Korean Business and Why do Americans/ westerners need Korean cultural training?
For westerners this may be the first time working with Korean business and a Korea team. This opportunity brings with it the need to better understand their new partner’s culture, workplace norms and expectations.
In most cases, the western team will be interacting with a Korean expatriate team. Some of the expatriates will hold a line managerial position with day-to-day responsibilities alongside western managers, while others will hold key management C-level positions, such as CEO, COO, or CFO. In many, if not most, cases these expats may operate as a “shadow management” with considerable oversight of local operations.
With the best of intentions, the expats will look to build strong collaboration and teamwork and advocate less a sense of us and them. However, they do bring with them Korean work norms that can conflict with western work-life balance and western ways of working.
More so, Korean teams may make seemingly one-sided decisions with the best interest of the company in mind but without consulting local teams causing mistrust.
A solid training program followed by on-going support can address differences, such as sharing work styles, hierarchy, and comfort levels, plus providing work-arounds.
What are some typical issues that arise, especially without training?
As with all individuals, no two of us are alike –and the same goes for westerners and Koreans… Each has his or her unique strengths, skills, experiences and personalities.
That said, expecting local teams to simply “get it” without support and training seldom works. Even if a better understanding of the work culture eventually occurs over time, this “learn as you go” approach we see as costly, contributes to stress, poor productivity and even employee turnover.
What have Koreans told you about Americans? Work habits, commitment, etc.
If you ask Korean expats how they perceive Americans and westerners in general, responses would be very positive and respectful, especially toward western work ethics and work habits. Koreans see great value in American and western teams providing them with new insights and perspectives, as well as best practice
What might be covered in such training?
I see the training as two fold — 1) providing teams with an understanding of the Korean partner’s history, heritage, trends and popular culture and 2) looking at the Korean workplace and its norms, practices, and expectations.
Above all I feel a best practice is to share similarities and shared values when possible, along with instilling an awareness of and respect for cultural differences.
Addressing the team’s questions and concerns is also vital with issues, such as work-life balance, safety and quality processes and procedures and the overall expectations of Korean partners.
To conclude, the need for Korean business cross-cultural training programs for local employees and management is a high priority.
The assumption that local and expatriate teams can bridge cultural gaps through practical on–the–job experience might work with those few highly intuitive individuals with the exceptional ability to assimilate cultures.
What stands out in numerous studies, however, is the need for ongoing multicultural training, that can successfully impact people, especially those who need to quickly adapt to new or changing business culture and values, while fostering sensitivity and teamwork among all members of the company.
Finally, I would add that I have found a Korean business tiered service model – training, mentoring and on-going strategic support — to be the most effective approach for an organization.