I strive to ensure success and sustainability in dealing with Korea-facing business partnerships through well-communicated expectations and cross-cultural understanding.
It also requires a unique skill set—groomed over decades working with an ever-changing Korea.
I like the story that shortly after an engineer retires, a machine at his former factory stops working. They try everything they can do to fix it, to no avail. Finally, the boss calls up the engineer and asks him to come in and fix it.
The engineer agrees to do so as a paid consultant. He comes in, walks around the machine, looks at a few things, takes out a hammer, and whacks the machine. It whirrs into life.
The engineer presents his former boss with a bill for $5,000. The boss says, "This is ridiculous! What did you even do? I need an itemized bill."
The engineer provides a new invoice that states:
· Hitting machine with a hammer: $5.00
· Knowing where to hit the machine: $4,995
My work is knowing when and where to use the 'hammer', catching issues early and then as needed providing work-throughs as projects can so easily get sidetracked. In fact, many assume when initial talks and progress seem smooth things will continue to move forward—which is rarely the case.
It’s one thing, too, for those well experienced in global business who are now engaged in Korea projects to expect past experience in the West will be enough to work through what can be escalating challenges—but in fact what many will find out is that they are poorly suited to adapting and being flexible (a very Korea business approach and norm). At the very least, working through issues can become a very lengthy learning process. Both ways it time-consuming and costly.
My long-time approach when providing work throughs is to step back and look for underlying concerns and nuances that are easily missed. Then knowing the Korean processes and mindset work for a resolution. Again, this is more art than science.
To summarize, impasses are common in all business—but what may work in the West to overcome issues will take a different approach in Korea.
The best model is to constantly be aware and sensitive to what may be unfolding. Use less direct and non-confrontational ways to gain deeper insights into any challenges and be open to alternative approaches at work-throughs.