Archive for Commentary

Weekend Read 6: Korean teams

Korean teams

Korean teams.

Continuing with our Weekend Reads’, this week we look at supporting Korean expatriate teams, although the lessons apply well for all of us “working within a Culture.

 

 

 

Here’s the link.  Enjoy.

https://docs.google.com/document/d/18pV5rE6yYLGLPIpTydbFBdVzXQsmcXxT8p1o_VQ-g7I/edit?usp=sharing

BTW, we welcome consulting and mentoring opportunities to support you and the team. That said, as always if you have questions, feel free to reach out.

And, If you missed a previous “Read,” you can access under Case Studies at

http://www.bridgingculture.com/what-we-do.html

 

DS

Korea Business Insights Weekend Read 3: Shinhwa

Korea business
Korea business insights. In addition to a number of books, case studies and commentaries I’ve written several short articles that give snapshots into Korea business.

This week it’s a storyline strongly tied to the Hyundai Motor Group.  That said, it’s also very relevant for all engaged and interested in Korea facing business as I provide some deep insights into Korea business DNA. 

The Hyundai Galloper Shinhwa, Myth and Legend
With the introduction of Genesis, the Hyundai Motor Group’s premium luxury car division as well as Kia Motors’ Niro and Hyundai Motor’s Nexo, all part of an expanded model lineup of FCEV, hybrid and electric vehicles, many in the industry see these as bold moves by the Hyundai Motor Group and it leadership. 
More so, the Group has joined in a number of high profile technology partnerships and committed billions over the next few years to mobility, AI, and autonomous vehicles. Actually, it is but the latest chapter in a story and a legacy reaching back decades. 
Link to Full Story.
DS

South Korea Market Entry

Korea business

Looking at Korea and market entry ?  Here are some hints.

DS

 

Analysis: South Korea – Four Best Practices for Market Entry

 

 

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.

 

DS

Everything Korea September 11 Episode. A Revisit- Working with Korean Teams

Korean Business with Don Southerton

For most of my career I have worked with Korean teams—many based in Korea, many in local overseas operations. I find both exchanges rewarding, but very different and require a varying set of skills. I’d like to offer some best practices.

To begin

We find with Korea facing international operations the primary communication channel between the Korean HQ and local subsidiary is through expatriates—although in some cases this is shifting.

In key positions, Korean expats serve in roles including the CEO who is responsible for managing the local company or region. The CFO and technical support can be expats, too. Most often these Korean expats along with local leadership executive form the core for business operations in the host country.

By the way, the expats below senior management are often referred to as “Executive Coordinators” or “Executive Advisors” in the West. As a caveat, this model does vary some and in some organization we see a mix of “Coordinators” and Korean assigned as line managers. However, the Korean term for these expatiates is ju jae won.

In the larger overseas subsidiaries, the Korean expats are assigned to the major departments.

In many instances, as I mentioned, the expat Coordinators are not assigned a direct managerial role but still hold considerable oversight over the local operations.

Roles vary with each company, but frequently a Coordinator’s primary role is to be a departmental liaison and communication channel between Korea and the local subsidiary.

That said, for westerners unfamiliar with the Korean model, this “oversight” usually translates into the Korean expats requiring sign off on all decisions—trivial to substantial.

This can be a huge challenge when newly assigned expats have little specific background in or knowledge of the host country’s operations and market. More so, when their decisions are motivated by what they feel would please the HQ in Korea.

Cognitively, they do recognize local management skills and expertise, but especially if under pressure to perform and meet expectations may defer to engaging in decision-making.

Of course, this can be a challenge.

New ju jae won are skilled and accomplished in Korean style business operations, norms and practices.

However, they are now assigned to an overseas subsidiary where norms, practices, expectations, and laws differ. Adding to this “Managing westerners” is very different than overseeing a Korean team…

Next, I’ll 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.

Scenario One

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.

Scenario Two

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.

Again, the Workaround is a clear Company-wide 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.

Scenario Three

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.

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.

With the shift to ever-increasing daily interactions with Korean HQs via web and phone conferences, western teams need even deeper practical insights into working within the Culture along with new skill sets.

In particular, the Executive Coordinator/ Advisor model has had its limitations…but the Koreans assigned as expatriates do learn local norms and adapt over time. This means the Coordinators mold to local operations with a little need for many of the local teams to become skilled in Korea workplace norms.

In contrast, working with teams based in Korea takes a different approach.
Korea-based teams follow deeply embedded HQ and company norms. They are not likely to model or adapt to their overseas subsidiaries.

This now means 1) becoming acquainted with Korea norms, understanding the Korean workplace “in’s and out’s” and “do’s and don’t.” And, 2) developing strong skills in managing the relationship with effective cross-communication taking on a new heightened significance.

Over the past years, I’ve shared solutions in my books, articles and case studies… that said, I find that each situation requires one having to drill deeper to truly grasp and then provide a solid resolution.

Thoughts?

As always, Stacey stacey@koreabcw.com, my assistant can schedule us a time to meet or chat by phone.

For all urgent matters, text me at 310-866-3777

For more information on my work…. www.learnmore.Koreabcw.com

 

Everything Korea; September 5 Episode, Korean Business Relationships Amid Acceleration

 

Korean Business with Don Southerton

 

Amid disruptive market conditions perhaps the greatest ripple effect challenge to Korean global business is how best to maintain positive and collaborative working relations between Western and Korean teams.

 

From a cross-cultural perspective Korean commerce is dependent upon relationships and interpersonal interactions. Western business, in contrast, leans toward process and procedure.  Therefore when Korea-facing working relations are strained culturally, there is a heightened impact throughout the entire organization.

Without discounting market conditions and intense pressure to meet aggressive sales goals, I see impact of adapting to a rapidly changing and disruptive business landscape at the core of many strained relationships.

As author Thomas L. Friedman points out in Thank You for Being Late:

“As we transition from an industrial-age economy to a computer-Internet-mobile-broadband-driven economy—that is, a supernova-driven economy—we are experiencing the growing pains of adjusting. ”

Drilling deeper, I have found this acceleration has markets and industry sectors ever shifting. For example, the automotive industry is witnessing and adjusting to new consumer preferences, such as collaborative consumption shared ride services of which Uber, Lyft and Maven are examples, self-driving autonomous technology and eco-friendly vehicles.

That said, we as a society are also experiencing the need to adapt more frequently and at a more rapid pace than ever in the past.  The good news is we are perhaps adapting faster than anytime in history.  Still there is a substantial gap in the high rate of change and speed we adapt. This gap is disorienting and business models that worked in the past have become outdated further adding to stress and frustration.

In my work, this leads to a Korea driven climate of reactive and hopeful second-guess decision-making, or, in some cases, the opposite in stalled action. In both situations, I feel we need to embrace a middle course— a well thought out and responsive plan.

Again Thomas Freidman, too, recognizes this need to ponder.  He notes, and I paraphrase:

Patience… space for reflection and thought. We are generating more information and knowledge than ever today, but knowledge is only good if you can reflect on it.

In closing I return to my original point of the vital importance of maintaining relationships amid the current market condition.  No matter how challenging the situation we need to take time and work to forge strong collaborative bonds within teams Friedman again remarks:

“And it is not just knowledge that is improved by pausing. So, too, is the ability to build trust, …to form deeper and better connections, not just fast ones, with other human beings, our ability to forge deep relationships—to love, to care, to hope, to trust, and to build voluntary communities based on shared values—is one of the most uniquely human capacities we have.”

 

Everything Korea, January 9 Episode, The Three Korea Facing Business “Must Do’s”

Must do #1
Stay informed on the economic and political issues in Korea that will impact business in 2017.  For many of you, I do this in daily updates.  If you are not receiving and would like to be better informed, please let us know and we’ll add you these updates.

Must do #2
Mentoring and coaching has never been as vital. Anyone in your organization that has exposure and interactions with Korean teams and leadership need this support.  This can range from training sessions to one-on -one mentoring.  Assuming teams will “get it” is like throwing someone in the deep end of the pool and expecting them to swim and not sink.  Sadly, the later has been the model, with a few exceptions…frankly this attributes to employee and leadership struggles—for example, trying to second guess Korea HQs perspectives,  or investing time and resources in projects only to have them stalled, postponed or dropped.  The investment in mentoring always offsets the huge costs tied to frustrating and misunderstanding that lead to leadership and staff turnover, not to mention poor performance.

Must do #3
Finally stay flexible and be seen as adaptive to change.  Provide options vs. singular solutions to challenges.  Offer, when appropriate, even an “out of the box” additional option.

All said, look for more “Must do’s” in the following weeks, with this as a good start for 2017.

As always, we open to discussing your needs and concerns. Stacey, stacey@koreabcw.com, my assistant can schedule us a time to meet, or chat by phone.  For urgent matters, Text me at 310-866-3777

 

Everything Korea, The New Year Episode: Gazing Back: A Look Forward

2016 in retrospect.  2017 before us.

From a string of weekly trips to OC/ Irvine, California, home to the U.S. HQ offices of Hyundai Motor, Kia Motors, Genesis, MOBIS Parts, Innocean and Hyundai Capital, to somewhat longer trips to a Vegas Dealer Show, NY and LA Auto Shows, HATCI R&D in Ann Arbor, KMMG and the Tier One’s in Georgia and Hyundai in Canada and even longer treks to Seoul, in 2016 I supported leadership across the Korean OEMs and their affiliates.

This said, it was a challenging year for both the western and Korean overseas teams. Bluntly, we all felt the frustration; the common thread—the need to hit steep sales targets. Layered on top was mounting anxiety from South Korea over a declining export economy and a weakening Won. Not to mention, the political scandals touched to the heart of Korean Groups—their Chairman called into the National Assembly and probed if pressured to contribute monies in exchange for special presidential treatment.

Sadly we also saw the abrupt exit of Hyundai Motor America’s CEO Dave Zuchowski, our long time friend who we advised on all things Korea. Still we are honored to support so many in leadership who come to us for advice and perspective—a role we take with utmost seriousness and hold in deep confidentially.

With 2016 also came new clients and a range of projects, among these working on the PyeongChang Winter Olympics.  Equally appreciated were the opportunities to share my thoughts and perspective to a wide audience including groups like KOTRA NYC, and in media– Branding In Asia who both highlighted work in an interview as well as published a number of commentaries.

So what’s before us in 2017…Trump, the Korean Presidential Election and Succession?

“Trump?”—a name and an uncertainty that surfaces often. I constantly field questions from both Korean and American business leadership on the impact of the election and the new administration. Who would know I would be asked to speak in December about Trump to 45 Korea executives.  I also find it interesting that diverse Trump scenarios tied to possible renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Accord by the new administration were mulled at the Hyundai Motor global strategy summit in Seoul.

Looking forward, trade agreements, US military support for South Korea and dealing with North Korea’s nuclear buildup still top the list. On the trade agreement front, my expectation is at some time during the next year it will be looked at deeper by the Trump administration. However, until there is a South Korean president in office, with the impeachment waiting to be upheld by the Courts, we’ll see no Trump-Korean President summit to drill deeper.

Korea’s Presidential Election 2017

What I will be probing for is the “tone” of presidential hopefuls—2017 an election year in South Korea.  One candidate, for example, is already demanding the Chaebol model be dismantled.

In particular, my thoughts were summed up in Forbes, a timely December Frank Ahrens’ article remarking it was likely an incoming Korean president could ride into office on a wave of populist anger directed at the nation’s elites. Still, says veteran South Korea business consultant Don Southerton, “a new administration will need chaebol support to drive the economy and jobs or quickly lose public support.”

I’d add we have experienced decades of “love-hate” between the Korean Groups and the government. One minute mandating new rounds of regulations such as restrictions on mutual investments and loan guarantees to curtail chaebols—the next minute persuading chaebol leadership to spur growth. The reality is Group support by Samsung, Hyundai, LG, Lotte and SK is needed to create jobs, invest in R&D and support an incoming president’s initiatives to grow the economy.

Less likely considering the emergence of a more cynical generation that may threaten to upend an old system, nevertheless seeing disruptive politics emerging globally, we could even a new president promising change but openly allied with the chaebol as engines of growth.  We’ll have to wait and see.  That said, at least in the short run post-scandal I see Groups coming under pressure in laws and regulations designed to increase financial transparency and accountability of family members.

Finally the Succession issue…

What stood out at the recent National Assembly grilling of the top chaebol Chairman, many men in their late 70s, was the targeting of now defacto head of Samsung, who has assumed his father’s role. With the mantle of Samsung now handed to the third generation of the Lee family, we may see similar at Hyundai and the other top Groups.  In fact, South Korea’s textile giant Hyosung just announced with year-end the ushering in the era of the group’s third-generation management.  I expect more announcements in the weeks to come…

What will this new generation bring forth? For one, Samsung’s successor Jay Y Lee has promised to abolish the conglomerate’s “control tower” the Future Strategy Office in response to criticism about the office’s role in the group-wide business command and control operations. No major decisions such as acquisitions or entering new businesses without the FSO’s scrutiny.   On a side note, Hyundai Motor Group is one of the few groups that doesn’t operate a de facto control tower. Unlike more diversified chaebol, Hyundai core business is automotive with its affiliates already aligned in supporting a common interest.

As for succession at Korea’s second largest conglomerate, Hyundai Motor Group’s heir E.S. Chung continues to take a more visible leadership role. For example, E.S. Chung has sought to break away from the old model of a strictly Korean leadership team to more diverse international team as part of his strategy to better position their brand. More recently he re-structured the annual year-end global strategy meeting of 50 Hyundai and Kia Motors Korean executives from their overseas branches. What stood out was the collaborative, open discussion based structure of the summit vs. an older conservative and hierarchical format in which the head of each overseas branch would give a one-way briefing to the Chairman.

We can assume E.S. Chung will continue to follow his design-loving passion, and consensus-building management style in 2017.

Summing up

2017 may be seen as a year of uncertainties—both domestically in Korea and internationally with the potential for a weakening global economy, more disruptive politics and tightening of budgets and spending.  The later is concerning since cutbacks would only hamper sales in what may be a tough market.

Everything Korea, December 26 Episode, New Year Greetings

Like many Asian countries, South Korea has two different New Year days—one that follows the solar calendar and one that uses the lunar calendar.

Traditionally the lunar New Year’s, called So-nal, has had greater cultural and familial significance (In 2017 the 3 day holiday will be celebrated on January 27 – 30).

As for the solar New Year’s celebration, in 1896, as part of reforms instituted to Westernize and modernize Korea, the Gregorian calendar was adopted, along with some of the West’s holidays such as the January 1st New Year’s celebration.

Today I find South Korea’s celebration of the Jan. 1 New Year similar to celebration in America. For example, Koreans make New Year’s resolutions where they promise to exercise regularly, eat fewer sweet things—such as chocolates and candy—or endeavor to study harder.

It’s appropriate to wish your Korean colleagues a seasonal greeting this week prior to the holiday, just as you will wish your non-Korean friends “Happy New Year.”

The good news is …

The Korean New Year greeting is “Sae hae bok mani ba deu say yo.”  It is a great phrase to learn because it will also be used again at the lunar New Years celebration in late January.

Again, pronounced: sae hae bok—mahne—bah deu say yo.

Oh, one more thing. This is the last Vodcast of 2016. Look for my upcoming thoughts for 2017 out early in 2017.

Everything Korea, December 19th Don’s Year-End Thoughts

Returning from Seoul, I find myself pondering on the remaining days of 2016 as well as the upcoming year. Until recently a hot topic for local news in Korea, I saw less significant concern than I expected for Trump—with most recent focus on Prime Minister Hwang now heading up the government in the wake of the impeachment of South Korean President Park.

In reflecting on my meetings, I found some groups wanting to hold back on discussing new initiatives, their organization tied to the recent president scandal–the mood to lay low until the storm passed.

In other instances I saw annual restructuring underway and teams in a “wait and see” mode.  As is common, restructuring bring with it changes in leadership, management and working teams. More so, on-going programs might be revisited and for the new year may be entirely dropped, downsized, or upgraded… again warranting teams waiting to see what unfolds.

For others, it is business full speed ahead, tight timelines requiring action even before the holiday break. In several instances my meetings centered on plans for 2017, colleagues discussing our next steps and now reporting them to the leadership before year-end.

As for my thoughts on what 2017 will bring, look for my upcoming year-end commentary due out over the holiday break.

Questions, Comments?