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. 

Workarounds
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.


Don

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.
Don

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?

Don  

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Saturday, April 27, 2019

May Culture Update: Holidays

Just a reminder as Korea has some holidays coming up...

In South Korea, May 1st is known simply as "Workers' Day". It is not a public holiday, but a paid holiday for workers by the Designation of Workers' Day Act.

A National Holiday, Children's Day falls on a Sunday in 2019, the following Monday, May 6 will be celebrated as the holiday. Workers get a day off work and children get a day off school. 

Families make an extra effort to do something special on Children’s Day. Parents will often take their children somewhere special and treat them to snacks or ice cream. One of the theme parks, zoos, and historic sites are popular places for Koreans to take their children, too.


This year Buddha's Birthday, a National Holiday, falls on Sunday, May 12. Buddha’s Birthday is not only an important and auspicious day for the nation’s practicing Buddhists (a religious group that makes up approximately one-fifth of South Korea’s population), but it is also a public holiday that is widely celebrated across the country. 

Festivities surround the holiday and Buddhist temples are transformed into kaleidoscopes of color--vibrantly colored, lotus-shaped lanterns hung throughout. 


Buddha's Birthday

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Friday, April 12, 2019

Korea Q & A, Part 2 Blindsided w/ Don Southerton






Part 2 Q & A looks at how to offset the unexpected.


In many cases, leadership and team do need direct support. I want to strongly encourage you to reach out to me. At least for a neutral second opinion. Best, too, to engage early, and not put off until issues escalate or go sideways. Waiting rarely makes things better. 
Call, text, Message or email and we can discuss. 


Don


Tuesday, April 09, 2019

A Working with Korea Q & A

Question?  Don, working with Korea, how can we ensure projects stay on track amid changes and forces from outside of our control.

Answer. Great question. I will answer in two parts, in this posting, Part 1.

First, the short answer is it’s critical to stay aware and sensitive to not only the scope of the project but the broader circumstances that could impact the work.  One needs a 360 vs. a very linear mindset. In many cases, my work is providing this insight—honed over decades—more art than science.

Next, have countermeasures as options already in place.

To elaborate on both points…
Pondering on the question, it made me reflect on within the Korean workplace that the most savvy, long term staff and executives are both highly intuitive, sensitive and vigilant to all that goes on around them. They read situations and adapt accordingly. Little gets by them. In particular, they even anticipate senior leadership’s next moves. More so, without such a skill set few ever get to an executive level.

As a best practice, they also plan accordingly with countermeasures in place for all projects. In Korean we call this  miri miri…(Pronounced me re me re). It can be translated as preparing ahead of time and in advance.  It is in contrast to doing things at the last minute and then having to go balli balli.

Bottom line, look beyond the surface to gain insights into what may impact projects, assume some road bumps head, develop countermeasures, and be ready to execute quickly.

In Part 2,  I will discuss how even the best-laid plans can get blindsided. As always, need support? Need context and a 360 viewpoint? I am open to new projects and engagements, too.

Call, text, or email and we can discuss.


https://www.bridgingculture.com

mailto:dsoutherton@bridgingculture.com

Don