Monday, November 05, 2012

Korea Facing: Why Hire Westerners?

By Don Southerton, BCW Editor

Why hire local western teams? One challenge for Korean multi-national Groups has been launching overseas operations and staffing the local branch or subsidiary. As noted in previous updates, Korean overseas subsidiaries have Korean management assigned to the host country. The general term for these representative employees is ju jae won. The Korean model has a rotation cycle where teams and executives are assigned to overseas divisions for 3-5 years. They then return to Korea for reassignment with a replacement expected to take over—often with little preparation. Skills and experience vary. 

Several years ago, in a group session I hosted for Korean and western senior managers the discussion turned to the "role" of the westerner teams in project development. The local western teams felt very under-utilized and wanted to contribute more. This, of course, led to considerable frustration, because the westerners previous employers had utilized their experience and expertise. 

Pondering for a moment during the discussion a senior Korean pointed out that local input was respected, but perhaps feedback needed to be better communicated. The Korean manager went on to explain that his team knew how to do things "Korean style"...., but what was needed were other ways of approaching problems. Even if those ideas were not adopted, senior management reviewed those options and took them into consideration. In fact, Korean leadership had high trust in the local teams and their judgement...They hired local teams to provide much needed expertise and know-how.

Listening attentively, one of the western managers, grinned and as I recall, thanked his Korean co-worker for sharing and promised he'd convey the message to his team. He also wished he'd known this 2 years earlier, since it would have reduced lots of stress in his department.

On a similar topic...
I have noted that unlike in Korea where there is considerable internal promotion, Korean overseas operations often do not fill new positions from within the local organizations.  Again it's not under-valuing local talent, but the belief that hiring New people will bring New ideas.

BTW The same is true for vendors and service providers—at times new partnerships are sought to replace a long standing provider. The thought behind finding a new firm is that it can bring new resources, ideas, and innovative solutions.

My note to Korean teams and management 
Take time to provide your local western teams and management with feedback—good or bad—when they contribute time and effort on a project. Sharing details on how their work impacted a project will go far in improving relations and morale, which leads to higher productivity.

Questions? Comments? Feedback (yes, I appreciate feedback, too).

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