Friday, January 04, 2008

Korean Global Business 2008 Commentary, Part One

For the past few weeks, I have been reflecting on 2007 and contemplating the future of Korean global big business. It was an interesting year. The election of Lee Myung-bak, pro-business South Korean president-elect, will spur much change in the new year. In this commentary I will share some trends for 2008; I will also share some recommendations.

Trend #1 K-lobalization (or globalization with a K). Many non-Korean management teams look for a time when Koreans will do business “their way.” I have heard this for years. In past global ventures, Korean firms initially resisted local management guidance, performed poorly, and then yielded to the local teams. Times change. Unlike a decade ago, many Korean teams and management are increasingly global savvy.

So in 2008,
Expect some Korean firms to boldly promote their own unique management style and corporate culture. Look for organization-wide Korea directed management, policy, and training directives. I call this K-lobalization.

Trend #2
In contrast to K-lobalization, some Korean firms have opted to embrace global western-style business norms. As a result, these firms drop many of the old workplace policies and customs. Moreover, the firms recruit key management from outside the core company. They also tend to hire Korean executives (often with MBAs) from high profile global firms like IBM or McKinsey and Company. I find the new team members are unhampered by a company culture linked to the past.

So in 2008,
Be alert to management restructuring in Korean partner firms. In fact, sensitivity and an understanding of the dynamics in the Korean workplace is needed. I would be very careful not to follow one set of expectations and stereotypes when dealing with Korean teams, including team members within the same firm. As a senior Korean manager once reminded me—“no two Koreans are alike.”

Trend #3
We will see the impact from Korea’s Top 20 firms who have boldly entered global and North American markets. In addition to veterans like Samsung, Hyundai-Kia, and LG last year saw POSCO, SK, Hyosung, Doosan, and Hanwha making huge strides, especially through aggressive acquisitions.

So in 2008,
For those working with Korean firms new to the global market expect lots of ongoing change and challenges. It takes years to groom global teams. In the transition, expect some turn over of key personnel. Organization-wide cross-cultural understanding with a Korea-focus is a must.

BCW Can Help
As I work with global and domestic organizations, I see gaps, strengths, and weaknesses. On a positive note, more top management is becoming quite skilled in handling cross-cultural issues within their organizations. However, a company’s success is highly dependant on the team’s collective grasp of global markets and cultural differences.

Unfortunately, few individuals develop cross-cultural understanding without training and coaching. It just does not “happen.” Letting cross-cultural understanding unfold over time is a recipe for failure and high employee turnover. BCW will continue to support, coach, and educate you and your team members. BCW’s mission is to better Korea-focused cross-cultural communications.

To conclude, BCW looks forward to serving and supporting your organization. Your feedback and thoughts are always appreciated. Enjoy the last of your holiday break and Happy New Years.

Sae hae bok mani ba deu say yo.

Don Southerton
January 2008

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