Korea Facing: Why Hire Westerners?

By Don Southerton, 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

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

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