Saturday, January 20, 2018

Korean Business Weekend Read 2

ith the new year and 2018, I’d like to share a few weekend Korea business reads. All Korea facing– lots for overseas operations in the Americas, Ireland, UK, ME, India, Europe, and AU; lots that share insights into Korea and the workplace. Much very relevant for firms doing business with Korea or global Korean companies, too.
One question we are getting with the new year is “Don, How Best Do We Work with You and Get the Team Support?” I happy to say many companies do recognize the benefits in offering our training, coaching, mentoring and strategy services…. and we take this role very seriously amid the uncertain changes soon to impact local operations .
Let’s chat.. or better yet text +1-310-866-3777 then and we can chat by phone.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

A Korean Business “Working Within the Culture” FAQ

Don Southerton Korean business
Don Southerton 

1. Why do Americans/ westerners need Korean cultural training?

For westerners this may be the first time working with a Korea team. This opportunity brings with it the need to better understand their new partner’s culture, workplace norms and expectations.

In most cases, the western team will be interacting with a Korean expatriate team. Some of the expatriates will hold a line managerial position with day-to-day responsibilities alongside western managers, while others will hold key management C-level positions, such as CEO, COO, or CFO.  In many, if not most, cases these expats may operate as a “shadow management” with considerable oversight of local operations.

With the best of intentions, the expats will look to build strong collaboration and teamwork and advocate less a sense of us and them. However, they do bring with them Korean work norms that can conflict with western work-life balance and western ways of working. 
More so, Korean teams may make seemingly one-sided decisions with the best interest of the company in mind but without consulting local teams causing mistrust. 

A solid training program followed by on-going support can address differences, such as sharing work styles, hierarchy, and comfort levels, plus providing work-arounds.

2. What are some typical issues that arise, especially without training?

As with all individuals, no two of us are alike –and the same goes for westerners and Koreans... Each has his or her unique strengths, skills, experiences and personalities.

That said, expecting local teams to simply "get it" without support and training seldom works. Even if a better understanding of the work culture eventually occurs over time, this “learn as you go” approach we see as costly, contributes to stress, poor productivity and even employee turnover.

3. Can you cite an example in which there were misunderstandings resulting in mistrust, loss of time, resources, and profits?

A challenge I was recently asked to address was the intervention by the expatriate partners in decisions that are best handled by local western teams.
Probing the issue, I learned that based on extensive experience in the market and industry, local western management felt these decisions were often short-sighted, reactive and not aligned with their well thought-out strategy.

Of even greater concern were decisions that were one-sided and not a result of collaboration. In any case, local management felt their input and expertise were being marginalized.  As pressure to meet “Sales Targets” had grown, so, too, we saw increased intervention by the expatriate teams.
In this case, I worked with the western teams to provide some proven workarounds—in particular, tempering the Korean teams’ pressing for immediate results.

 Specifically, I shared 10 steps.
1. Foremost, to soften the inclination to jump into implementing a plan with hopes of producing immediate results, look to minimize the anxiety for both the local Korean team and the headquarters team. Show confidence that the challenge can be overcome.
2. Acknowledge your team’s high engagement and assure the Korean teams that action will be taken promptly.
3. As a next step upon receiving a directive from Korea, have an informal discussion with local Korean teams to brief them on action steps that enable the team to work through what needs to be explored more deeply.
4. Follow up with email correspondence confirming the verbal discussion.  
5. Allow a day or two for the Korean team to review. In many cases the Asian teams are not familiar with local practices and the vocabulary used to describe Western technical nuances.
The local teams may also want to report back to Korea on progress. 
HQ leadership are ultimately responsible, so the better informed they are, the more trust they will have in local teams—Korean and Western—that the project will progress.
6. Because of time differences, remember you may not receive immediate feedback.
7. Conducting informal daily updates to the Korean teams and sharing the steps undertaken with the local Koreans can also be helpful.
8. Even better is reporting positive accomplishments in your review process.
9. It is particularly important to address the potential trade-offs and risks as action steps leading to solutions and assuring the team that these steps will not impede the project and may, in fact, avoid costly setbacks.
10. Finally, having said all this, maintaining trust through strong relationships between the Korean and Western local organizations is essential.

4. What have Koreans told you about Americans? Work habits, commitment, etc.

If you ask Korean expats how they perceive Americans and westerners in general, responses would be very positive and respectful, especially toward western work ethics and work habits.  Koreans see great value in American and western teams providing them with new insights and perspectives, as well as best practices. 

5. What might be covered in such training?

I see the training as two fold -- 1) providing teams with an understanding of the Korean partner’s history, heritage, trends and popular culture and 2) looking at the Korean workplace and its norms, practices, and expectations.  

Above all I feel a best practice is to share similarities and shared values when possible, along with instilling an awareness of and respect for cultural differences. 

Addressing the team’s questions and concerns is also vital with issues, such as work-life balance, safety and quality processes and procedures and the overall expectations of Korean partners.

6. Anything else? 

To conclude, the need for cross-cultural training programs for local employees and management is a high priority.

The assumption that local and expatriate teams can bridge cultural gaps through practical on–the–job experience might work with those few highly intuitive individuals with the exceptional ability to assimilate cultures.

What stands out in numerous studies, however, is the need for ongoing multicultural training, that can successfully impact people, especially those who need to quickly adapt to new or changing business culture and values, while fostering sensitivity and teamwork among all members of the company. 

Finally, I would add that I have found a tiered service model - training, mentoring and on-going strategic support -- to be the most effective approach for an organization.


Sunday, December 10, 2017

Still Time in 2017

With a few weeks left in 2017, I’m happy to report that this year we offered over 33 Korea 101 and 201  "working within the Culture" workshops.  

Most were the new 2 hour format. We offered sessions not only across North America, but also to teams in the UK, France and Ireland. 

BTW  There is still time left in 2017 for sharing the training to your teams.  

And, the program is a great way to end the year strong and prepare the team for the many Korea facing changes coming in 2018.  

Contact me at 310-866-3777, Text or email.



Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Everything Korea: What’s Different? What’s Similar?

By its very nature Korean facing business is the interaction of worldwide teams.  This necessitates colleagues of different cultures working together on a daily basis.  How we see others culturally is often in the differences and similarities.

The Differences

Particularly for western teams in Korean overseas operations, I believe in the importance of learning about the workplace in Korea—the norms, practices, and day-to-day life. These insights allow us to better understand our HQ-assigned Korean co-workers and their expectations. Recognizing “true differences” can dispel stereotyping, prejudices and ethnocentrism.

The Similarities

Adjusting does vary with an individual. Factors can include distance from the home country, scope and responsibilities of the new job, local social support, and duration of assignment. I would also add frequency of visits to new counties or regions is also a strong influencer.

For example during my recent trip to Ireland, I found that adapting to local culture was exceeding fast. Maybe no more than 24 hours. I found a number of similarities such as language, a well-educated middle class, and even a close-by Starbucks.

Recognizing similarities is one of the most powerful cross-cultural bridges. In other words, to what can you relate in routine day-to-day life? This requires identifying  the local beliefs, values, expectations, and traditions of host culture.

That said, as a best practice and to avoid issues I deal with often in Korean business expatriate teams need to defer to local norms -- this includes Tripartite Socialization—the local culture, the host nation’s business culture, and the company’s corporate culture.


Although there is bound to be friction between home and host country cultural values, a successful model accomplishes:

• Awareness and appreciation of both the home and host country with the ability to gain an insight into one’s own personal traits, strengths, weaknesses, attitudes, and interests.

• Realization of similarities and shared values, along with an awareness of and respect for the cultural differences

• The ability to adapt quickly to the new workplace cultures, ideas, and challenges on the job and in the home.

In closing this week I have a request-

How do you see this applying to you and your own experiences as well as working with Korean expatriates?

I look forward to your thoughts and comments.

Monday, October 02, 2017

Everything Korea October 2 Episode -- Exclusively Korea Business

In Ireland again this week.  Very engaging Korea facing project. 

Love the people, and the country.  With a strong economy, it’s easy to see why Ireland is seen as the Celtic Tiger. (BTW South Korea has also been called an Asian Tiger)

That said, regardless to where I am at the moment in best sharing my work it’s exclusively Korea business focused. 

A big part is supporting Korean global business outside Korea. In particular backing teams and leadership worldwide working with or for the major Korean business Groups—like Hyundai, Kia Motors, the SK Group and others. 

Much of this is immersion. My approach is sharing common issues, workarounds, do’s and don’t, the context behind Korean business practices and above all “solutions.” 

This can range within an organization to mentoring newly hired C-suite executives and leadership who are assuming key roles within a Korean overseas subsidiary, as well as working closely with team members new to these local operations.  Both I find highly rewarding. 

Over time this support moves to mentoring and coaching-- addressing issues as they surface.

In many cases I am also engaged to provide sound project strategies for major initiatives to ensure they align culturally with their Korean teams, leadership and HQ. 

This is critical as many local projects fail to gain the needed support and traction without the proper approach.

One more thing, I have a number of resources in supporting local teams and leadership that I am happy to share.  These include books, articles and cases studies…. Feel free to reach out and we’ll get you copies.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Everything Korea, Chuseok 2017 Culture Alert, Plus

It’s that time of the year with Chuseok, (the Korean Harvest Moon Festival) right around the corner.

In 2017, Chuseok holiday falls on October 4-6.  This year the days before and after are also celebrated as National Holidays.

Koreans previously followed the lunar calendar, but in recent history, they have followed the solar calendar in line with international practice.

While public holidays are based on the solar calendar, there are a few days that are celebrated based on the lunar calendar. These are the two most important traditional holidays, the Korean New Year’s Day (the first day of the first lunar month) and Chuseok mid-autumn festival (fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month).

In mass, (and I mean a substantial part of the population) families travel back to their home villages. Over the holiday they may perform ancestral rituals at the graves of relatives as well as share time with their family over traditional foods.

For your Korean colleagues (in Korea), you can wish them a happy Chuseok by phone, text, or email Thursday September 28 after 4 PM (Friday AM in Korea).  Again, for most Koreans the holiday break will begin Saturday September 30 and depending on their work scheduled may continue through Monday October 9.

For expat Koreans working outside Korea, here and globally, you can wish then
happy Chuseok on the holiday, Wednesday October 4.

If you’d like to try, here's a common greeting.

추석 잘 지 내 새요

Chuseok jal ji nae sae yo..

To conclude, even though many things have been changed by Korea’s rapid industrialization, urbanization, and globalization we find in the celebration of Chuseok that family remains one of the bedrock of Korean society.

Questions?  Feel free to reach out.  Email or Text me at 310-866-3777

Monday, September 18, 2017

Everything Korea, September 18 Episode Global Work Korean Teams

A change is underway.

There is a shift to ever-increasing daily interactions for local western teams directly with Korean HQs via the web and phone conference. This leads to a need for deeper practical Korea facing business insights for “working within the Culture” along with new skill sets.


For decades, the expatriate, Executive Coordinator / Advisor model, has been effective although it had limitations. That said, Koreans assigned as expatriates do learn local norms and adapt to the market well over time.

This means the Coordinators mold to local operations with little need for the local teams to become skilled in Korea workplace norms.

In contrast today with many in direct contact with Korea-based teams a new level of understanding is needed into the HQ and company norms. In particular, Korea teams, unless having been previously worked outside Korea, are not likely to model after or adapt to their overseas subsidiaries.

So what are the common issues and if any the workarounds?  

Noting there are many, but as one example, perhaps the most common issue we find in day-to-day direct Korean team interactions is requests for local market data and information. This adds considerable workload to local teams---already stretched thin with projects and deadlines.

Often these can also come at end of day for the western team (a new day and morning for the Korea-based team). Compounding the situation is often the local team member is an hourly employee working a shift with no flexibility to stay after their scheduled work hours and able follow up immediately on the request.

A gap in workplace culture occurs when in Korea a request may require them to stay late into the evening and even over-night to fulfill—most seeing this as just part of the job—like it or not.


Frankly, I’ve found it always more a matter of relationship building over a process or tactic in workarounds.  The stronger the ties, the most flexibility in dealing with pressing issues.

In this particular case and dealing with the urgent request, I have found best to clarify exactly when the data or information is actually due.  Not all projects despite the tone of the request are needed ASAP.

Many can wait especially when building upon one’s strong ties and sharing colleague to colleague 1) it will be a top priority, and 2) when they can expect to receive the follow-up answer.  

All said, I find that each situation requires drilling deeper to truly grasp and provide solid resolution….

Question, comments, thoughts…

Stacey,, my assistant can schedule us a time to meet, or chat by phone. For urgent matters, Text me at 310-866-3777