The De facto Korean Business Norm

A familiar Korean business term is balli balli. It translates as hurray-hurray. Actually, balli means hurray, but it word is always used in tandem adding to the need to move fast. I first recall hearing the word in the 1970s in martial arts class—the Korean instructor at times commanding we move faster in executing a kicking drills.

Don Southerton

To many Korean firms balli balli it’s a de facto business norm— with everything from immediately responding to requests for data to launching major projects.

More to the point, it means things need to get done today and now, not tomorrow.

For westerners, moving fast can often be a concern–conflicting with the Western business model of careful meticulous study and planning before implementation.

In contrast, one complaint voiced with frustration by my Korean colleagues is how slow Westerners move on projects.

In turn, my Western clients shake their head and argue Koreans want to jump into a project or situation with little preparation.…. and balli balli seems to perpetuate a culture of waiting to the last minute.

Now not being judgmental, and yes, I know the challenges in moving fast without exploring all the potential shortcomings… still I’d like to share the Korean perspective….

Observing the Korean model for years, I have come to see where moving faster may be more than meets the eye. In fact, it’s very entrepreneurial trait. When one shortens the time needed to complete a project, the focus is then on identifying the critical tasks that contribute most and with quickly moving on to execution.

In contrast, the longer the deadline, the more time gets spent in analysis and discussions with an ever-lessening focus on the task. The phenomenon is a corollary to Parkinson’s Law (i.e. “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”). In particular, we find end productivity and quality are equal or higher with a shorter deadline due to greater focus.

All said, when working with Korean leadership and teams understanding their perspective is key…. and allows us to, in turn, “ work within the Culture,” and then provide alternatives. The later, something I strive to provide as a mentor and executive consultant.



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