Year-end Promotions, Restructuring, and New Assignments: Korea’s Corporate Culture 2020

As we watch COVID-19’s impact on Korean global business, we can still expect some norms to continue—year-end promotions—proceeding as in the past. 

Year-end organization-wide promotions, restructuring, and new assignments for teams are traditionally a part of Korean corporate culture. Top to bottom within Korean companies they occur sometime between early December and early January, with the changes to senior leadership happening first, and team level changes as a norm made known the week just before or between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

After the holidays, teams then report back to work. Some assume new roles frequently in departments where they have little experience—requiring employees to acquire new skills—sink or swim. 

In the days that follow those shuffled brief their replacements, as staff remaining in their jobs update new management teams on the status of projects and issues.

Meanwhile, others will be en route to assignments in overseas operations; a challenge for those working outside Korea for the first time. 

This can also be a challenge for local overseas operations. In particular, it is common for those newly assigned to be unfamiliar or have very limited experience with the many nuances in the localized foreign business, as well as the new role and responsibilities. Not to mention, working outside Korea is in itself a learning curve that can take months and even years. And, with the demands of COVID-19, I strongly recommend leadership—Western and Korean– have countermeasures in place to mitigate any transitional gaps. They do occur. In fact, over the years I have worked extensively to facilitate smooth transitions. 

What to look for later this month

The top Chaebol will announce key promotions and provide some insight into future trends.

The Chaebol usually also comment on whether this year’s promotion numbers are more or less than in the past and reasons “why.”

More recently the number of female employees who are made executives within a Group has been highlighted, a gradual move upward by women in the ranks. This is in contrast to a time when women were considered temporary staff and not long-term staff on track to be considered for management.

As a final note, for western global teams, I suggest congratulating those who are promoted, but also be sensitive to Korean team members who were passed over…as time in grade is just a criteria for promotion, or in some cases as it is deemed their time to retire.

Don Southerton
Don Southerton is the Founder and CEO of Bridging Culture Worldwide.

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