Saturday, May 23, 2009

BCW Executive Commentary Mid-year ’09 Report

By Don Southerton, Bridging Culture Worldwide CEO

BCW’s executive-level commentaries share a first hand insight into Korean-based global business. Our message in January was quite simple—this year would be all about the economy.

We feel that's still true amid the political factionalism surfacing with the death of former president Noh Moo Hyun, and the North Korean regime's need to position itself for succession ( bold nuclear weapons and missile tests).

BCW’s 2009 mid-year commentary provides a frank update into recent developments within Korean based global business. The report then shares some timely recommendations.

First, the recession has driven most decisions so far in 2009. Firms are in crisis mode, which to many in Korea is nothing unusual.

As we noted in January, the recession has the heads of Korean conglomerates looking to inspire their organizations to meet the challenge with passion and determination. Leadership urged their teams to capitalize on the global downturn, press for new opportunities, and seek innovation. Sadly we have seen little innovation—an exception has been Hyundai Motor America’s Assurance and new monthly Cash Back ad campaigns.

Why? Crisis mode has pushed Korean management to take an “old school” hard-core approach. Progressive global mindset has taken a back seat to a traditional top down Korean management style. For example, in many instances CEO-level review of new programs has teams in analysis mode vs. action mode. One outcome is the loss of Korea’s competitive advantage—quick implementation and “turning on a dime.”

Another strong indication of crisis mode management was the long overdue budget causing projects and teams to wait several months for approval. Extended delays in budget approval translated in a late 2009 start and even later implementation of key programs needed to drive business.

Three Recommendations. Now more than ever, understanding the dynamics of the Korean business mindset and major business groups is vital. While working with Korean firms consider the impact of the Crisis mode mindset. Moreover, we suggest you align your thinking to the core values that their nation, leadership, and teams respect and embrace.

#1 Be upbeat and forward thinking—maintain a “glass is half-full vs. half-empty” attitude. Show passion and enthusiasm.

#2 Recognize that most top Korean leadership endured the limited resources of the post-Korea War era, rapid growth through the 60s, 70s, and 80s, only to fight for survival in the late 1990s with the IMF Crisis. Current leadership played key roles in the post IMF era restructuring of their companies and made “ the impossible, possible.” See the current crisis as an opportunity for your firm to shine and stand out, while others retrench.

#3 Find innovative ways to overcome the challenges. Provide “out of the box” thinking to your Korean partners and teams. Understand that there is huge risk—to not taking a risk. Develop a reputation that will follow you into the future. And, when possible, showcase new technology to overcome challenges.

To conclude, It is critical to take into consideration Korea’s past and current trends in the wake of the recession in dealing with your Korean partners. Understand the huge stress loads within Korean based firms—pressures to endure and leap frog ahead of the global competition. Be mindful and culturally sensitive. BCW is dedicated to providing much needed coaching, research, analysis, and strategy to you and your teams. As always, we are here to assist and support 24-7-365.


Don Southerton

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