Monday, November 17, 2014

Korea Perspective: Chapter 4 Short on Feedback

Chapter 4
Short on Feedback

Sharing their feedback from a request for comments, a client noted:  My experiences on major projects have been frustrating at times as HQ’s review process is much too long, bureaucratic & short on feedback..."

The most common frustration in the overseas workplace is tied to communications between the Korean HQ and local operations. In the best cases, teams in local offices feel somewhat disconnected; in the worst cases they feel information is being deliberately withheld.

What may be a surprise for overseas teams is that even the Korean staff must make an effort to stay informed. As one entry-level employee of a major Korean group lamented,  “If I did not spend an hour daily networking with fellow workers, I would be in the dark on issues major and minor that could have significant impact on projects.”   For my own client work with Korea companies, nightly chats via phone and frequent emails and texts are required or I, too, would be ill informed and “in the dark.”

That said, for most Korea facing international operations, the communication channel between the Korean HQ and local subsidiary is through expatriates (ju jae won) who are often referred to as “Coordinators.” In the larger overseas subsidiaries, these Korean expats are assigned to the major departments.

In many, if not most, circumstances the expats are not assigned managerial roles but instead operate as a “shadow management” with considerable oversight of local operations.  Roles vary with each company, but frequently a coordinator’s primary role is to be liaison between Korea and the local subsidiary.  Frankly, some expats are more open to sharing information than others. Regardless, I feel this is less a deliberate withholding of news than a “filtering” -- that is, a review of communications from the mother company and then a doling out of that which the coordinator considers   appropriate.  Filtering becomes an issue when the expat withholds information until the last moment to avoid confrontation or to address a delicate situation.  Delaying communication often forces local operations to drop everything and deal with an issue that would have been less demanding and disruptive for the teams if conveyed in a timely manner.

In other situations, I have found expats “filtering” information until they are 100% certain of an outcome or upcoming event.  Activities, events, travel and schedules are continually changing.  So instead of constantly having to return to the local team to shift plans, the expats stay quiet until the last moment. What appears to be a holding back on news is actually an attempt based on their years of experience working with the mother company to spare local teams of concerns that could and probably would change over time. 

Part 2 of Chapter 4 will highlight 2 scenarios and my suggested countermeasures.


Copyright BCW 2014

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