Category Archives: Agreements



The Berlin-Brandenburg Airport is a topic surrounded by discord. There is no end in sight for this odyssey. The costs just continue to rise into incalculable sums. This caused the association of taxpayers to heavily criticize the politicians responsible for it in 2012.

The airport was a “manifest of poor planning, mismanagement, incomplete construction plans, and expenses beyond the budget“. The association of taxpayers blacklisted the overseeing committee of high-ranking representatives from Berlin and Brandenburg and the federal government, accusing them of “political failure” and “blind trust” in the underqualified management” of the airport.

Should not one have checked the project’s progress more rigorously? Perhaps through frequent feedback?

Persisiten Email Follow up

Under the title Optimum Follow-up Frequency for New Leads Samuel Smith, a consultant and blogger on business and online marketing, posted the following advice:

„A good e-mail marketing effort doesn’t inundate your customers with hard sales pitches. Following up quickly is the first step. Schedule your first follow-up email to go out two hours after your customer submits his or her information.

From here, you may want to gradually slow your e-mail frequency and aim for about three content emails for one purely promotional email. Depending on your budget, you could aim, at the high end, for sending four emails a week, but with a smaller budget, you can send an email every two or three days and have similar success.

Once a potential customer has been receiving email from you for a couple of months, it’s okay to drop off the number of emails to once a week. The optimum e-mail frequency reminds customers several times over that your product has value to them.“

Follow up

In Germany follow up is far less frequent. Once an agreement has been made neither party feels the need to contact the other in order to inquire about the status or priority of an agreement. „Agreed is agreed.“ And agreements are meant to be held. The priority of an agreement remains at the level it was assigned when entered into. There should be no need to verify or reinforce the importance of an agreement.

In the American context, because people enter into many agreements and on a constant basis, follow up is a necessity. It is how Americans maintain a common understanding of the status and priority of an agreement. In many cases, parties to an agreement arrange predetermined times to communicate with each other. They schedule their follow up.

German Perception
Frequent follow up can be interpreted as lack of trust or even as a form of controlling. Germans will ask themselves: „Do they think we forget agreements we‘ve entered into? Do they think that we make promises which we don‘t intend to keep? Are they implying that we are not reliable, not zuverlaessig?“ Their reaction will be one of discomfort, irritation, impatience.

American Perception
If follow up does not occur, one party gains the impression that for the other party the status or priority of the agreement has changed. „Hmm, odd, I haven‘t heard from my German colleague since last week when he requested that report. Perhaps he got a copy from another source. I suppose he‘ll call if he still needs it.“ Other tasks, projects or agreements are then seen as more important. The danger is evident. The German colleague saw no reason to follow up. He, indeed, is expecting to receive the report by the date agreed to. The American colleague assumes the opposite, however.

Advice to Germans
Increase your use of follow up by 100%. Your American colleagues will judge it to be neither a sign of mistrust nor control, but of cooperation and teamwork. Follow up helps them to better understand how the agreement fits into your and their work context. The communication will allow you and your colleague to respond quickly to changing parameters. At the same time, explain to your American colleague when and how follow up is appropriate in the German context.

Advice to Americans
Explain to your German colleague as early as possible the function of follow up in the American context. Warn them of your need to remain up-to-date on your various agreements. Then ask that colleague when and in which mode (telephone, e-mail, face-to-face meeting) interim communication is acceptable. At the same time, try to reduce your need for follow up by 50%.

“Violently executed”

General George Smith Patton Jr. was born in California in 1885. From an early age he heard stories about his war-hero ancestors who fought in the American Revolution and the Civil War. Intent on following in their footsteps, Patton attended Virginia Military Institute and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

George Patton fought in his first battle in 1915 at Fort Bliss along the Mexican border during the Border War. He also served in France during WWI, where he became one of the leading experts in tank warfare. During WWII Patton served as a general, commanding the 7th U.S. Army in the invasion of Sicily and the 3rd U.S. Army during the French invasion.

Patton was considered one of the most successful combat generals in U.S. history, and his apparent battle-lust earned him the nickname “Old Blood and Guts.” A harsh commander, he was once almost discharged for slapping a soldier whom he thought was behaving cowardly. He was known for making quick decisions, and once famously said “A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.”

Aus einem Guss

Aus einem Guss

Germans like to work on problems, whole, not half problems. Work results handed off to the next colleague or department should be complete results. The closer to complete, the greater the level of respect the Germans show.

Products and services aus einem Guss – from one mold – are near-perfect, durable, reliable, innovative, consistent, no surprises, do not require finishing off, polishing, rework. They are the result of individual work steps which flow together into a whole, an entirety. German politicians refer to their legislative proposals as coming aus einem Guss. German companies do the same, especially those who develop and produce complex, sophisticated products.

Church bell chimes are made from the same cast iron mold. Otherwise they don‘t sound right. When Germans say something is aus einem Guss – from one mold – they mean it has been well thought out and executed. It is the opposite of thrown, tied, glued, patched, bolted, slapped, copy and pasted, together.

Figures of speech: Etwas dem letzten Schliff geben. To give it that extra polish. Ohne Kratzer. Without a scratch. Das ist eine runde Sache. That is well-rounded, meaning good job. Etwas abrunden. To round something off, in the sense of complete it. Der Ball ist noch nicht rund. The ball is not yet round, meaning incomplete. Flickenteppich. Hodgepodge. Pfusch. Botched, fumbled, fudged. Zusammen geschustert. Cobbled together.

Lab Turn-Around Time

A report of the National Insitute of Health from November 2007 states:

Quality can be defined as the ability of a product or service to satisfy the needs and expectations of the customer. Laboratories have traditionally restricted discussion of quality to technical or analytical quality, focusing on imprecision and inaccuracy goals.

Clinicians, however, are interested in service quality, which encompasses total test error (imprecision and inaccuracy), availability, cost, relevance and timeliness. Clinicians desire a rapid, reliable and efficient service delivered at low cost.

Of these characteristics, timeliness is perhaps the most important to the clinician, who may be prepared to sacrifice analytical quality for faster turnaround time. This preference drives much of the proliferation of point-of-care testing seen today.

Dates & Deliverables

The Germans prefer a complete (abgerundet; literally rounded out) deliverable late over an incomplete one on time. Lateness is tolerated as long as expectations of the final deliverable are met. Completeness is preferred to speed.


Because rapid response time is so important, Americans expect initial parts of a deliverable as quickly as possible. For the partial deliverable early often meets the needs of the other party better than the complete product on time. The remaining parts of the deliverable are then supplied promptly. Speed is preferred to completeness.

German perception
Germans are impressed with rapid response times. But all too often they misperceive the initial part of the deliverable as most or all that they will receive, falsely drawing the conclusion that their American colleague has not fully lived up to their side of the agreement. To then learn that they need to aggregate several parts of the deliverable leads them to the conclusion that their American partners are either not capable or unwilling of putting together a complete product.

American perception
There are seldom situations in the American context when missing a due date is easily justified. From the American point of view, their German colleagues are simply too slow, their deliverables too perfect, too abgerundet. Opportunities are missed. Particularly frustrating is to have very little communication during the agreed upon delivery time, only to have the deliverable suddenly arrive.

Advice to both Germans and Americans
Completeness vs. schedule, quality vs. speed, whatever terms you choose, this is an area of potentially considerable friction. Address this issue from the very outset of an agreement. Define the terms specifically. What deliverables are involved? In what form will they be delivered? In pieces or as a whole? By when? From whom, to whom? For the sake of clarity, recommend to each other that you document this. And most importanlty, remain in constant contact with each other about any modifications to this crucial part of the agreement.