Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Culture Alert: Korean Chuseok Greeting

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

In 2018, Chuseok holiday falls on Monday September 24th.  The day after is also celebrated as a National Holiday.

Koreans, as many agrarian cultures, once followed the lunar calendar, but in recent history, they have deferred to 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 the Chuseok mid-autumn festival (fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month).

In mass, and I mean a substantial part of the population travel.  For many this is back to their home villages. Over the holiday they perform ancestral rituals at the graves of relatives as well as share time with their family over traditional foods. Others opt to travel overseas or a popular trend has been staycations in luxury hotels.  

For your Korean colleagues (in Korea), you can wish them a happy Chuseok by Facebook Messenger, phone, text, or email this coming Thursday September 20 after 4 PM (Friday AM in Korea).  

Again, for most Koreans the holiday break will begin Friday at the end of day through Tuesday September 25. Some may take more days off that week.

For expat Koreans working outside Korea, you can wish then happy Chuseok on the holiday, Monday September 24 .   

If you’d like to try, here's a common greeting.
Chuseok jal ji nae sae yo.

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


Sunday, August 19, 2018

A Willingness to Change, Part 2 Outside Korea

In this Part 2 of the Culture Puzzle, I’ll look from the perspective of Korean companies and their willingness to adapt and embrace new ideas while localizing their overseas operations outside Korea. 

With this, how adaptive are Korean teams and management when they have operations in another country outside Korea? 

The simple answer is it varies from region to region, country to country and even within a company that has several local subsidiaries in a county.  

Layer on an openness to change varies with individuals, plus if there a local  DNA that fosters, coaches and encourages all to adapt vs. one where the pressure is to stay the course.

So what is changing?
Frankly, over the past decades little has changed in the expat model. The Korean expatriates, often called Executive Coordinators, are consistently highly engaged in the local operations, decision-making and the approval process-- often holding on to what worked in Korea.

More so, I see few differences from the past in their workplace dress, protocols, work habits and grueling long hours—even with generational shifts occurring. So too, within expats, we can find rigid thinking and risk avoidance overshadowing the openness to change.

Radical Change
Surprisingly, where I see the potential from change is from within the companies in Korea.  In fact, in what was once a sea of rigid conformity in 2018 the Korean domestic workplace is undergoing radical change.  

It is here we’ll potentially see an openness to change that gets transplanted to Korean overseas operations. This newer generation and more progressive management when assigned to an overseas position may bring their progressive values, attitude, and onlook towards the workplace.  

This includes as examples no tolerance for "bullying" and companies that have become more sensitive to work life balance with broad mandates in place. Workers are now, too, boldly voicing publically concerns when policies are not followed.

Employees, leadership and government, too, are pushing back on old practices and there is a widespread acceptance that Korean business, domestic and overseas, must embrace innovation to be competitive. 

In Part 3 of the Culture Puzzle, I will share my workarounds and work-throughs for local teams finding resistance to change, openness to new idea and flexibility… all needed the wake of pressure to better react to local trends and market conditions.  


Sunday, August 12, 2018

A Willingness to Change

A Culture Puzzle: Part 1
When a western company enters an overseas’ market such as Korea, gaps in understanding commonly surface. Most often the western brand and their team bring new ideas and an approach to the market.
This is nothing new. In fact, many of today’s success stories result from looking outside the box.
For example, when Starbucks entered Korea, they encouraged customers to sit and enjoy their drink… as well as converse with a friend, read a book, surf the web or catch up on homework.
Prior, the Korean model was for a quick turnover — customers in and out the door. This “stay” took some time to convince both the local Korean business partner and the customer. Today it is the norm and only limited by seating availability.
Still, when companies change hands, merger or are introduced to international markets, it brings in new or different procedures.
In my experience, it is not unusual for Korean teams to pushback — as most companies might with market entry until they gain insights.
To some extent, local norms, regulations, and laws may dictate how the western brand must adapt and localize. That said, most often with the pushback comes discussions beginning with the phrase, “But, in Korea,…”
Here we can find rigid thinking and risk avoidance overshadowing the openness to change. More so, western teams can feel that without fully embracing their brand or service’s nuances and business model, chances of success in the new market are reduced and may not even succeed.
Now the tricky part…
All said when to localize and adapt to the local tastes, preferences, and trends versus when to hold to the western model requires cultural finesse, an open mind and critical thinking. This needs to unfold over time.
In Part 2 of the Culture Puzzle, I’ll look at Korean companies and their brands’ willingness to adapt and localize in their overseas operations outside Korea.
More to come…

Sunday, August 05, 2018

Face of the Company

When working with teams and leadership globally the challenge is to how best embed a company's values in new corporate C-levels to entry-level teams--as all represent the face of the company.

As I have found in all my projects... when they bring in new American and western leadership, without a full immersion in their DNA....the new team members may cognitively recognize the company culture-- but frankly defer to their own past ways.

For the auto industry if former Ford, Mazda, Toyota, GM or other brands.... in most cases I see them fall back on the former company norms and practices....and not really embracing the new Culture unless strong mentoring takes place....

This goes the same for other business sectors. I see a few exceptions

face of the company
Don Southerton

BTW in Korea, all the major Chaebol have deep immersion into the respective corporate culture. These "boot camps", most lasting for 4-6 weeks, cover all aspects of the firm's operation.

In addition to classroom learning, they embed the new employee in actual day to day operations. For example, this may include a week on the line in manufacturing, or on the floor in their retail operations, and time in a service center. I even know a Korean food brand that requires it's new executives to work in their restaurants alongside a chef in food prep for a week.

All said, hires regardless of rank and title are most often given a brief orientation then expected to jump into their new job. This is a reality.

My recommendation as they are the face of the company the team also gets structured ongoing coaching and mentoring that shares the company's Culture and DNA. 

This needs to be a priority... as it's easy to push off with urgent business matters taking precedence--the Urgent overtaking the Important, the later contributing to long-term success, missions, and goals.

Here as always....

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Gapjil and the Attack on Bullying

Gapjil ― bullying employees or forcing employees to be at one’s beck and call. A phenomenon associated with the hierarchical nature of Korean society and work culture.

This week we look at one of the more hard-hitting issues.  As in past three posts, please feel free to share your comments. All welcome and appreciated.

Don Southerton author Korea 2020

Constant change is a trait of the Korean workplace. Most often change is initiated within the company as top down leadership mandates. Corporate restructuring within the major Korean Groups is common.
Shuffling of teams within departments and divisions annually is expected. That said, other factors contributing to change in the workplace today are outside forces, including the media and whistleblowers prompted by inappropriate actions by those in power in both the government and the private sector.

One not-so-surprising change is the growing push back and reporting of the strong arm or gapjil tactics in the workplace. One of the reasons is the heightened press coverage over instances of bullying by the members of the South Korean elite and privileged family businesses.

Linguistically, gapjil is a uniquely Korea term… and provides a look into Korea culture. The word, a newly coined term, is a colloquial expression referring to the arrogant or authoritarian attitude by someone in a position of power over others. The Korean culture of high power distance and strong hierarchical organizations have shaped and reinforced these attitudes. Sadly, gapjil is so much a part of the culture that we find individuals as subordinates on the receiving end of bullying-type situations guilty of the same actions to those below them.
Owner Gapjil is the most common type of gapjil and the one drawing considerable media attention. In this scenario representatives or executive family members of a company treat their employees with contempt, using abusive language or even assault. Owner Gapjil reflects the mistaken view that employers can treat employees however they want because of the extreme vertical relationship between the two individuals.
The controversy and public scrutiny arise as Koreans become increasingly intolerant of the country’s biggest conglomerates, or chaebol, whose executives often act with impunity. The December 2014 “nut rage” incident gained worldwide attention and notoriety. The controversy centered on the overt belittling of a senior attendant by airline executive Heather Cho, daughter of the Korean Air Chairman, over the pre-flight serving of nuts, on board a departing Korean Air flight from NY’s JFK International Airport. The subsequent attempt by the Cho family and Korean Air to coerce employees to cover up the incident only added to public outrage. Similar “rages” continue to surface, adding to the fury over entitlement behavior among Korea’s elites.

Workplace Bullying
Workplace gapjil incidents have gone viral and Koreans have now started to perceive this as a serious problem. Previously, these incidents might have been dismissed or never reported for fear of retribution.
Studies report that the most frequently observed bullying behaviors are arrogant and crude language, abrupt task assignments, rejection of opinions, discrimination and character assassination.
On the positive note, public scrutiny has forced more companies to become sensitive to the issue and openly address complaints of bullying. Also, workers subject to abuse in the past are now speaking out in social media and reporting cases to whistle-blower sites.
More on Don Southerton

Friday, July 20, 2018

Relationships Korea 2020

Relationships Korea 2020 ...As with past three books and those prior, I’ll be sharing chapter by chapter sneak peeks for comments, questions and in many cases your additional and much-needed thoughts. This is the third installment.   Missed past 2 posts?  Just let me know and I’ll share.  Comment welcome.  Enjoy.
Chapter 2
            Favouritism prevails in our society due to strong political, academic and blood ties… It worsens social division, denies fair chances to ordinary people and therefore makes their social mobility more difficult. Chung Seon-sup,
Relationships are the core of Korean society and business.  During a recent Seoul office chat a team member reminded me that Korean communication, too, was based on relationships. Although I am familiar with the Korean language use of honorification and recognize the elevated status, I gained some new insights as my colleague explained how a conversation is shaped by the relationship between the speakers. For example, how one communicates with another person is dependent upon the junior/senior relationship. Honorification is required towards a person who is senior in age or position.
Additionally, my colleague reminded me that while polite and respectful conversation is a plus, the power distance created in the use of honorification could distance co-workers and created inequality, which can be seen as detrimental to a modern workplace.
This conversation then shifted to how these hierarchical power distant relationships in the workplace reinforced by language also lead to a related issue -- strong loyalty with juniors expected to support leadership and visa versa.
In the extreme a loyal subordinate may take the blame for a superior’s actions and even cover for a boss’s questionable activities—a surprisingly common occurrence in Korea.  Such loyalty in the past was expected to be rewarded with superiors sharing earned fortunes and opportunities with loyalists.
It is no surprise that to ensure a high level of loyalty, executives, traditionally, hired friends, acquaintances, and classmates to fill the managerial positions below them.   Additionally, the persons hired typically were associated with shared alma maters, such as Korea University, Yonsei, Sungkyunkwan,and Seoul National, creating a tight network. This was the rule, not the exception.
Today these past practices are viewed as favoritism and are now under considerable scrutiny.  More so, these hires are seen as irregular, circumventing the normal employment procedures others have to follow, and contributing to inequality. However, the main problem with these “prioritized” loyalties is they interfere with hiring and promoting competence, especially in areas requiring expertise.
           Seoul JUNE 4, 2018  South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in is struggling to ferret out widespread nepotism and cronyism that has plagued the country for decades after revelations of hiring practices that favor those connected with the wealthy and powerful.
            Despite Mr Moon’s reform efforts, allegations of favouritism in the jobs market continue to make headlines, dealing a blow to his key economic policy of boosting growth by creating jobs in the public sector and fuelling discontent among South Korea’s youth. 
            Nepotism in hiring is politically embarrassing for the liberal government and Mr. Moon, who was elected on a platform of tackling corruption, rooting out cronyism and promoting equality... 
            Young people’s frustration is building up even under this centre-left administration that is pursuing a fair society free of corruption, said Park Ju-geun, head of corporate analysis group CEO Score.
            But experts say Mr Moon faces an uphill battle in stopping favouritism as they suspect unfair hiring practices are even more prevalent in the private sector than in state-funded institutions, because it receives less public scrutiny. 
            “If favouritism is tolerated, competent human resources are not allocated to the best places, weakening the country’s economic efficiency and social justice,” said Park Sang-in, a professor of public administration at Seoul National University .
Regarding public scrutiny, the tide has turned. Media coverage of what is now seen as unfair practices has been quite extensive. Government agencies, financial institutions and private industry have been cited, with their leadership coming under investigation and being prosecuted.
We see this systemic overhaul to fix unfair hiring practices as another aspect of the change in the Korea workplace.  That said, many of these changes such as honorification, seniority, and loyalties are deeply rooted in tradition and practice.
In particular modern Korean society still is challenged to part from the ways of Confucianism--the Confucian emphasis on the importance of the family and the group over the individual that had been extended to South Korean business.
Employees once were expected to regard the workplace as a family, with loyalty to the head of the company as the patriarch who enjoyed exclusive rank, status and privileges. Importance was also placed on attributes such as age, kinship status, gender, education, and sociopolitical standing.  All today seen to be in conflict with a modern and fair workplace. Still relationships matter.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Korea 2020 The Progressive Workplace

This is the second of many sneak previews of my latest work in progress Korea 2020.  Comments welcome.

Even if a company implements a casual dress policy and does away with honorifics to facilitate communications, managers still won’t listen to us.  They are just old fogies in jeans.  A junior manager, 2017 Survey Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry and McKinsey Consulting   

Chapter 1 A Progressive Workplace

In November 2015, I was asked by a journalist researching an article for The Economist to comment on the Korean workplace. The journalist’s premise as a foreigner was that significant change had already occurred.  I shared two points—first, office change was underway.  The best example of a progressive workplace was a firm I knew well -- Hyundai Capital Services, a financial arm for the Hyundai Motor Group.  And two, due to stiff competition in Korea’s key overseas markets, in lots of cases, I saw the opposite of a liberalization of the workplace. In fact, new stricter policies were in place. 

These points shaped the article. Addressing the first point, the progressive Hyundai Capital, the article revealed some of their policies.  I quote….

            MEETINGS to last no more than 30 minutes;
             junior staff allowed to speak freely with superiors; 
            a cut in bonuses for bosses whose teams do not take enough holidays. 
 My second point was that even though the new generation of workers sought change and companies’ endorsed change, older generations remain in firm control, especially in their overseas operations. Again I quote The Economist:

            Don Southerton, who advises South Korean businesses on how to manage their foreign operations, says many have been “going back to basics” since the slowdown in China and other big emerging markets. Their Korean staff has reverted to working longer hours and straining to hit short-term targets, under pressure from the bosses back in  Seoul.

            More South Korean companies appear to be tightening the screws at home, too: a  portal, found that almost half felt their company was disciplining them more than before: making them stick to a strict lunch hour, for example; or asking them to arrive   at the office an hour earlier; or in stricter dress codes.

            Relapsing back into old ways is unlikely to work, however, given the reluctance of younger employees to tolerate the strictures of the typical South   Korean workplace. Their expectations are “totally different” from those of their parents…

Fast-forwarding three years to 2018
Today, I do see a transition underway—a lessening pushback, too.   Companies have become more sensitive to work-life balance and many have broad mandates in place. Samsung and SK Group, as examples, have introduced a more simplified corporate hierarchy. Lotte Group has introduced stricter policies to support work-life balance including shutting down the company’s computers after working hours and requiring male workers to go on paternal leave.

More radical, workers are now boldly voicing publically concerns when policies are not upheld. Korean daily, Joongang News noted:

            When Kim Hyo-rin, 25, started her first job at a conglomerate, she soon realized that the company wasn’t as progressive as she thought it would be. 

            “Even though my company practices flextime and has a 40-hour workweek policy,  our department boss always looks at us badly if we come to work after 9 a.m., even though I work the full 40 hours,” said Kim.

            When she started the job, Kim was optimistic about working at a company with policies that seemed so worker-friendly.

            “Our company also has a policy that prevents senior colleagues from texting juniors about work-related issues after working hours and during weekends, but that rule is always ignored,” she added. “Nonetheless, our entire office is covered with posters  promoting these campaigns, which I feel are just for show.”

Change is underway.
Although implementation may be slow to take root in a growing number even leadership in the private sector, academia and government continue to stress the benefits of the progressive workplace.  Advocates point out the goal is a workplace in which employees are intrinsically motivated and evaluated according to their performance, not their seniority.