Saturday, March 17, 2018

Korean Business: Similar but Different Norms

This week's read looks at Korean Business and, similar but different norms.

For starters, I was asked last week re: my availability for Bookings & Requests. Best to email me, or call.

That said,.. Following a recent C-level meeting, I had the opportunity to chat with the local subsidiary's Korean CEO. He hoped I'd shared with his team how the company in Korea and the US differed from the Group's many sister firms—many westerners wrongly assuming a high level of conformity across the Group.

Similar but different norms
I assured him that "yes," I shared in mentoring how even within the Group I, too, had experienced that each company had its own unique culture. And, not only did sister companies differ but in some cases how the Koreans recruited and working at companies within the Group were different.

On parting the CEO pointed out another key point to be shared was that Koreans dispatched to support the division's overseas operation over time came to see things differently than domestic Korea-based teams. He, for example, had come to “see things differently, too.”

Building on this...
Prior to a global workshop on the ever-changing Korean workplace, a senior Korean executive asked that I also explain to the group of predominately North Americans and Europeans that despite perceived outward appearances and their homogenous society that no two Koreans are alike....In other words, he asked that I help dispel common stereotypes, etc.
I agreed and did my best to pass on the message that like Westerners--behaviors, mindset, and experience varied among Koreans...this despite strong corporate culture and indoctrination.
In particular, factors contributing to how Koreans might differ can include: generational issues, global travel, work, and educational experiences, and significantly how they were mentored in a management style.
As for the later, during a team-building workshop held several years ago, a senior Korean manager openly shared some insights on Korean management styles.
He noted that within his Korean division teams were mentored by seniors in one of several styles....  Some senior managers fostered a "soft" management style of collaboration, while others used a "hard" autocratic style.
Elaborating more about how he was mentored, he learned to first present the challenge to his team, then ask his juniors to prepare their recommendations. And in the case of working in the overseas' subsidiary, he learned to ask the American colleagues for their ideas vs. directing the team on what to do--a style he'd been taught by his longtime boss.

Pop Question.
What similar but different norms and styles have you experienced with Korea based companies?  


Wednesday, March 14, 2018

A Question on Korean Decisions

Earlier this week I was asked for a cross-cultural insight into the "why” behind Korean expatriates intervening in what some feel is the local decisions process. More so, these decisions may be one-sided, lack collaborative and mutual engagement and have consequences. 

In turn, western teams see themselves consulted only to validate preconceived ideas or to implement directives from Korea.
This has to lead to in some cases local Western management seeing their input and expertise being marginalized-- more so with complex situations and long-term planning “drilling deeper” may uncover ramifications.

In my experience due to the hierarchical Korean approval model, decisions take time--lots of time :)  

That said, when Korean teams are under enough pressure they are driven to take immediate action. With no ill intent and out of expediency, it can result in little local joint discourse related to potential trade-offs and risks in projects assigned to the local subsidiary.
Particularly deep local concerns on this narrow and reactive workplace approach, one can draw an analogy to jigsaw puzzle building.
All Possible Options? 
The pieces to a puzzle have many unique sides. There may be different ways to place them into the puzzle. What is required is to look diligently at all possible options.
Like all challenges, one needs to explore the different possibilities to find the right solution and how the piece fits into the overall puzzle—essentially one needs a reflective mindset.
As a Korean colleague has pointed out, their society beginning with grade school does not promote reflective thinking and instead looks to promote a thought process that leads to more immediate results. In fact, Korean high school students spend more than 14 hours a day studying, memorizing and preparing for exams—a model that stifles creativity.
I also see a cross-cultural aspect with many Korean decisions the result of a team workplace’s collective thought process, and in contrast, reflective thinking stems from an individual’s core consciousness.
Bottom line - reflective thinking requires taking acquiring knowledge and then calling upon one's own experience, utilizing evaluative skills and admitting a personal bias.
The result is a broader perspective and a better view of the bigger picture.
Without working through a robust analysis of a problem from multiple angles and considering potential repercussions a solid evaluation can never arise.
All this said, my message for Korean teams is that there are immediate benefits to thinking outside the box through a reflective and conscious lens, the time invested in the analysis will lead to most effective solutions—required in times of high stress.
Questions? Here as always...

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Ten Valuable Insights into Korea Business

We have to admit US-North Korea talks top the list of newsworthy topics this week, although the Steel and Aluminum trade issues are not to be overlooked. 

I do have my opinions :)

All said, this read shares: “Ten Valuable Insights into Korean business.” This is something I often incorporate into advising and mentoring.

As food for thought, I am not advocating we drop Western norms and practices. In fact, it was developed in collaboration with a senior Korea manager more as a reference.

Specifically, we looked to share a perspective and explain to the local team the company culture in Korea — the Westerner employees lacking first-hand knowledge in the mother company and seeing the Company only in their local operations.

Ten Insights
• Trust There is a very strong trust within teams and in the company. This is often because of a legacy in achieving many bold accomplishments — often seemingly impossible tasks.

• Family Traditional family norms permeate the work culture (Elder brother as boss, senior managers, etc.) and the related concept that co-workers are seen as family.

• Challenge A one-word summary of the Korean workplace would be Challenge — both in what it has overcome and in what it expects of its global employees.

• Input Companies are very hierarchical but actively demands input from all levels. In fact, top management make decisions based on the expectation that the lower levels have considered all possible outcomes and challenges.

• Teamwork Once a decision is made all dissenting or differing opinions unite to embrace success.
• Solution In Korea, employees do not bad mouth or put down their company. In fact, employees feel that such an attitude is “part of the problem” and not “part of the solution.” Even among friends, negative thoughts are not shared.

• Relationships From higher ranks to the lower ranks, they are very hierarchical. But, here are also very protective organizations. On one level, norms dictate that Seniors are demanding of their Junior employees. One reason is to make sure Juniors learn the work expectations, practices, and culture.
On another level, workers must ensure that mistakes are not made that could reflect badly on their Seniors the department or the company. Once a Junior works for a Senior that Jr. is part of a network of other employees under the umbrella or protection of the Senior.

• Expectations There are very high expectations that must be met. Doing a great job is what you are paid to do…
• Collaboration The American workplace process is often to receive an assignment, clarify details, go off, work hard, and come back to the manager with the result. The Korean staff will take a different approach. They will receive an assignment, work and discuss it collectively with others, and go back to the manager on multiple occasions informally to make sure they are following the path the manager wants. This method takes times, but Korean workers know when the manager sees the result, it will be what the senior requested.

And in closing…Adaptability     Flexibility and acceptance of change. Projects are subject to lots of change — some speed up, while others stall.


Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Korean business hints: Don't be mistaken

I truly enjoy sharing the nuances of Korean business hints and culture—whether through an email, books, or media interviews/articles.  This includes one on one mentoring, too.

Don Southerton
Long part of my core business has been On-boarding individuals as well as the entire leadership team.  In fact, this week I have a number of engagements scheduled.
On-boarding or, organizational socialization is where teams, from C-level to entry-level hires, acquire necessary knowledge, skills, and behaviors to be effective in their job.
In most cases for my work, this means Westerners employed by Korean companies. It also includes those partners that provide services to Korean global firms, or a company wishing to do business in Korea.
A common false assumption taken by some is a company or project “will get” the cultural nuances without considerable support. Korean Business hints: Don't be mistaken.

I find the Struggles for non-Koreans can range from team members unsure if their actions may offend their Korea colleagues in the day to day affairs; to western leadership perplexed and frustrated why approval processes are so complex or why Finance appears to be the making final call in critical operational decisions. The latter two situations covered extensively in my books Korea Facing and Korea Perspective.  I can get you copies, so just ask.
All said, my role in On-boarding is to provide context and the reasons behind Korea facing business, while over time mentoring, coaching and steering teams and C-level leadership to solutions.
 I’m available to discuss more.

Saturday, March 03, 2018

Weekend Read #8: Relationships

Relationships... amid disruptive market conditions perhaps the greatest ripple effect challenge to Korean global business is how best to maintain positive and collaborative working relations between Western and Korean teams.

This March weekend read provides some recommendations.

Korean relationships
Relationships Matter

From a cross-cultural perspective, Korean commerce is dependent upon relationships and interpersonal interactions.

Western business, in contrast, leans toward process and procedure.

Therefore when Korea-facing working relationships are strained, culturally, there is a heightened impact throughout the entire organization.

Without discounting market conditions and intense pressure to meet aggressive sales goals, I see the impact of adapting to a rapidly changing and disruptive business landscape at the core of many strained relationships.

As author Thomas L. Friedman points out in Thank You for Being Late: "As we transition from an industrial-age economy to a computer-Internet-mobile-broadband-driven economy—that is, a supernova-driven economy—we are experiencing the growing pains of adjusting."

Drilling deeper, I have found this acceleration has markets and industry sectors ever shifting.

For example, the automotive industry is witnessing and adjusting to new consumer preferences, such as collaborative consumption shared ride services, self-driving autonomous technology and eco-friendly vehicles.

That said, we as a society are also experiencing the need to adapt more frequently and at a more rapid pace than ever in the past.

The good news is we are perhaps adapting faster than anytime in history. Still there is a substantial gap in the high rate of change and speed we adapt. This gap is disorienting and business models that worked in the past have become outdated further adding to stress and frustration.

In my work, this leads to a Korea driven climate of reactive and hopeful second-guess decision-making, or, in some cases, the opposite in stalled action.

In both situations, I feel we need to embrace a middle course— a well thought out and responsive plan.

Again Thomas Freidman, too, recognizes this need to ponder. He notes, and I paraphrase:
Patience… space for reflection and thought. We are generating more information and knowledge than ever today, but knowledge is only good if you can reflect on it.

In closing I return to my original point of the vital importance of maintaining relationships amid the current market condition. No matter how challenging the situation we need to take time and work to forge strong collaborative bonds within teams Friedman again remarks:

And it is not just knowledge that is improved by pausing. So, too, is the ability to build trust, …to form deeper and better connections, not just fast ones, with other human beings.


Saturday, February 24, 2018

Weekend Read: Hit the Target-- a Korea Business Lesson

Don Southerton Korea
Don Southerton
Hit the target, a comment tied to Korean business.  A week does not go by without a colleague or client expressing deep concern for what seems an overarching and singular need for their company to reach their sales numbers. To most, despite a number of vital business initiatives, they feel the monthly demand to hit the target and the “Plan” is all that matters.

I can recall more than a decade ago while mentoring a new American divisional vice president being pulled aside by his Korean expatriate counterpart, an Executive Coordinator.

The Korean obviously under duress and knew I understood the company as well as HQ expectations. My Korean friend asked passionately for me to stress to the new American VP they needed to hit the target. He repeating the phrase, 3 times so to ensure I got it… then patting me on the back before sending me over to the adjacent office with the VP.

Frankly, as long as I have been working with Korea facing global business it has been the driven force.

In another case, I was a speaker at LG’s Mobile national sales meeting. Capping the upbeat and motivating event, the Korean CEO with a huge graph projected behind him shared their amazing unit sales growth over the years. He then added the next year’s “stretch goal” as a hush came over the room. The new goal a huge bump over past years, which had pushed teams and the organization to their limits.

To be fair, this model is not unique to Korean business. It is also the subject of frequent discussion in Korea.

However, South Korea’s modern economy was once rooted in a state-run export-driven model—the government fixing private industries and well as the nation’s overall production and sales quotas in many sectors.

Today despite leading international as well as Korean economic experts arguing the old model is dated and need to move more to the service sector… the export production model still remains a driving force…

In part with so much of the Korean identity, economy and jobs tied to export production the Groups are under pressure to continue to seek growth each year—push the teams even harder.

So what’s the solution?

First, we need to accept this has long been the foundation of Korean business and it has been their proven success model.

It's part of their Culture and a norm accepted by many.

In turn, others do hope and argue for Korea to re-invent and redefine itself, less focused on growth numbers and more on a being a leader in new technology and innovation synonymous with Silicon Valley.

Care to discuss some additional solutions specific to your needs?



Saturday, February 17, 2018

Weekend Read 6: Korean teams

Working with Korea teams

Continuing with our Weekend Reads', this week we look at supporting Korean expatriate teams, although the lessons apply well for all of us "working within a Culture.

Here's the link.  Enjoy.

BTW, we welcome consulting and mentoring opportunities to support you and the team. That said, as always if you have questions, feel free to reach out.

And, If you missed a previous "Read," you can access under Case Studies at