Thursday, January 17, 2019

Similar Brings Us Together: Korean Culture 2019

Korean facing global business requires colleagues of different cultures to work together on a daily basis.

How we see others culturally is often in the differences and similarities. I like to focus on the later; as differences pull us apart and similarities brings us together.

Particularly for western teams engaged in Korean operations, I believe in the importance of deep learning about the workplace in Korea — the 2019 norms, practices, and day-to-day life. The same learning goes for Korean teams assigned to support overseas’ operations. They need to become savvy in local practices.

These insights allow us to better understand our mutual teams’ thoughts and expectations.

As I note above, recognizing similarities is one of the most powerful cross-cultural bridges. In other words, how can you relate to the nuances in communications and day-to-day life? This requires identifying the local beliefs, values, expectations, traditions, and culture.

Although there is bound to be friction between home and host country cultural values, a successful model accomplishes:
1. 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.
2. Realization of similarities and shared values, along with an awareness of and respect for the cultural differences.

Call to Action
How do you see this applying to you and your own experiences working with another culture’s teams?

Dealing with better understanding Korea-facing issues, challenges, or impasses? I provide workarounds and solutions.

I look forward to your thoughts and comments, and have for January set aside time to discuss one on one. Always Private and Confidential. FB or Linkedin Message, Text or email to set up a time.


Saturday, January 12, 2019

Weekend Read: January 2019--Best Practices and Missteps

My Korea perspective on best business practices and norms has been honed over several decades. As a colleague shared to his Seoul based team with regard to this Korea experience, “Don has lived many lives.” 

There are best practices as well as common missteps.  I have witnessed both firsthand over the past 40 years. False assumptions due to limited understanding lead the list. Korea’s ever changing business culture and expectations only adds another layer.  It’s a time-learned process, more art than science.  

This Weekend Read is for leadership responsible for Korea facing business as well as team members in the day-to-day operations. 

Commonly, western companies and anyone new to Korea tend to quickly jump in and attempt to tackle the challenges—learning as they go and often making assumptions based on what worked for them in the past. Korea can throw some curve balls. Those of us long engaged in Korea recognize that the ability to identify the deeper cultural issues and norms along with the potential repercussions are not mastered in 6 months or even a year. Setbacks will mount and problems will surface.  In the best cases leadership and teams will reach out for support, mentoring, active advice and perspective on all key issues.   

In contrast, hoping one can work alone through challenges is rarely the best route.   

That said, there is seldom a one-time fix as circumstances are ever changing.  One lesson learned is there will be many ups and downs.  

On the proactive side, here are a few takeaways.

#1 The time required on how quickly one grasps the Korean mindset, trends, generational issues, and workplace culture will vary. Regardless of the industry, learning the nuance takes time—and we know not everyone starts from the same place.

#2 Though difficult when faced with deadlines and heavy workloads, the most successful leaders and team members are those who actively seek out and embrace support from Day 1—and as issues' surface reach out for a perspective by phone, text or email on an ongoing basis.

The good news is that most successful people learn to work within the Culture

#3 Advice, guidance and feedback need to be tailored to the specific circumstance. This calls for a trusted relationship that provides on-going support. Advice does not need to be timeless—it needs to be relevant and practical. 

As always, I am here to support you and the team. I’m always open to discuss things as they come up—private and confidential.

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Looking Forward: 2019 Opportunities

This commentary explores trends impacting Korea facing business. South Korea moves fast.  Government mandates shift often and Korean technology leapfrogs. Against this backdrop, a few developments are notable.     

Don Southerton
 1. South Korea's economy 
The current flat economy may level out in the first half or early part of the second half of 2019. As in 2018, and hopefully going into the new year, strong export growth will continue to offset the contraction in domestic consumption and prop up the economy. (BTW South Korea based auto exports were down as production is now distributed more global for the Hyundai Motor Group. In Korea tech and semiconductors production, for example, as the main drivers of exports.)

As always when there is a discussion on the Korean economy, jobs matter-- more so despite the efforts of President Moon and the administration.  His push for a “fair economy” has yet to create more jobs within the Small to Medium Enterprise (SME) sector. This means the chaebol will be called upon to boost hiring. 

No sooner have shared….And predicted in this 2019 Commentary, then South Korea president appears to be expanding communication channels to win backing from the country's leading industrial conglomerates including Samsung, LG, SK and Hyundai, which had been branded as "deep-rooted evil" by Moon years ago.

2. South Korean Consumer Behavior
Another valuable insight when looking at South Korea is that, much like in the Americas and EU, brands are considered representative of the consumer. As I point out often—a brand can differentiate and indicate the social status of an individual.  Superstars, influencers and key tastemakers and their fashion and buying decisions hold massive influence over a majority of South Korean consumers and their decisions and endorsements can strategically determine the fashion and buying trends of the season.

Bottom Line Middle to upper-class South Koreans are well-connected, informed shoppers with special interests in quality, luxury goods.  I do not expect this trend to change. 

3. IT and Technology
As one of the world leaders in IT infrastructure and high-speed technology, over 98% of South Korean households access the Internet regularly, with over 85% of the population owning a smartphone.  Additionally, over 97% of 18 to 24-year-olds actively use their mobile device every day. 

Looking back, the most dramatic Korean technological shifts have often occurred in tandem with government mandates.  As an example, I witnessed in the mid-2000s considerable accolades for the City of the Future, the $40 billion Songdo International District. The developers made huge Ethernet investments tied to the IoT (the Internet of Things). 

Infrastructure, buildings, and residences were hard-wired with a “state of the art” Cisco-partnered Internet service. 

No one foresaw that government-supported Korea telecom providers SK Telecom, KT and LGU+ would leapfrog and provide ubiquitous high speed 4 G Wi-Fi and South Korea developed WiBro, overshadowing the need for Ethernet technology.   

Bottom Line
Fast-forwarding to 2019, we will find the emerging 5G market again driven by SK Telecom, KT, and LGU+with ambitious Internet of Things, Robotics & Automation, Virtual Reality, and self-driving vehicles.

At least in Korea, IT and technology infrastructure need the ability to adapt to what will be the next developments by both private industry and government in regard to the 5G landscape and smart tech leaps. 

4. Transportation
Looking forward, I feel confident in several transportation developments that will impact customers and infrastructure. In other words, how Korean customers may choose to travel.  We cannot underscore enough the fact that the automobile industry is undergoing a massive disruptive mobility shift from the past 90 years. 

The first trend is eco-friendly autonomous (driverless) car and bus transportation. 
Tied to this, like in America, Seoul and the surrounding area we have seen substantial growth in rideshare services. By 2022 or sooner we can expect to see the next generation of these services—autonomous car share transportation.

Even more timely, testing is currently underway for Korea’s popular SoCar ridesharing app. After picking up and dropping off customers, the cars park themselves before moving to the next person requesting service. The cars are modified models of Hyundai luxury brand Genesis G80 and Hyundai’s electric vehicle Ionic, as well as Kia Motors’ electric Ray and Niro.

With the support of The Ministry of Transportation, the SoCar driverless autonomous partnership includes SK Telecom (part of the SK Group and Korea’s third-largest chaebol) and the Hyundai Motor Group.  Both chaebol have made substantial investments in both autonomous and in rideshare.

SK Telecom has noted that the cars were designed to pick up the closest call and move to their destination utilizing SK’s artificial intelligence (AI) navigation. 

5. A final development that will impact South Korea is hydrogen-powered vehicles—, especially for bus transportation.

1000+ hydrogen-powered buses are slated to hit the road in South Korea by 2022, starting with five cities, including Seoul. 

A mix of movable charging stations, as well as fixed charging stations, are planned to meet the demand for hydrogen.    

In addition, 310 charging stations for hydrogen-powered cars are expected to be installed by 2022. The latest measure is in line with the government’s plan to provide 15,000 hydrogen-powered cars by 2022. 

As a caveat, we can also expect to see a range of autonomous buses in use, some of which are already in service. 

In Closing…
Again, as always I understand the team’s need to address current milestones. That said, based on my engagement in Korea for decades, one lesson learned is that Korea moves fast.  Government mandates shift often and Korean technology leapfrogs. We just need to stay attuned to changes ahead.  

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Korea's "new" Western Team

Hyundai Motor’s promotion of former BMW executive Albert Biermann to lead its R&D division has gained considerable media attention as well as accolades. The move makes him the first non-Korean to hold the key R&D position at the family-run company.

It's seen by many as "shaking things up" with the adding of more non-Korean executives to the ranks of a major Korea Group.

So, too, former Bentley design chief, Luc Donckerwolke now heads the Hyundai Motor Group Design Center-- overseeing the vehicle designs for both Hyundai Motor and its affiliate Kia Motors.  And, Thomas Schemera, also a former BMW executive, was appointed to lead product planning for autonomous cars, connected and electrified vehicles.

In all cases, I feel the promotions reflect a positive direction for Korea.

What may be little known is Hyundai has a history of seeking out western talent. My 2013 story set in the 1970s shares the first westerner in a key position, Bill Swank, Sr., who gained the trust and confidence of Hyundai's Founder and their leadership.

The article was published just prior to Bill's passing.



Thursday, November 22, 2018

Return to Wonder

It’s said, branding is “who you are,” and marketing is “how you build awareness.” Branding is your strategy, while I’m told marketing is more tactical. Or put another way, marketing refers to the tools to deliver the message of your brand.

I’m not a brand or marketing expert, although I mentor many… I have also served as an advisor to some of the top branding and marketing agencies… I do observe Culture, and it’s obvious there are great brands and ones that struggle….

One brand that shines is the re-boot of FAO Schwarz. With their acquisition from Toys R Us in 2016 by The ThreeSixty Group, a product development and distribution company, their team has turned out to be masters at branding.  

They have a clear vision of the brand from sharing an experience that brings out a child-like wonder in people of all ages with surprise and delight, to smart business savvy where folks want to leave with a souvenir and that souvenir is a FAO Schwarz toy. 

Iconic toys
Love their tagline, too. Return to Wonder. This so matches the brand’s reboot and the new store opening last week in NYC—the iconic brand now has an equally iconic new home at 30 Rockefeller Plaza.  

Cool design 
Having the honor to attend the grand opening, I like many are glad FAO Schwarz, the world’s most famous toy store, is back in New York—and well branded, too. (On a side note reports are that the lines stretch around the block at 30 Rock with up to 40-minute waits just to get into the store packed with shoppers.)


Saturday, October 06, 2018

Weekend Read--Decisions, Process and Expectations

As one delves deeper into Korea facing work what stands out is the “innerconnectiveness” of the workplace. 

This relationship impacts day to day business interactions such as decisions, timelines, and process. 

To share some background, Author Richard Nisbett describes the concept well in The Geography of Thought:

To the Westerner, it makes sense to speak of a person as having attributes that are independent of circumstances or particular personal relations. 

This self— this bounded, impermeable free agent—can move from group to group and setting to setting without significant alteration. 

But for the Easterner (and for many other peoples to one degree or another), the person is connected, fluid, and conditional...    

The person participates in a set of relationships that make it possible to act and purely independent behavior is usually not possible or really even desirable.

Since all action is in concert with others, or at the very least affects others, harmony in relationships becomes a chief goal of social life.  

As aexamplein Korea, decisions must consider relationships both internal and external and the impact to the organization. 

To share from a global project in which I was engaged, a meeting concluded following a high level presentation to division heads with the Korean leadership pleased, but deferring next steps until they “internally discussed.”

To the dismay of highly engaged Korean project team leads I was working within the days that followed assignments for key portions of the project were distributed to a number of other departments.

In private the project's lead team was not pleased but accepted the mandate. There was no recourse since the parceling came from leadership. The lead team did not wish to create an issue despite knowing that the other teams with only domestic Korea experience were poorly equipped to handle the high profile global assignment.

Following the cultural norm, the lead team accepted the situation and sought to maintain organizational harmony above all—even knowing their project and even their own careers might suffer.   

Again, the takeaway is in Korea facing work, many factors come into play…and one needs to take a cultural approach recognizing what may be a western norm and expectation can differs in other global markets. 

As always I look to support you and your teams as issues’ surface.  Situations vary and so do what may be the better approach. 


Saturday, September 29, 2018

Building Bridges-- Understand the Culture

My mission is akin to the aphorism "a rising tide lifts all boats.” I work to build bridges among the members of Korean, American and global teams. 
Understand the Culture!
I feel the issues and impasses that surface are less about “them and us”.  Frankly, it's more about working through the issue and collaboration.
I’d like to share with you my two step process, which I hope will be insightful. 
To Begin...
A colleague once forwarded a well-crafted article titled, “Stop Blaming Your Culture.” A long time employee of a major Korean subsidiary, he recognized the concept had value for working with and within their Culture. 
More so, they feared a major and far-reaching initiative was in danger of not being considered by local senior Korean management. Insightfully, the colleague reached out and asked me if perhaps there was merit in taking a more Korean view and approach to the assignment. 
Learning more about the project, as well as its strategic importance to the client’s organization, I explained my approach when tackling Korean projects—one groomed over years working with Korean leadership and teams. 
This approach echoed a quote from “Stop Blaming Your Culture,”
[it’s] Critical to fully understand the culture, then be able to de-construct and simplify aspects relevant to your situation. 
Before crafting some action steps, we looked at what his team had laboriously researched and prepared. I then suggested we tackle with two strategies, which I am sharing with you. 
Strategy #1 
First, instead of the common western approach founded in considerable upfront research, discussion and review in which a sole, singular course of action is recommended—it's best to instead prepare three options with their related costs. 
This approach allows teams to consider alternatives, a common decision-making methodology in Korea. 
Some background on “Why 3 options?” Stepping back to the mid-2000s and a joint American and Korean management workshop that I facilitated for a client, one of Korean team managers pointed out that in Korea it was norm to present multiple options. He explained that to support their leadership’s decision-making at least 3 options would be prepared for his seniors... and as many as 5 if the proposal was going to be elevated for review by their Chairman. 
In most cases, following this initial presentation, leadership would ask for additional details requiring the team to drill deeper prior to a decision. All said, this process resulted in an approved course of action. 
I also recall how not following this model can have consequence. I was called upon by a frequent Agency of the Year winner to assist in dealing with their Korean client and a relationship troubling the agency’s dedicated account team. Probing, I found the agency had presented what they felt was the best plan for their client—a well thought out global branding campaign for which the agency was confident in their decision. 
The Korean client feedback was less than expected and came as a shock to the agency team. In my asking, and of little surprise to me, the Korean client was disappointed and had high hopes for a range of ideas from the agency. They had expected to be dazzled with creativity and not just a single idea. In my opinion this was driven by the advertising agency’s world class and award-winning creative reputation. 
In following up with the western agency , I recommended the agency also present the preliminary concept work which they had developed internally prior to picking what they felt was the best. This would allow the client to have voice in the decision. Sadly, the agency was rigid in their thinking, feeling they had submitted their top work and that was sufficient. Not surprisingly, they parted ways some time later. 
Strategy #2 
A second strategy along with “3 Options” is taking a Pilot Approach.... 
Recognizing the strong cultural Korean risk avoidance tendencies, I recommend offering a limited pilot program as an option to mitigate fears and concerns—with costs scaled down proportionately from a bolder rollout. Depending on the project, this often can be demonstrated in a test market or dialed back to limit in scope. 
In all cases, the pilot needs to be capable of expanding in stages with associated incremental costs. 
There is one caveat to this approach I often see taken in Korea. Once they test market a project and then decide to move forward, they execute a full rollout incredibly fast. My advice is to plan accordingly in advance with an action plan that includes a rapid roll out.... the faster the better. 
In closing, these two strategies are examples of working with the Culture, time proven and align well cross-culturally. 
Questions, Comments, Thoughts… always welcome.
Don is the guru, the guy CEOs want to have their voice heard with...
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