Saturday, September 29, 2018

Building Bridges-- Understand the Culture

My mission is akin to the aphorism "a rising tide lifts all boats.” I work to build bridges among the members of Korean, American and global teams. 
Understand the Culture!
I feel the issues and impasses that surface are less about “them and us”.  Frankly, it's more about working through the issue and collaboration.
I’d like to share with you my two step process, which I hope will be insightful. 
To Begin...
A colleague once forwarded a well-crafted article titled, “Stop Blaming Your Culture.” A long time employee of a major Korean subsidiary, he recognized the concept had value for working with and within their Culture. 
More so, they feared a major and far-reaching initiative was in danger of not being considered by local senior Korean management. Insightfully, the colleague reached out and asked me if perhaps there was merit in taking a more Korean view and approach to the assignment. 
Learning more about the project, as well as its strategic importance to the client’s organization, I explained my approach when tackling Korean projects—one groomed over years working with Korean leadership and teams. 
This approach echoed a quote from “Stop Blaming Your Culture,”
[it’s] Critical to fully understand the culture, then be able to de-construct and simplify aspects relevant to your situation. 
Before crafting some action steps, we looked at what his team had laboriously researched and prepared. I then suggested we tackle with two strategies, which I am sharing with you. 
Strategy #1 
First, instead of the common western approach founded in considerable upfront research, discussion and review in which a sole, singular course of action is recommended—it's best to instead prepare three options with their related costs. 
This approach allows teams to consider alternatives, a common decision-making methodology in Korea. 
Some background on “Why 3 options?” Stepping back to the mid-2000s and a joint American and Korean management workshop that I facilitated for a client, one of Korean team managers pointed out that in Korea it was norm to present multiple options. He explained that to support their leadership’s decision-making at least 3 options would be prepared for his seniors... and as many as 5 if the proposal was going to be elevated for review by their Chairman. 
In most cases, following this initial presentation, leadership would ask for additional details requiring the team to drill deeper prior to a decision. All said, this process resulted in an approved course of action. 
I also recall how not following this model can have consequence. I was called upon by a frequent Agency of the Year winner to assist in dealing with their Korean client and a relationship troubling the agency’s dedicated account team. Probing, I found the agency had presented what they felt was the best plan for their client—a well thought out global branding campaign for which the agency was confident in their decision. 
The Korean client feedback was less than expected and came as a shock to the agency team. In my asking, and of little surprise to me, the Korean client was disappointed and had high hopes for a range of ideas from the agency. They had expected to be dazzled with creativity and not just a single idea. In my opinion this was driven by the advertising agency’s world class and award-winning creative reputation. 
In following up with the western agency , I recommended the agency also present the preliminary concept work which they had developed internally prior to picking what they felt was the best. This would allow the client to have voice in the decision. Sadly, the agency was rigid in their thinking, feeling they had submitted their top work and that was sufficient. Not surprisingly, they parted ways some time later. 
Strategy #2 
A second strategy along with “3 Options” is taking a Pilot Approach.... 
Recognizing the strong cultural Korean risk avoidance tendencies, I recommend offering a limited pilot program as an option to mitigate fears and concerns—with costs scaled down proportionately from a bolder rollout. Depending on the project, this often can be demonstrated in a test market or dialed back to limit in scope. 
In all cases, the pilot needs to be capable of expanding in stages with associated incremental costs. 
There is one caveat to this approach I often see taken in Korea. Once they test market a project and then decide to move forward, they execute a full rollout incredibly fast. My advice is to plan accordingly in advance with an action plan that includes a rapid roll out.... the faster the better. 
In closing, these two strategies are examples of working with the Culture, time proven and align well cross-culturally. 
Questions, Comments, Thoughts… always welcome.
Don is the guru, the guy CEOs want to have their voice heard with...
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