Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Everything Korea August 21 Episode Mending Korean Business Partnerships

Korean Business with Don Southerton

As shared in my book Korea Perspective there is an interconnectedness in the Korea workplace. In particular, complex relationships abound.

This is true whether operations are in South Korea, Germany, Brazil, India or the Americas. Directives and requests originating in Korea headquarters radiate to global operations. In turn, inputs from local working teams, Korean and western, make their way back to Korea impacting decisions by leadership. Relationships also play a strong part in this process.

What may appear one sided and perhaps top down may actually be the result of months of study, benchmarking and research, as well as internal discussions and Korean peer input. For reasons unclear to local overseas teams, projects can stall, while others re-boot.

Amid the disruptive business conditions, how overseas teams, Korean and Western, work together matters.
We all recognizing that within divergent cultures and mindsets it requires both sides to bend, compromise and adapt, as both are in actuality all are parts of a greater whole. That said, at times tensions culminate in relationships between Korean and western team souring.

The good news even in this era of disruptive business the most strained relationships can be repaired. In fact, a negative relationship turned positive can be a very strong one. Here are some key takeaways as noted in a Harvard Business Review article: “Fixing a Work Relationship Gone Sour.”

  • Give up on who’s wrong or right
  • Look forward, not back. Take a solution-focused approach.
  • Understand from other person’s perspective. “How do they see things?” “What are their contextual factors that need to be considered?”
  • Instead of debating what went wrong and who is at fault, try to create a space where you’re aligned. It can be helpful to focus on the bigger picture — the common, shared goal. 
  • Don’t assume that things will change immediately ­— repairing relationships can take time.

BTW, communications styles do vary.

Here are two “process” perspectives, Korean and American.


As always, Stacey stacey@koreabcw.com, my assistant can schedule us a time to meet or chat by phone.

For all urgent matters, text me at 310-866-3777

For more information on my work…. learnmore.Koreabcw.com

Monday, August 14, 2017

Everything Korea August 14 Episode, Korean Business—Tempering Intervention

In this final segment in the series on Korean business intervention, as promised, I will provide some proven workarounds—in particular, tempering Korean teams’ pressing for immediate results.  

1. Foremost, to soften the Koreans’ 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 (I can coach you on specifics).

2. Acknowledge your high engagement and insure the teams that action will be promptly taken.

3. A next step upon receiving a directive from Korea is to have an informal discussion with local Korean teams to brief them on possible action steps that enable the team to work through what needs to be explored more deeply.

4. Follow up with email correspondence confirming what was discussed verbally.  

5. Allow a day or two for the Korean team to review. In many cases the Korean 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. Remember you may not receive any immediate feedback.

7. Conducting informal daily updates to the Korea teams and sharing the steps undertaken with the local Koreans can also be helpful.

8. Even better is reporting any 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 ensuring the team that this step will not impede the project and may, in fact, avoid costly setbacks.

10. Finally, having said all this, maintain trust through strong relationships between the Korean and Western local organizations is essential.

In the next commentary on Korean business, I will discuss turn-around steps when the relationship between Korean and western get rocky…

One more thing….

I’d be happy to discuss and share my suggestion for a Korean business workaround…

Stacey stacey@koreabcw.com, my assistant can schedule us a time to meet or chat by phone.  

For all urgent matters, text me at 310-866-3777

For more information on my work…. www.learnmore.Koreabcw.com

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Everything Korea, August 7 Episode, Consequences in Korean Business

Korean Business with Don Southerton

In my last commentary, I noted the huge challenges surfacing because of the current disruptive Korean business climate.

In particular, I shared the “why” behind Korean expatriates intervening in the local decision process. In some cases, these decisions are one-sided, lack collaborative and mutual engagement and have consequences.

In turn, western team see themselves consulted only to validate preconceived ideas or to implement directives from Korea.

Drilling Deeper

This has lead to local management seeing their input and expertise being marginalized-- more so with complex situations and long-term planning “drilling deeper” may uncover ramifications.

More specifically, Korean teams under pressure are driven to take immediate action. This can result in little joint discourse related to potential trade-offs and risks in projects assigned to the local subsidiary.

Particularly with a narrow and reactive workplace approach, one can draw an analogy to jigsaw puzzle building.

The pieces to a puzzle have many unique sides. There may be different ways to place them into the puzzle. What is required is to look diligently at all possible options.

Like all challenges, one needs to explore the different possibilities to find the right solution and how the piece fits into the overall puzzle—essentially one needs a reflective mindset.

As a Korean colleague once pointed out, their society beginning with grade school does not promote reflective thinking and instead looks to promote a thought process that leads to more immediate results. In fact, Korean high school students spend more than 14 hours a day studying, memorizing and preparing for exams—a model that stifles creativity. 

I also see a cross-cultural aspect with many Korean decisions the result of a team workplace’s collective thought process, and in contrast, reflective thinking stems from an individual’s core consciousness.

Bottom line - reflective thinking requires taking acquiring knowledge and then calling upon one's own experience, utilizing evaluative skills and admitting personal bias.

The result is a broader perspective and a better view of the bigger picture.

Without working through a robust analysis of a problem from multiple angles and considering potential repercussions a solid evaluation can never arise.

All this said, by allowing one to think outside the box through a reflective and conscious lens, the time invested in analysis will lead to effective solutions—required in times of high stress.

All noted, in my next commentary I will provide some workarounds to soften the Korean reactive inclination to jump into implementing and producing immediate results—something we find dominating the current Korean business climate.

More on Korean business at learnmore.koreabcw.com

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Everything Korea, July 31 Episode, Korean Business “Intervention”?

I was recently asked to address a Korean Business concern by local management.

Before sharing, I would like to state I work closely with Koreans daily.  Many serve as expatriates, many on overseas teams.  Like all individuals, no two of us are alike --same goes for Koreans…each with their own unique strengths, skills, experience and personality.

All said, the challenge I was asked to address is the company’s Korean expatriate partners (commonly referred to as Executive Coordinators) were intervening in what should be broad local decisions.

Probing deeper, local management felt based on their long experience in the market and industry that these decisions were often short-sighted, reactive and not aligned with their well thought out strategy.  Of greater concern were decisions were one-sided and not a collaboration.

In any case, local management felt their input and expertise was being marginalized.

Frankly, this intervention is very cyclic.   

Most recently pressure to meet Sales Targets had grown, so too, do we see more intervention by the Korean teams.

Add that Koreans expats who’s DNA are rooted in a collective society and mindset where they feel not only the local stress, but also the Group’s broader pain (China and domestic sales down).  

I find two drivers in the spike in recent intervention.

1.  In recent years, overseas branches have had considerable success.

In turn an expatriate working in an overseas branch could take credit for this success and they would see a boost their career when they returned to Korea...  Many assigned, for example, to the U.S. and top markets in the EU and the Middle East move upward on to higher positions within the company.

Respectively, when sales are down  ... and they perceive that their careers will suffer if numbers are not met... it forces them to engage more and more...

2. The second driver is Korea leadership pressuring their Korea teams to engage, come up with a plan, take immediate action and push themselves.  

In some cases this has translated into serving less of a collaborating liaison with the Korean HQ and advisors—to now, the key decision maker.

Some background

Most Korean overseas subsidiaries have Korean management assigned to the host country.

The general term for these representative employees is ju jae won. Within the local overseas organizations, they may be called Coordinators, Executive Coordinators or Executive Advisors.  

Some, expatriates also can hold a line managerial position with day-to-day responsibilities alongside western managers, while others hold key management C-level positions, such as CEO, COO, or CFO.

The Korean expat model has a rotation cycle in which teams and executives are assigned to overseas divisions for 3-5 years. They then return to Korea for reassignment with a replacement expected to take over—often with little preparation.

Strengths, skills and experience can vary, too.

For some, this is their first overseas assignment. This means it is also the first time newly assigned Korean expats may be required to directly participate in the decision making process.

In Korea, senior management makes decisions and their teams execute the plan.

Roles vary with each company, but most often, as I noted, a coordinator’s primary role is to act as a liaison between Korea and the local subsidiary.

So where is the challenge?

Ju jae won are skilled and accomplished in Korean style business operations, norms and practices.

However, they have now been assigned to an overseas subsidiary where norms, practices, expectations, and laws differ.

Moreover, their responsibilities and assignments in the subsidiary may be in a department or specialty, in which they had little or no experience in Korea.  

Layer on stress and we often see reactions ranging hopeful second-guessing to risk-avoidance and holding back on any decisions.

More so recognize that expatriates are cognitive that local markets and management styles differ from Korea.  

This said, under stress we see a reverting back to what working well in Korea.  

This is often tackled with Korean colleagues as a team pondering over a challenge and developing a plan of action.  

Where the disconnect may occurs in overseas operations is when they defer to their own or the Korean colleagues (locally and in Korea) in decisions over collaborating with local management.

Workarounds,  I do have them…  

That said, and not trying hold back or avoid sharing but some details are best known as every situation needs to approached differently…

I’d be happy to discuss and share my suggestion for a workaround…

Stacey, stacey@koreabcw.com, my assistant can schedule us a time to meet or chat by phone.  

For all urgent matters, text me at 310-866-3777

For more information on my Korean business work….http://learnmore.koreabcw.com/


Monday, July 24, 2017

Everything Korea, July 24 Episode: Sneak Peek--Tesla Korea: Behind the Mystique

In 2008, I was living in La Jolla, California. On Sunday mornings an automotive upstart would bring their red Roaster to the beach town’s popular oceanfront park for folks to test drive the car.

I recall it caught my attention as it quietly zoomed up the hill.  It was an electric car. For one working with OEM design teams, I felt the Design was sharp. It was cool, too.

Torque was considerable and acceleration immediate with no lag-- something l would learn came with an electric powertrain. The car was a Tesla.

Fast forward nearly 10 years, and Tesla has challenged the automotive business model not only here, but also internationally.  Here is my preview on forthcoming article at Tesla Korea 2017.

In crafting the article, my lens is Cultural.  I stop short of how I would sustain their unique position in the Korean market… although as consultant I do have that strategy and roadmap. It's what I do.

Tesla Korea: Behind the Mystique By Don Southerton

In my recent Branding in Asia article, I made the point that in the wake of the car trade imbalance one American brand may break the Korean preference for imports now held by German automakers.  That brand is Tesla.

Why Tesla?

One, Korea customers are increasingly looking to buy “green”, environmental-friendly vehicles.  Substantial government incentives have driven up sales both in domestic Korean carmakers’ hybrid, plug-in and electric vehicles and well as in imports.

Two, the demand continues for the more luxurious class of import cars. Top brands have included BMW, Mercedes, Lexus, Audi, Jaguar and Porsche. Additionally, a number of “supercars” are also popular -- Aston Martin, Maserati, Ferrari, Rolls Royce, Bentley, Lamborghini and Bugatti.

From a cultural perspective, consumables can tell us much about a society.

The demand for luxury, premium goods and products has gone hand in hand with the upward mobility. In fact, these (most often Western) lux items have taken on the role of status markers.

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

All in all, Tesla captures what we see unfolding as an ever-growing demand for upmarket goods and product in Korea.

My third point about Tesla is that in a culture often seen as conformity embodied, many feel the need to differentiate themselves.  It is this need to differentiate that Tesla captures so well, as it does in their home market -- the U.S.  

That said, with customer interest high and up to 6-month waits on test drives, and 3 months on delivery, Tesla’s mystique may be what is needed for an American automotive brand to truly thrive in South Korea.

To learn more, go to  www.learnmore.koreabcw.com

Friday, July 14, 2017

Everything Korea, July 17 Episode: Always Timely, Always Korea Facing

Short update this week, and more an opportunity to share my series of articles in Branding In Asia.

I cover a number of topics—always timely, always Korea facing. Take a few moments and peruse.

American Car Brands in Korea

South Korean Conglomerate Restructuring

Best Practices for Market Entry

Creative Culture vs. Process in South Korea

Korean Corporate Culture

Globalization Requires a Better Process For Korean Car Makers

Inside Look: Korean Market Entry Barriers

Creativity Drives International Expansion of Korean Food Scene

Trump and Trade

South Korea: Gazing back, Looking forward


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