Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Everything Korea: Today is an exciting day!

Today is an exciting day for me. I just launched my Patreon page.

Don in Action 

Staying on top of Korea facing business issues and breaking news that impacts you makes a large demand on my time. 

The research, analysis, writing, and delivering the best content possible to you every week has become a full-time job.

In order to continue providing the very best content I can, I could really use your help.  I feel Patreon is a great option to offset the costs. If you aren’t familiar with Patreon, it’s an easy way for those interested in my work to see new exclusive content and have access to a range of my services.

100% of all funds contributed through Patreon will be used to cover my bandwidth, so I can focus on creating great content. As a friend, I wanted to share the news with you before promoting more widely.

So, if it feels right to you, anything you or the company contribute is most appreciated. With each tier there are some cool benefits, too. 

Here’s the link and how to participate.


Sunday, September 08, 2019

Korean Chuseok What you need to know!

As a service, I enjoy providing you and your teams with exclusive, timely Korea facing updates and insights. 

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

This year, Chuseok will be observed Sept. 12-14, with the holiday on Friday, and the day before and after celebrated as National Holidays, too.

Koreans, like 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 Chuseok, the Harvest Moon Festival (the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month).

En mass a substantial part of the population travel. For many, this means going 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 may opt to travel overseas, or a popular trend has been to staycation in a luxury hotel.  

For your Korean colleagues (in Korea), you can wish them a happy Chuseok while they are still in their office, so this coming Tuesday, September 11 in the West (which will be Wednesday AM in Korea).  

Again, for most Koreans, the holiday break will begin Wednesday Korea time at the end of day through the weekend. Some may take extra days off that week.

For expat Koreans working outside Korea, you can wish them happy Chuseok on the actual holiday, Friday September 13.  

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

Happy Chuseok works fine, too.

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 bedrocks of Korean society.

Please read!
I hope you find value in my Korea facing updates and analysis; information that impacts you, your teams, and company. Staying on top of the issues and breaking news makes large demands on my time. With so much transition currently underway in Korea and within their global organizations we’ll actually see an acceleration in change—one all will find challenging, Koreans and Westerners. 

In order to continue providing the very best content and insights, I could really use your help. Frankly this means making sure we are engaged throughout the year with either one of my onboarding, mentoring and coaching programs, the Korea 101 workshops, or as a trusted advisor. 

Your voice and support matters and is much appreciated.


Monday, August 12, 2019

Korea Perspective: The Book

Summer, so happy to offer complimentary PDF copies of Korea Perspective. In particular, my work shares the interconnectedness , norms, and expectations we find in the Korea workplace. Just ask and I'll get you a copy. 


Thursday, July 25, 2019

Communications, Korean Business, and Culture

Our culture determines how and to the degree information is shared and whether it is critical, to be ignored, inappropriate, or outside of our boundaries.

For example, in the West, we often use "low content" communications. Conversations are direct and can be confrontational. We require background information in the message—little is assumed as known—including why an issue may need to be deemed sensitive. Transparency means fewer boundaries, too.

Don Southerton
Within Korean organizations, the very nature of the Asian “high content” culture means less is shared in explicit verbal and open communication. Since teams foster long-lasting relationships much is shared informally within their circle of close trusted colleagues, and much is also accumulated knowledge, so issues require little explanation or even discussion.

When something is seen as a sensitive issue or an issue with strong boundaries, an individual may steer clear of openly sharing, especially if they feel that sharing belongs to a certain group and not them.

 If pressed by a senior, they then rely on non-verbal signs such as tone of voice, facial expressions, body language, and so on, Koreans can look for meaning and understanding in what is not said.

A firm “no” or rejection of an idea or plan can be interpreted from these non-explicit communications. Most westerners miss this—waiting for a verbal or written No or Yes.

Understanding the Korean and Western perspective is vital for global organizations. No Culture is right or wrong, just different. My work centers on providing such support, mentoring and solutions.

I look for your comments, feedback, and thoughts, as well as, business inquiries.


Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Korean Business and Flow of Information

Staying current on all the moving parts within a Korean Group or Korea in general, is no small effort.  Knowing the gaps in communications, I do my best to keep teams and leadership updated.

Some thoughts ….

Don Southerton on Korean Business

From time to time concerns occur in the overseas workplace regarding communications between the HQ and local operations. This can range from feelings of being disconnected and being the last to know as global announcements are made or important news surfaces. This information gap can include working teams but is also felt by local leadership. Team members may even feel that information is being deliberately withheld. While there may be some truth in the disconnection, the feeling that Koreans are withholding information deliberately is most often a perception not reality. 

What may be a surprise for western overseas teams is that Korean staff in their home offices must make quite an effort to stay informed. As one entry-level employee of a major Korean group lamented, “If I did not spend an hour daily networking with fellow workers, I would be in the dark on issues major and minor that could have a significant impact on projects.”  

For my own work with Korea-based companies, nightly chats via phone and frequent emails and texts are required or I, too, would be ill-informed and “in the dark.” 

It is not uncommon when I ask a Korean colleague and even leadership on news, their response is one of surprise—not in me asking, but this may be the first they knew of this even in the media. This implies that silos within the company limit the sharing of information. More so, those not well connected are out the loop or rarely given an advance heads up. I find it interesting that colleagues within a company often remark and see me as one well connected—a very positive trait. 

As a caveat, teams do make an effort to keep their trusted friends, colleagues and management well informed—even on sensitive and confidential issues.  

Savvy management in turn continually seek out news on issues, projects and forthcoming announcements from their colleagues and networks to stay informed as well as to avoid being caught off guard or blindsided. This network can play a critical role in one’s career and advancement, too.

That said, for most Korea facing international operations, the communication channel—informal and formal—between the Korean HQ and local subsidiaries is through expatriates. (The same goes for western companies located in Korea, as westerners there serve as expats.) 

Roles vary within each company, but most frequently with Korean global business an expat’s primary role is to be the liaison between Korea and the local subsidiary.  

Frankly, some expats are more open to sharing information than others. Regardless, I feel this is less a deliberate withholding of news than a “filtering”—that is, a review of communications from the mother company and then a doling out of information which is appropriate. 

Filtering becomes an issue when information is withheld until the last moment, whether for clarity, to avoid confrontation, or to how best address a delicate situation. Delaying communication often forces local operations to drop everything and deal with an issue that would have been less demanding and disruptive for the teams if conveyed in a timely manner. 

In other situations, I have found information is often held back until a 100% certainty is reached on an outcome or upcoming event. What appears to be silence on important news is actually an attempt based on their years of experience working with the mother company to spare local teams from concerns that could and probably will change over time.  So instead of constantly having to return to the local team with a shift in plans, an expat may stay quiet until the last moment and a firm confirmation. 

There are workarounds, but one needs to recognize that much is strongly rooted in a company’s culture. This can include legal, PR, and leadership final approvals for time sensitive announcements, which in turn need to be expedited. This can mean little advance notification and discussion even among management.  

All said, outside issues that are deemed as private, sensitive and confidential, few will dispute the need for strong internal communications and updates—shared across the organization. 

Meanwhile, some best practices include:
1) Building a strong professional network—including colleagues local and overseas.  
2) Maintain a reputation as one who can both share and be shared information—with a high degree of trust and confidentiality when appropriate. 

Here as always.   If you have a question or inquiry on this topic or another, let’s set a time to chat.


Saturday, July 06, 2019

Korean Business Talking Points

American holidays allow me to step back, see what I may be missing, take a deep breath and uncover the best solutions to current challenges.  My goal is to provide frank insights and pro-active recommendations. Below are a couple helpful talking points. 
Talking Point #1
As with all individuals, no two of us are alike—and the same goes for westerners and Koreans .... Each has his or her unique cultural workplace strengths, skills, and experiences.
That said, one topic I constantly revisit is the assumption that executives and teams engaged in Korea facing business will simply "get it" and “learn as they go.” Without ongoing coaching, this common default seldom works. More damaging is that some team members without support and mentoring may “never get it.”
Arguments that such support can wait often come with a price tag—missteps along the way, poor productivity, and miscommunications. 
Push back attributed to the costs for support is often cited, too, as well as what appears to be dismissing or delaying any action until there is a real unavoidable need. The later can range from denial with hopes that things will work out—to concealing these issues because they might reflect poorly on some in local management. Again, regardless of such hopes to dismiss and not engage fail to recognize what I see as decades of history to the contrary.  
Talking Point #2
Most non-Korean executives employed to run Korean business divisions are veterans of their industry. They know the business. They are experts. Sadly, they can know little of Korean business and/or feel their past work knowledge is sufficient. 

Even more significant, I found that some feel that given time, they will get Koreans to do business their way following the model and methods they polished and acquired working for other firms—often Japanese or German. 

Contrary to this hope and recognizing the considerable work practices and corporate structure changes underway in Korea, such as dress codes, fewer hierarchical titles, and a more balanced workday, I do not see Korean firms changing much in their core and deeply rooted business values and processes. More so, American, German, or Japanese business practices like Korean are rooted in their own respective intrinsic cultures.  

My suggestion for division executives eager to bring change is to first become fully versed in Korean methods. Learn about the company and their partners. Learn how Koreans manage. Drill deep.

This learning does not occur without considerable insight, mentoring and coaching. In turn, once this groundwork is completed, I have found and can offer some sound approaches for introducing new business methods and practices without push back. 
In both cases…
Ongoing support of non-Korean management is a must for all Korea facing organizations. Mentoring and coaching is the key. Experience and skills vary, so support must be tailored to address individual needs. 

More significant, mentoring requires a deep mutual understanding of both Korean and western business, not to mention the specific Western and Korea-based firms and the industry in general.
I look forward to answering any questions and providing recommendations.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

North Korea: A Measured Displeasure

North Korea. There is always some concern among Western teams when North Korea saber rattles... I will try to give some perspective.

I see no need for alarm even amidst a new round of missile launches and an alert by the North for "full-combat posture."

Having followed North Korea since 1989 including a mix of academic work, friendships with some of the top experts on North Korea, as well as watching the more recent Trump-Kim talks... I've always felt any negotiations with the North seem like two steps forward, and one step back—not to mention North Korea is skilled at brinkmanship.

My take on the latest missile launches is that the North appears to be demonstrating measured displeasure with the breakdown in talks following the February Hanoi summit between leader Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump. 

The North also seems to be determined to put pressure on South Korea and Washington for the resumption of dialogue. Missle launches do get our attention.   

For North Korea resumption of high-level Trump- Kim talks are the key to getting sanctions lifted, which is much needed for North Korea's struggling economy.

And finally, resumption would help Kim show his leadership—many feel his failed efforts in Hanoi were damaging...including loss of face.

Questions? Comments?