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...
Seoul eFM Koreascape

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.