Monday, February 18, 2019

Daeboreum: The Great Full Moon

Many of us enjoy learning about the culture and traditions of Korea amid an ever-changing society. This week, on February 19, Daeboreum is observed, celebrating the first full moon of the Lunar New Year. BTW, historic mentions of Daeboreum date back to the 1200s.  Daeboreum (대보름) literally means “great full moon”.   

Daeboreum Festival

As a cultural observance, Daeboreum is accompanied by tradition, rituals, and foods. As with all cultures, some practices remain more common than others…and there are often variations. That said, in recent years festivals have sought to preserve their traditions. 

Common practices may include:
It's popular to crack nuts (usually peanuts and walnuts)  with your teeth, tradition that this will keep your teeth healthy as well as other ills away for the year.

People will cross back and forth on the walk bridges in the evening, the belief that it will make your legs strong and healthy for the new year.

 People will brave the cold and climb mountains to catch the first rise of the moon. It is said that the first person to see the moon rise will have good luck all year or a wish will be granted.

 A rather visually striking tradition in the countryside and today at festivals is whirling burning charcoal in cans filled with holes. Bonfires today are also common in Daeboreum festivals. Both the falling charcoal embers hitting the ground and the bonfires are tied to when in the past farmers burned dry grass on the ridges between rice fields in preparation for good crops in the new year. 




Friday, February 15, 2019

Korea Facing Thoughts 2019

My Korea facing weekend updates share thoughts and real-world topics as they unfold.  Your comments, point of view and inputs are appreciated. 

This week’s question…

Why are companies long tied to Korea the most engaged in support and coaching? 

1.    My sense is those long engaged in Korea facing business have come to recognize their own deeper need to better understand the issues and business norms, which impact their decisions and the outcomes. In most cases, in conversations, I confirm their thoughts… adding context where needed.  

2.    They have witnessed costly repercussions when not aligned with their Korean partners and leaders. They also strongly encourage their new hires to meet and get insights vs. the new hire without a resource tackling the challenges. Especially when they know Korea can and does throw some curve balls. 

3.    And, contrary to the assumptions that executives and teams will over time solely rely on their own insights, the fact is employee and leaders alike at these companies ask for ongoing backing. They find me being onsite on a regular basis an important part of this support

One thought regarding on-site support. I’ve come to recognize it’s as much about being available for the team in person, then solely by phone or email.  When onsite, my most common requests by even the most seasoned is: “Do you have a few minutes to talk,” “How long will you be here?” or, “Is this a good time to discuss …..” 

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 27, 2019

Culture Alert: Korean Lunar New Year 2019

This year the Lunar holiday falls from Monday, February 4 to Wednesday, February 6 (Korea time).  The celebration usually lasts three days: the day before the Korean New Year, Korean New Year itself, and the day after the Korean New Year.

On a cultural note, Lunar New Year or Seollal is a highly celebrated traditional holiday in South Korea. Korean New Year generally occurs in January or February on the second new moon after the winter solstice.    

It does not only mark the passage into a new year, but it is also a time for families to catch up with each other, pay respect to ancestors and celebrate with traditional foods and gifts.

For us working with Korean teams, it’s a great time to re-connect.

For your Korean colleagues (in Korea), you can wish them “Happy Lunar New Year” by phone, text, or email, on Thursday, January 31(so, Friday in Korea, which is their last day in office prior to Holiday).

For expat Koreans working outside Korea/ globally, or in your local operations, you can wish then Happy Lunar New Year on Monday, February 4 (in the West). 

Here is the formal greeting--Sae hae bok mani ba deu say yo

Give it a try.   You will find it will be greatly appreciated. 

Question, just reach out to me …



Friday, January 25, 2019

Korean Culture Lesson: Quick Assumptions

It's easy for those new to Korea business to make quick assumptions.  I often have to remind myself lessons learned, too. Over time those engaged in projects find there are complexities often rooted deep within in the culture—requiring context, recent and past.  This is a normal learning process. 

As an example, I’ve also found it very valuable over the years to work with a number of Korean Groups, and the affiliates companies.  (I define an affiliate is one of the many family controlled subsidiaries that chaebol typically operate across diverse industries. These can include in-house IT, Marketing, Construction, Design, Sales, and Financing.)

What stands out is how the Culture vary between the Korean Groups—and even within a Group and it affiliates. Perhaps moving among Groups and affiliates sometimes in a single day, I see and experience the subtle differences more than most.  This can range from the tangibles like building design, workspace layout, dress code and amenities to intangibles such as what one can sense in day to day employee engagement, morale and openness to new ideas.  In other words, the working of one Korean company or agency can differ lots from another. 

In particular, there are even Culture differences, such as; 1) in Korea between the domestic HQ and their own local affiliates; and 2), in Korea, between the domestic teams and their own in-house overseas divisions; and 3) between the HQ operations in Korea and the company’s overseas affiliates. 

Digging deeper, I feel recognizing what is common between the companies’ counts, too. This can include intrinsic Group values and norms shared across the organization, or even more common general Korean business practices and expectations.  

This all means when a Korea related issue surfaces we have to look at with several colored lenses.  Candidly, that's how I pull apart situations, provide context, and a solid work-through when supporting clients as a mentor and their Korea business strategist.  

Here as always… 


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.