One of my passions is mountain trail running—the more demanding the terrain–the better. It’s the same in my consultancy –I enjoy tackling tough challenges – and providing sound solutions and a work through.
Over the past few days, I’ve had inquiries on resources to help western managers and teams better work with their Korean counterparts. As I’ve mentioned, for example, we’re seeing local teams increasingly in daily correspondence and on calls with Korea HQ teams, so practical skills and insights can help traverse the cross-cultural challenges.
In addition to my weekly vodcasts, now with more than 100 videos on the BCW YouTube Channel and over 20,000 views, I’d like to share another web-based resource –Issuu—where I’ve uploaded 22 publications.
Subjects are wide ranging from my 10 insights into Hyundai Motor Company culture to articles in Forbes, Chief Executive (Korean language), The Economist, The Korea Herald, Yonhap New Agency, FSR Magazine, and US Korea Connect to name a few.
Collaboration. We hear the term promoted both as a core value and expectation in Korean global business. For me, it’s building a solid relationship with Korean teams—one by one.
In fact, whenever I take on a new Korea facing project, I seek out a team member, first as a point of contact and then someone I can strengthen the relationship building trust and mutual understanding. This can include daily chats by phone, email and Kakao.
In most cases, over time I add layers of support … understanding they are in a tough place… at times having to relay requests and demands they themselves may not clearly agree but nevertheless need to communicate.
In particular, I’ve found they may not be familiar with the project nuances—in contrast the experienced Western team. In my role, and to build the relationship I work as the go-between, mentoring and even share (confidentially) how to best frame their company’s issues and avoid if handled poorly what could result in an impasse.
Collaboration, all said, is about relationships, nurtured over time, and built on seeing a project through for both sides mutual benefits as well as the individual tied to the undertaking.
As I have shared before, supporting clients and their challenges requires getting to the core issues. It’s distinguishing between what may be, for example, a local organizational, or what may be tied to the Company in Korea. It then requires probing for any cultural impasses before providing a practical solution and a work through.
Much of this work is first listening carefully to clients and their challenges. Equally valuable is walking around the corporate offices, observing and capturing multiple viewpoints. Nothing beats being onsite. Nothing beats getting face to face.
Too often, I find challenges as murky, complex and layered with frustrations, so a deconstruction is needed.
In most cases, I bring a fresh perspective—one rooted in years working with Korea-facing business. I’d like to share that in addition to mentoring, my work also involves directly supporting specific and very select high profile projects with clients.
As a next step, I suggest we set a time to discuss how we can work together. My personal assistant Stacey at email@example.com can coordinate a time for us to meet or chat by phone.
This remark can be heard often. I personally have experienced it pop up in discussions while at working for Korea companies. It surfaces often in chats with my Korea facing international clients. In particular, it’s an issue when Korean firms promote themselves as “global, “ but push back with few wanting to move beyond the standard response “That wouldn’t work in Korea” or the caveat “That’s not how we do things at [insert company name] – most often this is when international teams seek to share their global approach to business.
Frankly they are right–things do work well in Korea, but this is the very root of the problem for a list of reasons. For one, if global brand or company enters the local Korean market with a new product or service they bring an international model, which needs to be followed A-Z.
I’ve seen brands and projects falter when they do not embrace fully or the local partner picks and choices what they see fitting well, dismissing what they see as “different.” At times one has to question the motive behind this pick and choice, especially when drilling deeper –Control or Openness to Change– becoming the real issue.
On another level, asking global team to follow Korean corporate norms outside Korea is a huge and growing concern. Policy developed in Korea which works well in Korea, rarely translates internationally. More so, when this means decisions for what should be local have to come from teams Korean HQ.
Of course working through these issues is where I come in… mentoring, giving perspective, providing context, sharing workarounds and facilitating the change we seek.
I’m just back from Seoul. With “Meet and Greets,” more than once casually bumping into few longtime friends in the hotel and at the airport, a number of high level presentations, a VIP tour of Hyundai Card’s two newest venues—the Music Library and the Vinyl and Plastic retail store, and an even a day trip to PyeongChang, home to the upcoming 2018 Winter Olympics, the days and nights stayed busy.
Amid all the travel, I study the corporate Korean workplace. It’s the sub-culture within the different Groups and their affiliates—nuances– that capture my attention. Marketing teams, for example, dressing ever more casual, ties less and less commonplace, meetings in coffee shops adjacent to corporate offices, not to mention many teams working Remote in the cafes with easy to access Wi-Fi.
Still often we see some constants—older senior executives in their company car, usually black Mercedes, BMWs or Hyundai Equus (now Genesis G90, but badged in Korea as EQ 900), the exchange business cards, although less formal in how they are presented, the dominance in the local market of the top Groups—Samsung, Hyundai, SK, LG and Lotte, as well as annual strikes underway—on this trip Hyundai Motor Company’s union and the subway and railway unions.
All said, what continues to linger in the workplace is rigid canons in the Day to Day — hierarchical top down management and communications, risk avoidance and zero-sum mindsets, and although companies boasting their globalism, few wanting to move beyond the standard response “That wouldn’t work in Korea” when international teams seek to share their global approach to business.
Of course this is where I come in… giving perspective, providing context, sharing workarounds and facilitating change.
Care to discuss?
My personal assistant Stacey at firstname.lastname@example.org can coordinate a time for us to chat by phone, meet or handle by email.
A respected colleague shared their thoughts on last week’s commentary “Hit the Target”—noting is was “a timely topic!” “… Especially as we enter the fourth quarter…”
Several readers also chimed in– lamenting that local leadership and teams receive little guidance in HOW to hit the target.
To add some context, HOW has considerable to do with Korean workplace culture norms. Leaders give directives, and teams execute in a top down manner. In some cases, well meaning leaders withhold detailed instructions to empower their teams to work through it themselves…. In other cases, some in less progressive management feel there are being paid to do a job…. And teams need to struggle like they themselves had earlier in their careers… While others recognize providing direction may be efficient, but hope their team will find new and better ways to tackle the challenge. In particular, some form of “hail Mary” that drives sales and even better at a low cost.
Frankly, demands today on Korean export driven business have pushed and stretched teams. Many feel they are operating at maximum with little room for additional market share or sales.
Risk avoidance adds another layer when new ideas are presented, too.
Under these circumstances I have two recommendations.
Present multiple and alternative ideas and countermeasures… vs. selecting one idea. I know a common response is “we do this, but to little avail.” This does take some cultural savvy… the best teams in Korea do find ways to get their message heard. I can help here…. in providing you with a best approach.
Couple with suggesting a trial or pilot approach to minimize risk and investment— with the ability to roll out fast. Again, this takes some savvy in how best to share and present…. Something I do often….
Care to discuss solutions? My personal assistant Stacey at email@example.com can coordinate a time for us to chat by phone, meet or handle by email.
A week does not go by without a colleague or client expressing deep concern for what seems an overarching and singular need for their company to hit their numbers. To most, despite a number of vital business initiatives, they feel the monthly demand to meet “plan” is all that matters.
Frankly, as long as I have been working with Korea facing global business it has been a (the) driven force. In fact, I can recall more than a decade ago while mentoring a new American divisional vice president that his Korean coordinator, obviously under some duress and knowing I understood the company well, pulled me aside. He asked passionately I stress to the new VP they needed to “Hit the Target.” Repeating the phase, 3 times so to ensure I got it… then patting me on the back and sending me over to the adjacent office with the VP.
In another case, I was a speaker at LG’s Mobile national sales meeting. Capping the upbeat and motivating event, the CEO with a huge graph projected behind him shared their amazing unit sales growth over for the years, then added the next year’s “stretch goal” as a hush came over the room. The new goal a huge bump over past years, which had pushed teams and the organization to their limits.
To be fair, this model is not unique to Korean business. It is also the subject on frequent discussion in Korea. However, South Korea’s modern economy was once rooted in a state run export driven model—the government fixing private industries and well as the nation’s overall production and sales quotas in many sectors. Today despite leading international as well as Korean economic experts arguing the old model is dated and need to move more to the service sector… the export production model still remains a driving force… one now where Korean Groups now direct their own organizations production and sales numbers across global organizations and into numerous markets. In part with so much of the Korean identify, economy and jobs tied to export production the Groups are under pressure to continue to seek growth each year—push the teams even harder. More so, with global stagnation in new markets and China, the past successes are marginalized. As a consequence Sales to move inventories has to rely on special pricing and incentives, which hurt brand image and profits.
Sadly Korea brands are world class and should sell based on their quality and value from cars to smartphones.
So what’s the solution?
First we need to accept this has long been the foundation of Korean business and it has been their proven success model. It’s part of their Culture and in a sense Tradition accepted by many. In turn, others do hope and argue for Korea to re-invent and redefine itself, less focused on growth numbers and more on a being a leader in new technology and innovation synonymous with Silicon Valley.
Care to discuss some additional solutions? My personal assistant Stacey at firstname.lastname@example.org can coordinate a time for us to chat by phone, meet or handle by email.
As many of you know, I work between Korean affiliates and companies. What stands out is how sub-cultures vary even within the same Group. Perhaps moving among affiliates sometimes in a single day, I see and experience the subtle differences more than most. This can range from the tangibles like building design, workspace layout, dress code and amenities to intangibles such as what one can sense in day to day employee engagement, morale and comradery.
In fact, there are sub cultural differences:
1) in Korea between divisions and affiliates, 2) with Korea and their own overseas divisions and 3) as I noted between the local overseas affiliates.
So, sub-cultures do matter.
Digging deeper, I feel recognizing what is common between the companies’ counts, too. This can include intrinsic Group values and norms shared across the organization, or even more common general Korean business practices and expectations.
To add to the complexity, often the local sub-culture of an affiliate has evolved over time, and very independent of the mother organization in Korea. BTW We’re seeing as Korean Groups have expanded their global organizations into many markets there has been greater effort to now align the overseas operations with the HQ corporate culture. (I’ll provide some more on this in one of my next Vodcast)…
This means when a Korea related issue surfaces in local operations we have to look at with several colored lenses. Candidly, that how I pull apart situations and provide a solid work-through when supporting clients as a mentor and their Korea business strategist.
Have a question or want to learn more about how I support and mentor clients? My personal assistant Stacey at email@example.com can coordinate a time for us to chat by phone, meet or handle by email.
It’s that time of the year with Chuseok, (the Korean Harvest Moon Festival) right around the corner.
In 2016, Chuseok holiday falls on September 15, the day before and after also celebrated as National Holidays.
Koreans previously followed the lunar calendar, but in recent history, they have followed the solar calendar in line with international practice.
While public holidays are based on the solar calendar, there are a few days that are celebrated based on the lunar calendar. These are the two most important traditional holidays, the Korean New Year’s Day (the first day of the first lunar month) and Chuseok mid-autumn festival (fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month).
In mass, (and I mean a substantial part of the population) families travel back to their home villages. Over the holiday they may perform ancestral rituals at the graves of relatives as well as share time with their family over traditional foods.
For your Korean colleagues (in Korea), you can wish them a happy Chuseok by phone, text, or email on Monday September 12 after 4 PM (Tuesday AM in Korea). Again, most Koreans will have a 5-day weekend starting their Wednesday …
For expat Koreans working outside Korea, here and globally you can wish then happy Chuseok on Thursday September 15.
If you’d like to try, here’s a common greeting.
추석 잘 지 내 새요
Chuseok jal ji nae sae yo..
To conclude, even though many things have been changed by Korea’s rapid industrialization, urbanization, and globalization we find in the celebration of Chuseok that family remains one of the bedrock of Korean society.
One more resource– this week it’s my 2014 book Hyundai Way: Hyundai Speed. In it, I tackled the often-raised question, “What has made Hyundai so successful?” The book also looks to capture my ongoing pursuit to define and share Hyundai corporate culture, which by nature is an intangible
Chapters in the book then explore the ties between Korean and Hyundai heritage with deeply rooted culture and tradition that still strongly impacting the modern workplace. After sharing this background on Korea, I look at the rise of Hyundai under its founder Chung Ju Yung and the current chairman Chung Mong Koo.
Next, the focus is on Hyundai corporate culture, old and then insights into the notable company management styles. The final chapter shares my opinions on a question many outside Korea have asked of this enigmatic system: “Is Hyundai business model globally sustainable?” Again, I tackle this question from the cultural perspective.