadership long in the ranks will be exiting or remain in advisory roles.

Top to bottom within Korean companies they follow this annual transition, with the changes to senior leadership happening first, and team level changes made known the weeks just before or between Christmas and New Year's Day.

After the Holidays, teams then report back to work. Some employees assume new roles frequently in departments in which they have little experience—requiring employees to acquire new skills—sink or swim.

Meanwhile, some Koreans currently in an overseas assignment may be returning back to Korea or be en-route to new assignments in another overseas operation. Still others at HQ may be asked to take a new assignment overseas; a challenge in adjusting to a new workplace and its norms for those working outside Korea for the first time.

In all cases, in the days that follow those employees who are shuffled brief their replacements, as the staff who remain in their jobs update new management teams on the status of projects and issues.

Some years we do see less re-organization of the teams, departments, and divisions—some years more. The later can be driven by leadership looking to “shake up” the organization to spur growth. All said, change is commonplace and an accepted side of Korean business.

Finally, for teams below Director level, time in rank promotions had in the past followed a decades-old seniority time in grade model—i.e. 3-4 years for each of the first tiers up to Manager. For each upper managerial level—Deputy General Manager and General Manager—5 years is a common tenure between each grade level.  

Now with many Groups flattening of ranks below Director level, to Manager and Senior Manager—and a more merit-based model—it will be interesting to watch and see how the new changes unfold.

Here as always—questions welcome.


Saturday, October 26, 2019

Habit Burger Grill Sets Sights on South Korea

Proud to announce The Habit Burget Grill Looks to South Korea!

Interested? Contact me at

The Habit Burger Grill (Nasdaq: HABT) is setting its sights on South Korea as the next international growth target as the burger-centric restaurant concept continues its steady march abroad. To support its expansion plans, The Habit has partnered with the experienced business development consulting firm, Bridging Culture Worldwide to attract multi-unit franchise development companies.

“South Korea, with its savvy consumers, open minded culture and interest in global brands is an ideal marketplace for The Habit Burger Grill’s expansion,” said John Phillips, The Habit Burger Grill’s Chief Global Business Partnership Officer. “The people of South Korea appreciate quality food and enjoy the fast-casual experience. We look forward to working with Bridging Culture Worldwide to find the right franchise partner to ensure our mutual success.”

The Habit Burger Grill’s entry into the South Korea marks the next phase in a larger international expansion plan. Bridging Culture Worldwide will help The Habit lead its expansion into the broader Asia-Pacific region. The consulting, strategic planning and market entry service is excited to join this venture.

“South Korea has embraced premium Western brands and The Habit Burger Grill delivers exactly what consumers are seeking – great food and excellent service. With their distinctive fresh off the grill Charburger and hand-crafted sandwiches, fresh salads and other menu items, we know South Korea will appreciate all that The Habit Burger Grill has to offer,” said Don Southerton, Bridging Culture Worldwide’s Founder and CEO.

Better burgers are just the beginning at The Habit where the menu also includes hand-cut salads, grilled sandwiches including line-caught, sushi grade ahi tuna, fresh chicken, and hand-filleted marinated grilled tri-tip, and sides including onion rings, sweet potato and French fries, and tempura green beans. Guests can choose from a variety of peppers, lemons, limes, and sauces at a complimentary condiment bar to customize the flavor of their meal.
Habit Burger Grill
The Habit Restaurants, Inc. 
Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, The Habit Burger Grill is a burger-centric, fast casual restaurant concept that specializes in preparing fresh, made-to-order chargrilled burgers and handcrafted sandwiches featuring USDA choice tri-tip, grilled chicken and sushi-grade ahi tuna cooked over an open flame. In addition, it features fresh made-to-order salads and an appealing selection of sides, shakes and malts. The Habit was named the "best tasting burger in America" in July 2014 in a comprehensive survey conducted by one of America's leading consumer magazines. The first Habit opened in Santa Barbara, California in 1969 and was most recently named the winner of USA Today’s 10Best in Regional Fast Food. The Habit has since grown to over 265 restaurants in 12 states throughout Arizona, California, Florida, Idaho, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Utah, Virginia, and Washington as well as six international locations. More information is available at

About Bridging Culture Worldwide
Founded by Don Southerton, Bridging Culture Worldwide provides targeted market entry, strategy, and consulting to Korea-based global businesses as well as support for major western firms entering Korea.

With a life-long interest in Korea and the rich culture of the country, Southerton has researched and authored numerous publications with topics centering on the creative culture lifestyle, the Korean auto industry, new urbanism, entrepreneurialism, and U.S.-Korean business ventures.
Southerton has been a contributor to The Economist, Branding in Asia, Automotive News, the BBC, CNN Fortune, Korea Times, Yonhap, Korea Herald, tbs eFM, Wall Street Journal, and Forbes. To learn more, go to


Saturday, October 12, 2019

Korea facing Market Entry: Lessons Learned

In this week’s Vodcast we look at the nuances in market entry.

I’ll also share my most recent project The Habit Burger Grill.

For more on my most recent project.

The Habit Burger Grill Sets Sights on South Korea

Habit Burger Grill Plans to Bring America’s Best Tasting Burger to East Asia —


Sunday, October 06, 2019

Language, Communication Styles and Culture.

In this week’s Vodcast, we look at Language, Communication Styles, and Culture.

My role over the years as a trusted advisor has been to recognize the issues and then assist teams and leadership to move past misunderstandings. 

 If they fit well, I am open to new engagements, coaching and mentoring, too.

Your business questions, comments and inquiries always welcome.


Monday, September 30, 2019

Korea Culture Alert Two upcoming Korean holidays.

This week and next Korea celebrates National Foundation Day and Hangul Day. Read on to learn more about these important days. FYI, most Korean HQ teams will be off from work, so plan accordingly.

Thursday, October 3 National Foundation Day.
This important day celebrates the legendary founding of the first Korean nation in 2333 BC.

Wednesday, October 9 Hangul Day.
Hangul day commemorates the invention (1443) of Hangul the native Korean alphabet. Some people confuse Hangul with the Korean spoken language but it's the name of the written Korean alphabet letters. 한 (han) means 'Korean' and 글 ( geul ) means 'letter'.

King Sejong the Great, who created Hangul, is one of the most honored rulers in Korean history.

King Sejong the Great

Questions, Comments, Requests, Inquiries welcome.

Don Southerton

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Global Collaboration: an early stage cultural savvy approach

Short 2-minute video on Collaboration.  Timely as so many JVs, MOUs, and partnerships. 

Questions always welcome.