In this Part 2 of my “Working with Korea 2017” series, I cover several scenarios with best practices for supporting overseas team.
All take finesse and collaboration, plus recognize norms and practices differ… as well as require working “within the Culture.” To again clarify, my perspective is based on years working with Korea and especially in daily mentoring and providing strategy for their overseas operations—Koreans and Westerners.
It’s common for a Korea expatriate, frequently called a Coordinator, to directly request members of the team to gather information or data on the local operation. Usually, Korea has asked for this information and the Coordinator is executing the request. These always have a sense of urgency.
The Challenge is the local departmental head may be circumvented (often unintentionally)…. and requests disrupt operations and designated priorities. More so, the line of management for the department is blurred—i.e. staff confused on “who is in charge.”
The Workaround centers on an effective working relationship between the Coordinator and the department head. An understanding must be reached that when requests from Korea (or from the senior Korean leadership at the subsidiary), it is first brought to the department head… and they handle who will execute.
In particular, the local western manager is more familiar with their team, individual workloads, any special situations and skill sets. In fact, with a clear communication channel the work will be performed with better results by the individuals tasked with the assignment, and less stress on the Coordinator asked to acquire the data.
As a caveat, one burden on a department can be when a high percentage of work and tasks teams are engaged are to support Korea and not the local operations. Part 3 in the series will provide some thoughts on shifting workload dedicating to Korea requests to actually running the local operation.
As noted, a Coordinator’s role is to support the local operation. Local teams and specialists are hired with a high degree of knowledge and experience. A clash occurs when decisions best left to those in the know are deflected.
The Challenge occurs when Coordinators override a decision or unilaterally make the call. This can range from the hiring of new employees to pushing off a much-needed program to the next year.
Again, the Workaround is a clear defined role for the Coordinator. They are advisors who can provide much-needed input and an HQ / mother company perspective… but not assume line manager responsibilities.
In other words, clarity must be established in regard to as long as they are acting on behalf of the mother company considerable weight must be given to their input. That said, even when they have the company’s best interest in mind, their own personal views must be gauged and moderated.
Perhaps the most challenging situation is moving Coordinators to make a decision.
The Challenge- In most Korean companies leadership decide on direction and major issues. In turn, the working team's role is to implement or gather needed information. This role/ skillset changes when working level Koreans are assigned as an overseas Coordinator.
The Workaround- When conducting a meeting where a decision must be made recognize that your Coordinator will have considerable say in the outcome. First, since the topic and subject matter may be new to your Coordinator, I recommend you share prior to the meeting any needed background documents (best provided in PPT format).
In addition, have an informal pre-meeting Q&A with the Coordinator to brief and update them on any specifics. Note: they may need a day to review proposals and agreements, so timing is critical.
Even in the best cases, expect that the Coordinator may want to postpone any decision until they can carefully review and perhaps confer with Korea. I suggest all documents and meeting PPTs be immediately forwarded to the Coordinator.
I'd create a sense of urgency with a timeline for execution and implementation. Regardless, expect some delays and be patient.
Over the years, I've found that Coordinators appreciate when their overseas co-workers recognize that the internal approval process takes time and be ready to offer, as needed, additional supportive data or documents.
BTW, if you are a vendor and your firm provides services to a Korea-based partner, it’s best to provide both the western and Korean teams with background information prior to any meetings. Moreover, be prepared to share the meeting's content in digital format afterward with the Korean team, too.
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