Originally published in the April issue of Value Chain.
Leading a multinational organization in South Korea or any country outside your home country poses unique obstacles. But, you are not alone as many expat country managers share the same challenges. To be successful on a foreign assignment leaders should avoid making these three mistakes, Resisting Change, Not Communicating Effectively, and Not Understanding Cross-cultural Differences.
North Americans are considered individualistic societies, and focus is on the individual. In contrast, Koreans are a collectivist society and focus is in the group. Simply put, it is “I” versus “We.” Knowing these differences, one might expect some resistance to different ideas, methods or ways of thinking.
Some individuals perceive opposition as a threat to them. As human beings, we are all naturally resistant to change. Resistance may take many forms, including active or passive, overt or covert, individual, or organized, aggressive or timid.
In the field of electronics, the concept of resistance is well understood. One definition says, “Resistance is the opposition of a body or substance to current passing through it, resulting in a change of electrical energy into heat or another form of energy.” The heat and the energy are desired and useful but can also create problems. Modifying this definition to apply to change and people it would read, according to Rick Maurer, “Resistance is the opposition of people to change passing through them, resulting in energy which can transform or stop progress.” Resistance brings energy, and that energy is valuable because it can be capitalized upon to aid the change process. To utilize resistance, we must learn to embrace it and not avoid it. We must understand resistance is information.
Leadership is about leading, but it’s also about implementing change, as many of my clients have found out. According to Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, “The best tool for leaders of change is to understand the predictable, universal sources of resistance in each situation and then strategize around them.”
Before making or accepting any changes, it is important to follow these four steps.
1) Identify and think through the changes. Will this be an organizational change where more people will be hired or laid off? Or, will this change require the shutting down of the company communications for a 24 hour period? Or, will training of select personnel be required, etc.?
2) Identify whom the changes will impact. Department(s) or individual(s)?
3) How will these changes impact them? Will this change affect their morale in a positive or negative way? Will the employees and management perceive this change as necessary?
4) How they might respond to these changes. Will everyone embrace this change as a win-win for everyone involved? Or, will they consider this change as someone winning and someone losing? All possible scenarios should be considered and evaluated.
So, hopefully, there will be no surprise reactions to the change only anticipated responses to the changes. Armed with this information you are ready to devise an action plan and implement it smoothly.
Leading a multinational organization outside your home country poses unique obstacles. However, expecting possible resistance to change and being prepared to lead through it is critical to success.
Steven B. McKinney
Steven B. McKinney is the founder & President of McKinney Consulting Inc. (IRC Korea) a partner firm of IRC Global Executive Search Partners (Top 3 Globally) with over 17 years of experience as a consultant in executive search and leadership consulting placing 100’s of executives of multinational companies in Korea and Asia-wide. He earned the distinction of Certified Master Coach from Behavioral Coaching Institute and a certificate in Leadership Coaching Strategies from Harvard University. Previously he managed global footwear R&D efforts for Adidas International and oversaw manufacturing production and R&D duties for Reebok International in Korea. He is also the co-founder of the Korea Business Leaders Alliance.