Two videos. Five mins. Give your colleagues the benefit of the doubt.
Benefit of the doubt, what does phrase mean? Doubt is something like this: “I don’t understand why my German colleague, Manfred, is doing X. I’m not sure if it is good or bad. My sense, that it is not good. Even more, I don’t know if Manfred’s intentions are good or bad.”
A benefit is something good, positive, in someone’s favor. To give someone the benefit of doubt is to choose to see the good, the positive, in what they say or do.
“I don’t understand why my German colleague, Manfred, is doing X. I don’t know if his intentions are good or bad. However, I choose to give Manfred the benefit of the doubt. I choose to assume, to believe, that what he is doing is good and that Manfred’s intentions are good.”
That’s what it means to give someone the benefit of the doubt.
Why should you give Manfred the benefit of doubt? I can think of six good reasons: First, his actions and intentions might be good. If so, you are on the right side, on the side of Manfred and on side of what is good.
Second, if you are wrong about Manfred, if his actions and intentions were not good, you can always adjust your response.
Third, by giving Manfred the benefit of doubt, you are in a position to help Manfred, to change his actions, to help him have a change of heart. And that is helpful to Manfred and to the team.
Fourth, in the future Manfred will most likely give you the benefit of doubt. You will do things which other colleagues question. Gaining Manfred as a friend and an ally will be helpful to you.
Fifth, colleagues will have observed how you gave Manfred the benefit of doubt. By doing so you are setting an example, you are upholding the right behavior. This encourages others to do the same. Colleagues will be more willing to give each other the benefit of doubt.
Sixth, you will be doing the right thing. That alone is enough reason. You do not need any of the other five reasons.
Oh, and there is a seventh reason, why we should give colleagues the benefit of doubt: cultural differences between Americans and Germans, in how we think and how we work. They will lead to many situations in which the two cultures misread each other.
Depending on the situation both sides will be quick to assume the negative, bad motives, to not give the benefit of doubt. The danger of misreading actions and intentions will be especially high. Instead, let’s look at each other with friendly eyes. Let’s go further, let’s look at each other with loving eyes.
Six videos. Twelve mins. I influence you. You influence me.
Whenever we interact with another person they are interacting with us. This sounds rather obvious. So, let’s go little deeper.
When we interact with another person, we do our best to read them, to understand them, so that we know how best to react. Much of our behavior is in reaction to others, to what they say and do.
That is the meaning of reaction. But often we are so focused on understanding the other person, on reading what they say and do, on reading the signals they send, that we forget that they are doing the same with us. When I, John, am interacting with Annegret, she, Annegret, is interacting with me, John.
I know that his sounds obvious, trivial, so self-stated. But wait, what does it really mean? We have to be aware of how what we say and do is interpreted, perceived, understood, misunderstood, by the other person. Yes, I am reading Annegret’s signals. But Annegret is reading the signals I am sending. Signals I am sending consciously or unconciously.
Let’s take a simple, common, but very important example. A typical situation involving Americans and Germans. It involves a major misunderstanding that Germans have about Americans, that Americans are superficial.
I have heard it hundreds of times, in one form or another: Amerikaner sind oberflächlich, in English Americans are superficial. I don’t want go into detail about this particular misunderstanding.
We all operate on misunderstandings about other cultures, whether we care to admit it or not. I, John Magee, know very little about any other culture other than the U.S., my home culture, and Germany, where I have lived for more than twenty-five years.
Any thoughts I have about France, Italy, Mexico, China, India are based on little to no knowledge, even less experience. Per definition any and all thoughts I have about those countries and cultures are over-simplified, inaccurate, very likely wrong.
Americans are superficial is a German misunderstanding about Americans. We Americans have our misunderstanding about Germans, such as Germans have no sense of humor. We all know that both misunderstandings are silly, dumb, untrue, frankly, embarrassing.
Klaus the German
The point I want to make about interactions is that they are always participatory. Let’s take Klaus, a German, who meets Judy, an American, and they engage in smalltalk.
Klaus being German, wants to discuss subjects of substance. That is what Germans do. Germans often bring up subjects of substance. They want different viewpoints, different opinions. They want a lively discussion, even a debate.
But wait, Americans are different. In small talk situations Americans avoid subjects of substance. They avoid subjects which could lead to lively discussion or debate. Americans bring up subjects which are light, non-political, non-controversial, such as the weather or sports or vacation or food, anything to keep things calm and civil.
Americans do not go into depth in such situations. That’s why it’s called small talk. We could also call it shallow talk. Shallow vs. deep. Or call it superficial talk, meaning on the surface, keep on surface.
Americans can do deep talk. In fact, they’ve been doing it for more than two hundred and fifty years. You need only take a closer look at American history.
Judy the American
Ok, so let’s get back to Klaus and Judy. They are in Atlanta at a conference. They are colleagues, but only recently working together. They are excited to finally meet. Even though, frankly, their collaboration has not gone all that well thusfar.
At a dinner many folks get together. Klaus and Judy are there. It is their chance to meet and do some small talk. Klaus then brings up topics of substance. And since it is the year 2020, and they are in U.S., and America is always topic in Germany, Klaus wants talk about controversial current developments in U.S.: politics, race relations, response to the Cororna-virus, the economy, etc.
As stated, these are not topics Americans feel comfortable with in a small talk setting, most certainly not in a business setting. So what does Judy do? She pulls back, does not engage, tries to lighten up conversation, to change the subject.
Judy asks Klaus what he thinks of Atlanta. She asks him how the conference is going. She might even ask Klaus how his flight to the U.S. went. How does Klaus react? Most likely surprised. “What, my flight? I want to talk about Corona-virus.” This goes back and forth and Klaus gets impression that Judy is, well, superficial.
Miss the Point
I could spell out in great detail the German reaction to American small talk. I will not, because I want to make a bigger point, actually two bigger points.
The first point is, Klaus sees the interaction with Judy, and with other Americans during conference, as verification of what everyone in Germany knows, namely that Americans are superficial.
The second point, and the message of this video is that it does not occur to Klaus that Judy is reacting to him. In other words that his actions are leading Judy to pull back, to not engage, to try to lighten up the conversation.
Klaus is not aware of how his actions affect Judy, thus affecting Judy’s reactions to him. Klaus most likely is not aware that Judy perceives him as overbearing, provocative, rude, maybe purposely picking a fight with her.
My message here is that every interaction is participatory. We cannot separate what we experience from what the other party is experiencing in the interaction. Our behavior influences their behavior. Their behavior influences ours. We are participating in this together. It is participatory, and not separated.
We all know this, right? But, do we take it enough into consideration when we interact? I think not. Or not enough. There is considerable risk, considerable danger, in not taking enough into account how our actions affect the other party.
And why? Because they may misinterpret our intentions. Because they may misinterpret who we are. And vice versa. We misinterpret their intentions. We misinterpret who they are.
Five videos. Thirteen mins. Attributing motives is dangerous.
Attributing motives is a dangerous thing. Dangerous for those who do it. You will hurt yourself. Badly. To attribute motives means to assign motives to another person. Motives explain why a person said or did something.
You all know that I take words seriously. I want to know their meanings. To attribute is a verb. It means to explain something by indicating a cause, to regard as a characteristic of person or thing.
An example: “John said and did this, because John thinks this or John thinks that.” More concretely: “John is recommending X, not because he thinks it is the best solution for the team. But instead because it is John’s idea and he wants to advance his career.” We explain John’s behavior as being motivated by self-interest and not motivated by what is best for the team.
But it is also possible to attribute positive motives. “John is recommending X not because he thinks it will advance his career. But instead because John believes it is the best solution and the best for the team.”
We all attribute motives to other people and to each other. Attributing motives is a way of explaining behavior of others. “Why did Susan do that? Hmm, well most likely because she X, Y or Z.”
Now, you folks are all aware of this, about attributing motives. We do it all the time. Consciously or unconsciously. Fairly or unfairly. And you can be sure that other people are attributing motives to us.
Here is where it gets tricky, where it can be dangerous: If we attribute motives to another person’s actions and the attributions we make, the motives we assign to that person, are not accurate or only partly accurate, they lead us to adjusting our behaviour accordingly.
“Why did Susan do that? Hmm, well most likely because she X, Y or Z. And because Susan is motivated by X, Y or Z, then I need to respond in this way.” We adjust, react, respond to what we think is Susan’s motive.
Ok, fine. There is nothing wrong with that, with being alert, with being careful. In the case of Susan perhaps it is prudent, because Susan is tricky, unreliable, political, untrustworthy. In fact, many people are tricky, unreliable, political, untrustworthy.
But wait, what if we attribute motives that are not accurate? What if we are way off target? And what if we adjust our behavior accordingly? Then it can become very dangerous.
First, negative motives, treating another person unfairly, is never agood thing. Not good for them. Not good for us.
Second, the adjustments we make may not be in line with reality. We are reacting to something which does not exist. “Susan is out to make me look bad. I will preempt her by making her look bad first.”
Third, our adjusted behavior, based on a misreading of the situation, could lead to the other person reacting in ways which they did not intend, reacting to our behavior, to our actions, which are concrete and real. “Why did John criticize me in our team meeting this morning? I don’t understand. What should I do about this?”
Spin out of Control
Folks, all of us are very familiar with dynamic. There is no need to have a Ph.D. in psychology. The dynamic is at the core of our thinking as human beings.
We observe and experience the behavior of others. Family, neighbors, work colleagues, customers, suppliers. Often their behavior surprises us. We can perceive as a threat. We want to understand their behavior. We think about their motives, about causes. “Why did he or she do this or that?”
During the Cold War we had our best thinkers, on both sides, Nato and Warsaw Pact, the U.S. and the Soviet Union, trying their hardest to understand the thinking on other side.
A lot of soldiers and armies and weapons and nuclear weapons. If they had gone boom, it would not have been very pretty. Miscalculation would have had very dire consequences.
Miscalculation is linked to misattribution of motives. “If we do this, the Soviet Union will most likely react in this way. That will lead us to respond in that way. Which, in turn, could lead the Soviets to, etc. ”
We all know this. We are all familiar with the dynamic. The key is to know the other side so well so that when we attribute motives, we do so as accurately as possible. We want to be so aligned with their thinking that our response is appropriate, fair, prudent, measured.
If our response is not all of those – appropriate, fair, prudent, measured – the situation can spin out of control. Frankly, it is a wonder, a miracle of history, that no nuclear weapons we fired during the Cold War. Although, in October 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, both sides came very close.
I think we all know where I am going with this. My work is helping Americans and Germans to understand cultural differences, so that collaboration succeeds.
We know that there are times when the two groups do not get along, when they are not in agreement, at odds with each other, against each other, even see each other as enemy.
Which means following: if there are differences between Americans and Germans, and in foundational areas, differences in how they think and in how they work, then those differences necessarily, per definition, influence collaboration, directly and constantly.
If that is the case, then the chances of miscalculation, of misattribution, of motives, are high. Miscalculation, misattribution, misperception, these are synonyms, different words with same meaning. A better word is misunderstanding.
If German colleagues misunderstand American colleagues, and American colleagues then say or do something which the German colleagues do not agree with or are against or see as counterproductive or even as dangerous, then it is very likely that the German colleagues will attribute a motive to what the U.S. colleagues have said or done.
The German colleagues will then very likely take countermeasures. They will do something against it. This is normal, human, rational, perhaps even legitimate, responsible, the right thing to do perhaps. But perhaps not.
Risk of Misunderstanding
The key term is understanding. How can the two sides reduce the risk of misunderstanding? I have a few recommendations:
First, talk to each other. I mean this seriously. Talk to each other. If Joe says or does something which you Germans find disturbing, instead of attributing a negative motive to Joe and then preparing and executing countermeasures, pick up the phone and speak to Joe about it. I know, this is scary, risky, dangerous, uncomfortable, especially after you have convinced yourself of Joe’s bad motives.
Second, when speaking with each other, when getting clarity on reality, go deeper. Ask each other about your respective deeper logics. This may feel strange. It will not be easy, because we normally don’t reflect on our national cultural approaches. We need to do it anyway. It deepens understanding.
Third, remain in dialogue with each other. If you have taken the first two steps, if you have taken this leap forward together, if you have embarked down this path, stay on that path.
Fourth, once you are on that path together and you see to the left or to the right others who misunderstand each other, reach out and pull them over onto the path. Get them talking with each other. Help them to do what you have learned to do.
Four videos. Thirteen mins. About the enemy. It has three heads.
Often I hear or read about how important it is to have an enemy. Not in the sense of a person or group to go into battle against, but instead in the sense of what is not good, what needs to be battled. When it comes to cross-border collaboration there are three enemies or let’s call it a monster with three heads, a three-headed monster.
Now, when we talk about cross-border collaboration it doesn’t matter if is a post-merger integration or a major reorganisation or working with suppliers and customers or companies are teaming up to serve a customer or teams within company joining together. They all have in common collaboration, people involved from different countries. Who is the enemy? What are three heads of monster?
Lack of Awareness
Enemy Number One is lack of awareness, in the sense of: “No one ever told me that there are perfectly good reasons for why Germans are so direct in communication” or “No one ever told me that there are perfectly good reasons for why Americans constantly do follow up.”
Should Americans or any cultures know why Germans are direct and that there are perfectly good reasons for this? The same goes for Americans and follow up. There all sorts of reasons for lack of awareness of each other’s cultures. And I spell those out in a separate video.
The key here is to recognize that the first head of three-headed monster is: not knowing, not being aware of, not having been informed about cultural differences.
Enemy Number Two is untruths. An untruth is something which is not true, which is false. “Germans are so direct in communication, they get right in your face. Why? Because Germans are impolite, blunt, rude and insulting.” That’s a pretty serious statement. True or untrue?
Well, it depends on the perspective. It depends on the national cultural perspective. Because Germans frankly are direct. Germans believe that people should say what mean and mean what they say. Germans use clear and unambiguous language. They avoid using figures of speech. They avoid using euphemisms. Germans do not sugar-coat. They believe that people should call it as they see it. Be honest, transparent, clear, direct, to the point.
And why do Germans take this approach? Because it is honest, transparent, clear, direct, to the point. And that makes for good communication. And good communication helps collaboration. And good collaboration leads to success. Now, what is wrong with that logic? It’s the German logic. It works. It leads to success. And it’s explainable, understandable, perfectly legitimate.
Unless, of course, you come from culture, which is less direct in communication. For those folks, for those cultures, the Germans can be rather impolite, blunt, rude and insulting. My message here is: there are a whole lot of untruths swirling around out there, where Americans, Germans, and other cultures are collaborating. Untruths are things which are untrue.
Things which people think are true, but are actually false, such as: Americans are superficial. Germans are too serious. Americans processes are sloppy. Germans processes are rigid. When it comes to decision making Americans are a bunch of cowboys. Germans are far too slow to make decisions. American products are of low quality. German products are over-engineered and over-priced.
Untruths, Enemy Number Two, on three-headed monster. This is what my work is about. Battle the enemy. Untruths. Uncover, expose, disprove them. Get that nonsense out of way, so that collaboration can succeed. Much, perhaps most, or searching for the truth in any area of life is first and foremostly getting untruths out of way.
Lack of awareness and untruths are enemies one and two. We should take them very seriously. But, they are beatable. They can be defeated. Enemy Number Three is fear.
Fear, this is an enemy of a different quality. It is the biggest, baddest, meanest of them all. Fear is the mother – or father – of all enemies. Its destructive power is almost immeasurable. Its cunning is of extraordinary sophistication.
It has an almost endless set of tools from which to select, depending on the situation. It can reach deep down into the depths of our psyche. It can stroke it in any direction it wants. It can slither and swim like a snake into the very marrow of our bones, to sour and to poison it.
Fear can inject into us all sorts of elements, known only to itself, in order to destabilize our chemical balance. It can conjure up in our imagination the most beautiful, and the most ugly, of scenes. It can distort and contort, twist and tie up, the most innocent of experiences, the most obvious of truths.
Fear is the most dangerous enemy by far. No other enemy comes even close. Making it an even greater danger is that it can team up with any other enemy, at any time, in any situation, increasing or reducing the intensity. And one of fear’s greatest weapons is invisibility. It can hide, camoflage itself, impersonate. It can be extremely charming. It can convince you that it is your best friend.
Now, this may all sound dramatic for those of you who have never experienced fear. But for those of you who been there, who have fought the fight and survived, and for those still in fight, this is no exaggeration.
What does this mean for our topic cross-border collaboration? What does it mean for the influence of cultural differences? If fear can do its dirty work in any and all areas of our lives, it can and will attempt to do its dirty work when we collaborate.
We spend most waking hours working – 40, 50, 60 per week. We spend more time with each other than we with our loved ones, with spouses, children, relatives, friends. It is naive to believe that fear will not try to do its evil work when we collaborate, in global teams, in global projects, especially in post-merger integration.
In fact, it is our work, where we spend most or our time, that fear sees its biggest playing field, its biggest forum, its biggest ocean to swim in. What to do, how to battle fear, how to defeat fear, at least to keep it in check?
First, open our eyes to its existence and presence. Ot the existence and presence of our fears in our lives.
Second, identify where fear is doing its dirty work. Right now. Specifically, concretely. In teams and in situations: Who is afraid of what? Who is afraid of whom? Where is there doubt? Where is there instability? Where is there a lack of awareness? Who has fallen prey to fear?
Identify means to expose fear. Fear hates being exposed, have a light shone on it. Fear is terrified of being identified, called by its name, terrified of being pulled out into the open.
Third, after having identified fear, after having identified where fear is doing its diry work, enter into battle against it. Together.
If you are wondering what John talking about. “Fear? We’re a company, an organisation, with teams, with employees. Yes, colleagues, Americans and Germans and many cultures. And yes, there are cultural differences, but all this talk about fear. Is John trying to make us fearful? Is this his way of getting us to listen to him?”
Maybe. Who can know with 100% certainty what our deepest drivers are? I have had my experiences with this terrible and terrifying enemy. And I still do. I continue to battle fear. Frankly, the battle is never over. So let me be more concrete about what I mean with fear. Let me name a few:
“I will lose my job. They are americanizing us. They are germanizing us. He is in my way. I need to get him out of way. She trying kill me off. I need to kill her off first. Their approach will ruin things. We need to block it.
They are lying about numbers. We have no choice but to do same. We need get our customers on our side against them. We need to get their secrets, but to not share ours. They acquired us with our money.
Our management is a bunch of cowards. They give in to other side. Our boss is an idiot. We need to find a way get him removed. My colleague is an idiot. I will simply ignore her.
That engineer is a real thorn in our sides. We need to find a way to make his work unbearable. They are bad people. We are good people. We want the best for customers. They do not. Those Germans! Those Americans!”
Do these statements sound familiar? Do they sound harmless or harmful? Let me finish with this: those kinds of statements, the spirit behind them, the emotions behind them, are dangerous, very dangerous, because they are fear-driven.
Six videos. Nine mins. Us-Against-Them is bad. Fight it.
Circling the Wagons
You are Americans. You are Germans. Your companies have been merged. Collaboration is key to your success. Let’s talk about loyalty. It’s a big word, a really big word.
Who are you loyal to? Yes, I am asking you who are you loyal to? To your respective companies? Germans to the German side of company, Americans to the American side of company? Or to the stockholders, including institutional investors? Are you loyal to your customers? And what about your suppliers?
I suspect that you are loyal to those people who influence, or even determine, your success. Because your success pays the bills, secures your future. Success protects you. It keeps you strong. Success enables you to protect people you are taking caring of. Spouse, children, a relative, the people you love.
Why I raise loyalty question is rather simple. Because in many situations problems, disagreement, tension, confrontation occurs. In such situations sides can be formed. One side against other. Us-against-them.
And in the context of global organisations sides are formed along country lines, based on culture, based on national culture. “We Americans against those Germans” and “We Germans against those Americans.” It is particularly common during post-merger integration and can continue long after integration.
This us-against-them attitude is also called circling the wagons. From old Hollywood movies. From westerns. Innocent white settlers moving west to make a life for themselves. But they come into conflict with the Native Americans, also known as Indians. The battles are vicious and brutal, terrible. In the movies the Indians are savages. Remember that term, savage?
What did the settlers do when attacked? They circled the wagons. The women and childen hid in safety. The men got out their rifles, defended women and children, against murder, rape, enslavement, by those evil, savage Indians. Or at least that is what the movies protrayed. The German term Wagenburg means literally “wagon fort” or “fort made with wagons.”
Reject it !
Here is my point with the loyalty question: There will be times – perhaps now – when tension is high, when some colleagues talk us-against-them. I understand that. It is human. It is native to us. It is natural.
We are unsure, insecure, frightened, literally scared. In such times, if colleagues from the same country, from the same culture, talk in terms of us-against-them, I want you to say “No.” I am serious. I am dead serious. I want you to say: “No, that is too simple. No, that drives us apart. No, that is not a solution.”
Then I want you to ask: “What is the problem? How can we solve the problem? Together, with colleagues from the other side of Atlantic?”
It always fails
I am not joking. This not some kind of Magee touchy-feely, psychobabble, nonsense. I am speaking from both the head and the heart. If you are sincerely listening, then you are hearing me with both your head and your heart.
Because we know that every form of us-against-them is driven by fear, and that any- and everything we think, say or do which is driven by fear is wrong. Not only wrong, but ineffective. Not only ineffective but it is hurtful.
Us-against-them is fear-driven. It is self-defeating. We are defeating ourselves. It damages our very selves. Now this will not be easy. Believe me, I know. I have enough life experience to know this. I have many years working in USA-Germany space, many years helping colleagues, to collaborate, many of whom were in a battle against each other.
It takes great courage to say to colleagues from the same team, company, culture: “No, I will not participate in any us-against-them nonsense against our colleagues from the other side.”
The pressure will be great. Some will call you a traitor. Others will ostracize you. Still others will apply pressure on you. You need to stand firm. How? By focusing on the solution. By continuing to collaborate. As best you can. With your new colleagues, with colleagues from other side.
You simply need to be honest, transparent, fact-based, and most importantly, remain calm. People who play the us-against-them card always lose in end. They will be exposed sooner or later, because us-against-them is fear-driven, manipulative, and it does not work.
A final point: us-against-them occurs on both sides of Atlantic. If colleagues on other side begin slipping into us-against-them, reach out to them, help them to solve problems, to reduce the tension.
Expose us-against-them for the stupid, primitive trick it is. Shine light on it, get it out into the open. If you expose us-against-them, if you get it out into the open, it shrivels up, it shrinks, it hides, it runs a way. Why?
Because every form of us-against-them is cowardly. People who push us-against-them are cowards. When exposed cowards always run away. Why? Because they are cowards. And that’s what cowards do. They run away.
Many words for culture I’ll be honest, I am not a big fan of the term culture wishy-washy touchy-feely. I like the term national culture. It’s more robust. It’s more accurate. It’s more true. But there are many words we can use: logic, tradition, hard-wiring, dna, method, process, approach, self-understanding, beliefs, belief system, mentality, character, character traits, national character.
These are all synonyms different words with the same meaning. But what is national culture? The answer is very clear, very straightforward. National culture is how we think and how we act.
People in boxes I know, I understand, you can’t put people in boxes everybody is an individual you can’t generalize. But, that’s wrong. We can put people in boxes. We can generalize. Let’s think about it. Two very sophisticated societies. United States. Germany. They couldn’t function if their people didn’t have a shared understanding in those areas which are essential to their society working.
Now what do we mean with a shared understanding? We mean a common, or near-common, belief system. But, not a least-common denominator not a watered-down belief instead shared at the deepest level not in all of the details but in the main points. These are the beliefs which define a culture which hold it together. That’s what we do at CI. We try to identify those beliefs. We can put people in boxes. The boxes are called cultures.
About them. About us. Whenever we think about another culture we’re thinking about our own culture. Every conversation about another culture is a conversation about our own culture. It can’t be any other way. Every person is from a national culture. “From” meaning at home in, embedded in, coming from. And so, we all see other cultures through the eyes of our own culture.
We don’t have any other eyes. I see Germans and Germany with American eyes. The Germans see Americans and America with German eyes. None of us is floating way up in the stratosphere detached from the world, from their culture, from their home looking down at other cultures as if from some neutral perspective.
Why is this important? We can’t work well together, unless we understand each other. We can’t understand each other without understanding ourselves. Understand yourself. Understand the other. They go hand-in-hand. They complement each other. Depend on each other. Cannot work without each other. That’s the beauty of it. We need each other.
Bell Curves People always say to me: “Wait, John, aren’t there differences not only between, but also within cultures?” My answer is always the same: “Well of course there are. Lots of differences.” America is diverse. Germany is diverse. Humankind is diverse. East Coast. West Coast. Northern Germany. Southern Germany. Christians. Jews. Muslims. Non-believers. Female. Male. Young. Old. Extroverted. Introverted. From a big family. From a small family. Grew up in the city. Grew up in the country. Trained in the natural sciences, engineering, medicine, law, business, economics, humanities. Working in marketing, mfg., supply chain, sales human resources, service, general management. Diverse.
But, consider this: capable Americans, capable Germans can switch at any time from one company to another company within their national culture, within their national business culture without a problem. How is this possible? They have common – or near common – beliefs. Beliefs which are critical to the stability of their societies and critical to the stability of the companies companies which are rooted in their societies.
But, here’s the difference when Germans and Americans collaborate two sets of belief systems come together. So, we’re interested not so much in the diversity within the U.S. or within Germany we’re interested not so much in the distribution along the respective bell curves. We’re interested in the gaps between the two bell curves.
North. South. East. West. We all know what a compass does? It provides orientation. We begin with: North. South. East. West. Then we get more accurate, more precise. North by northwest. South by southeast. Another image: first we see a field, then a stream, a bit further a wooded area. We enter into the wooded area we see different kinds of trees. Field. Stream. Wooded area. Trees.
When we discuss cultural differences we begin with the general then, over time, we become familiar with the specifics. We become more accurate, more precise. We get to know each other in order to work together. Think of Google Earth. Zoom in. Zoom out. First in 30,000 feet. 3,000 feet. 300 feet. 3 feet. Then out 3 feet. 300 feet. 3,000 feet. 30,000 feet. In. Out. General. Specific.
Capable. Proud. Strong-willed. Germany. The United States. Germans. Americans. Two successful societies. Two successful national economies. Nation. Economy. Companies with successful approaches. Both peoples are capable, proud, and strong-willed.
Both peoples are determined to have the say, to “run the show”, to “be in the driver’s seat.” Whenever we discuss the German or the American approach, we’re talking about approaches which are proven, which work. Whenever we discuss how we do things, we’re talking about what leads to success. Both approaches lead to success.
Differences. Not Commonalities. I get asked all the time:”John, why do you focus only on the differences? What about the commonalities?” I always have the same answer. Commonalities work for you. There’s no need to discuss them. Differences, on the other hand, are far more important and far more valuable. I know that sounds like a paradox. But it’s not.
For two reasons. First Differences can lead to serious problems. People working against, instead of with and for each other. And these problems can be very painful. Second Differences offer tremendous potential. Imagine what could be accomplished if national cultures understood each other then combined their inherent strengths?
Six videos. Thirty minutes. How to quantify culture.
Hard vs. Soft Everyone likes hard factors more than soft factors. Hard factors can be observed, defined, quantified. Soft factors, in contrast, are difficult to observe, define, quantify. Everyone likes hard. That is quite understandable.
But what about national culture? How Germans define quality. How Americans persuade. How Germans set up their work processes. How Americans business relationships.
Have you ever tried to explain, manage, integrate how Germans define quality, how Americans persuade, how Germans set up their work processes, how Americans business relationships.
That’s hard stuff. It is national culture, who we are, where we come from, how we think and how we work. It is our self-understanding, our self-definition. It is deeply-rooted, almost impossible to change.
Folks, national culture is hard, in the deeper, truer sense sense of the word. National culture is complex, not quantifiable, difficult to describe, difficult to manage, and very difficult to integrate. Culture is not soft. Culture is hard. It is the hardest of the hard factors in global economy
Quantify Quantify, what does that actually mean, to quantify so-called hard factors? We’re talking about complex interactions, within complex companies. It is really so simple to isolate specific interactions and then to assign numbers to them?
Perhaps you can in discreet time-motion studies, on an assembly line, perhaps with respect to the number of packages a worker can move in a warehouse. But sophisticated organisations, with sophisticated people, doing sophisticated things? These interactions are far too complex to draw a cause and effect relationship.
In complex companies it is all about connections, interdependencies, influences. It is all about identifying, describing and understanding. And not about defining, codifying, forcing into a process. The goal is not to quantify. Instead, the goal is to understand. To get a sense of deeper-lying drivers which influence the success of cross-border collaboration.
Four Questions Take a piece of printer paper. Unlined. Fold it in half. Twice. Unfold it. You have quadrants. Turn the paper sideways to the landscape position. Now use a pencil and an eraser.
1 – Baseline
First, what is your baseline number? In the top-left quadrant write that number. It could be a hard number: revenue, profit, cost. Or perhaps it is an investment: m&a, private equity, joint-venture, corporate reorganization, an important special project.
2 – Factors
Second, what are the key success factors? In the bottom-left quadrant list max. five factors. These are the things which your organization must do well in order to meet the baseline numÂber you penciled into the top-left quandrant.
3 – Collaboration
Third, which factors are dependent on collaboration? In the top-right quadrant list those key success factors which are driven by cross-border collaboration. Then sketch out per factor and on a separate piece of paper: who working with whom, on what, when, why, and most importantly how.
4 – Support
Fourth, how is your company supporting that collaboration? In the bottom-right quadrant write down the actions your organization is taking in order to ensure that colleagues working cross-border understand cultural differences, so that their collaboration succeeds.
Four Questions with Numbers Ok, you are probably wondering why you were asked to put a number in the top-left quadrant. Good, let’s get a sense for the numbers when Americans and Germans do or do not understand each other.
Let’s take the topic Communication. Again four questions:
1. What is your organization’s target number? 2. Which factors contribute to that target number? 3. To what degree are those factors based on collaboration? 4. How does the topic Communication influence that collaboration?
1 – Target Number
First, define your organization’s target number as 100. Then enter that target number in $ or €. You define what target number means for your organization. It could be revenue, profit, cost, investment, budget, a scorecard goal, or other.
2 – Key Success Factors
Second, list the five most important factors which determine your success. These are the things which the organization must do well in order for it to achieve its target number. Assign a % to each success factor. The total may not exceed 100%.
Then multiply each % by your target number. This gives you a $ or € number for each individual success factor. In other words, you have quantified each success factor’s contribution to reaching the target.
3 – Based on Collaboration
Third, estimate to what degree each of those success factors is based on Americans and Germans collaborating.
Assign a % to each success factor. The total may exceed 100% since you are estimating for each respective factor independent of each other. Some success factors may be more dependent on cross-Atlantic collaboration than others.
Then multiply each % by that success factor’s contribution to the target number, as quantified in Step 2. This gives you a $ or € number for collaboration of each individual success factor. In other words, you have quantified collaboration’s contribution to the organization’s success factors.
4 – Influence of Communication Fourth, estimate the influence of communication on collaboration. That influence may vary depending on the nature of collaboration of a given success factor. Communication in one area of collaboration may be more important than in another area.
Assign a % to each success factor. Then multiply that % by the degree to which each success factor is based on collaboration, as quantified in Step 3.
This gives you a $ or € number for the influence of communication on collaboration for that success factor. In other words, you have quantified communication’s influence on collaboration.
Ten Stories revisited Do you remember the Ten Stories? One story for each of the ten foundational topics on CI? Each of the stories has a final act. With the title the Cost of Cultural Misunderstanding. You might want to take a look at each one.
If you have time for only one be sure to look at Roger and Karl surprised. It is about two engineering teams. One American. The other German. Making their first attempt at integration. It did not go well. It was not very pretty. And it was very costly.
Company Culturevs. Country Culture Folks, country culture runs deeper than company culture. Let me to make the case for this: Which came first, literally, which existed first, the company or the country where it was founded, where it has grown, where it currently exists?
Formulated differently: which existed first the company or the culture of the people who founded and run the company? Let’s get concrete: Which existed first Siemens or Germany and the German people? General Electric or the United States and the American people?
Who existed first Werner von Siemens the German or Werner von Siemens the engineer? Thomas Edison the American or Thomas Edison the inventor? How about Apple Computer: first Apple then the United States? And Steve Jobs: entrepreneur first, then an American? Was Jobs an entrepreneur, who happened to be an American, or was he an American who became an entrepreneur?
Let’s take BASF the biggest chemical company in the world. Is that company more chemistry or is it more German? If you’re not sure ask non-Germans who work for BASF.
Another way to ask the question is: Of the great, iconic American and German companies how many years – or decades – were they primarily a domestic company meaning operating in the U.S. or in Germany before then becoming a truly global company?
Ok, let’s take another approach to answering the question which runs deeper company or country culture: When it comes to the fundamentals, to the foundation, to the deepest levels, in how we think, therefore in how we work, who has more in common:
A German mechanical engineer at Daimler in Stuttgart and an American mechanical engineer at Ford in Detroit. In other words: two mechanical engineers, both in the auto industry. Or a German mechanical engineer at Daimler and a German marketing specialist at BASF, both Germans, or an American mechanical engineer at Ford and an American working in finance at DOW Chemical, both Americans?
Asked in a different way: if you had five Germans and five Americans in a room and in each group was one person working in the disciplines of: engineering, manufacturing, service, marketing, sales, so a German engineer, a German in manufacturing, a German in service, a German in marketing, and a German in sales and the same on the American side, and you asked each of them individually, separate from each other, to respond to a handful of questions about foundational topics such as: communication, decision making, leadership, processes, etc. would their responses run along the lines of discipline or country culture?
In other words, would the Germans and the Americans in their respective disciplines, for example in engineering, have the same or similar responses or would the Germans and the Americans, respectively and independent of the disciplines in which they work, have the same responses?
We are trying to get to an answer, to the truth about which is the deeper driver, on the one side country culture or on the other side company culture, discipline, size of organisation, business sector, etc.
Let’s look at this from another angle:
If it is true that after an agreement has been entered into Germans seldom do follow-up with each other whereas Americans do frequent follow-up with each other does that change based on: the company they are working for, in which discipline they work, for example in engineering, in which business sector the company is operating, whether the company is large, mid-sized or small?
In other words do the American and German approaches to follow-up change based on the culture of the company they are working in?
What exactly is company culture? What does it mean? What would be examples of company culture? Is it plausible that such examples run deeper than national culture?
Even inanimate objects, like office buildings, are cultural in their character. Can there be German office buildings which are not German in their character? Is there such a thing as architecture in Germany which is not fundamentally German?
If it is the case that even inanimate objects are based and driven by culture is it not the case that how people think, work, and interact is also based on and driven by national culture?
Start-ups are start-ups, right? Wrong. An American start-up in Silicon Valley and a German start-up in Berlin are not the same.
Because a start-up in Berlin is German first, then a start-up. They are German start-ups and not American start-ups. A German engineer is a German first, then much later a German engineer. An American in marketing is an American first, then much later an American marketing specialist.
Does anyone really believe that German engineers and Americans engineers think and work in the same way? Well, if you’re not sure ask both American and German engineers who have significant experience in collaborating with each other.
Three videos. Thirty mins. About the ten foundational topics on CI.
Communication What’s communication? In its most basic form, it’s the spoken and the written word. Emails. Telephone calls. Face-to-face conversations. Virtual meetings. Written reports. Formal presentations. Communication with colleagues, customers, suppliers.
Communication is more than words, however. It’s the thinking behind the words that counts. But … Germans and Americans communicate differently. If their communication with each other doesn’t work not much else will.
Agreements Agreements are like the air we breathe. We discuss, enter into, and fulfill agreements. When colleagues collaborate, they enter into agreements. Many agreements. On a daily basis. Most are simple and routine.
Others are complex and situation-based. Some agreements are linked with still other agreements. Americans and Germans, however, handle agreements differently. If they don’t understand those differences, their agreements will break down.
Persuasion There can be no action without a decision to act. There can be no decision to act without considering the options to act. And those options have to be presented.Present. Decide. Act. When we present, we persuade. We want our audience to say “yes”. But Germans and Americans persuade differently. Their logics are not fully aligned. If those differences are not understood, they’ll lead to suboptimal decisions.
Decision Making Decision-making is about what to do, how to do it and why. But, it’s also about decision-making approaches about decision-making logics. But, what if there are differences between the American and the German logics? Can two business cultures collaborate effectively, if they make decisions differently?
Leadership Every team has a team-lead and team-members people who interact with each other personally on a regular basis. Leadership is about that interaction. But, do Americans and Germans define good leadership in the same way? Do they lead – and want to be led – in the same way? Where do they draw the line between the what meaning the strategy or the decision made and the how meaning the tactics or the implementation of that decision? If teams don’t get that right, if they aren’t aware of the differences they won’t succeed.
Feedback Feedback is critical to the success of every individual, every team, every company. Feedback helps us to stay in touch with reality. We give and receive feedback on a constant basis: with colleagues, suppliers, and customers. Feedback … when it works … gives us a common understanding of where we stand, what the score is,what’s working and what isn’t. However, German feedback and American feedback are not the same. If the two cultures don’t understand the differences, they will have a different views of reality.
Conflict Conflict is normal, unavoidable, it’s even healthy. Germans and Americans are two capable, proud, and strong-willed peoples. When they collaborate, they will disagree about things. No big deal. Critical is that they resolve their disagreements in a transparent, fair and just way.
And both societies are – for the most part – transparent, fair and just. But their approaches to conflict resolution are not the same. The danger is that the one culture’s approach can appear to the other as not fair. And no organization can succeed if conflicts go unresolved or if one side feels that they’ve been treated unjustly.
Product A culture’s product philosophy defines what a good product is, its characteristics … its character. Because there are differences between cultures, there are differences between product philosophies. And there are certainly differences between the American and German product philosophies. If there were no differences their products would look the same or similar.
But, they don’t. When Germans and Americans collaborate it’s to produce a result: a product, a service, a solution. The better they understand the differences between their respective product philosophies, the better they can produce great results … together.
Process Processes are the rules which govern the inner workings of a company. Processes whether formal or informal documented or undocumented describe how the work is done, how the work should be done. Those who have the say about processes, have the say about how the work is done.
But what if Americans and Germans don’t share a common understanding of what makes for an effective process?The two cultures need to understand not only each other’s most important processes, but more importantly the thinking behind those processes. If they don’t their collaboration won’t function very well.
Customer Every individual, every team, every company is part of a business ecosystem, is a participant in a complex web of customer-supplier relationships. We receive something. An input. We add to it. Hopefully our contribution is valuable. We then pass it along. Our approach to these interactions – our logic – is shared by both customer and supplier. For in all business relationships we’re either customer or supplier.
But wait: do Americans and Germans take the same approach? If it turns out that they do not, and if colleagues are notaware of the differences, they could damage important business relationships rather quickly.
CI’s Ten Stories
Hans in Chicago – Communication Hans is German. Competent, respected, liked. Two hundred American engineers were added to his team.
He wants to introduce himself to the organization, especially to three new American direct reports. Hans flies over to Chicago. The four meet for dinner. It starts off fine. Until Hans brings up controversial topics. The Americans are not amused.
What a shame! – Agreements Steven works in Atlanta. Anna in Stuttgart. Steven’s needs data from the most important projects company-wide.Anna had worked on one of those projects. Steven reaches out to Anna, who wants to help.But they fail to agree on how to collaborate. All lose: Steven, Anna, the company. It was avoidable.
Game Day – Persuasion Mark works for a German company in the U.S., a first-tier automotive supplier. His team discovered a serious opportunity. Detroit clearly stated its interest. Mark’s team prepared the business case. Key departments were on board. They then got the green light from their otherwise very critical U.S. management. With high hopes they were off to Germany to persuade the board. Four days of intense scrutiny. Then rejection. It wasn’t pretty. What went wrong?
“But, it’s only a car!” – Decision Making Two-dayoffsite. With Americans Germans engineers. They had problems integrating decision making, and in a critical area. Day 1: understand differences regarding decision making. Day 2: integrate to how make decisions together.
We contrasted the two cultures when it comes to how to buy a used car. The differences jumped off the flipcharts. The workshop succeeded. They all had great fun. But, what would have been the cost to company if we had failed?
Job Swap – Leadership Luke, an American, and Theo, a German, are colleagues in a global company. Early-50s, experienced, successful, in leadership positions. They decided to exchange positions for one year. It went well. Luke had a great year in Germany. As did Theo in the U.S.
And their direct reports gained deep insight into the differences between how Americans and Germans lead, and want to be led. It could have gone differently, however. Delegations often underperform or fail outright. How high would the costs have been with Luke and Theo?
“I’m fired.” – Feedback Aaron, an American, is a first-rate engineer and manager. Sent to Germany on a three-year delegation, his tasks: knowhow transfer, process integration, build cross-Atlantic teams.
The first year is up. Time for Aaron’s first formal performance review. With Martin, his boss. Aaron expected a B+. And Martin saw him as a B+. But German feedback is not American feedback.
Their meeting did not go well. Aaron was disheartened. Martin confused. Neither understood why. Nor did they figure it out over time. They continued to work well together. But they could have achieved far more.
Up. Over. Down. – Conflict Resolution USA. Joe in manufacturing is in conflict with Judy in supply management. Joe goes to his boss, Anne, explains the problem, requests that she speak with Rich, Judy’s boss. Anne gets Joe’s side of the story. Rich gets Judy’s.
The two managers then work out a compromise. They call in Joe and Judy to discuss.The conflict parties like the compromise, tweak it, accept it.The deal is done. They both get back to work. Up, over and down.
But wait. What happens if they’re working cross-Atlantic?Joe is Joe. Anne is Anne. Both in Houston.But, Judy is Ingrid. And Rich is Manfred. Both in Dortmund.How does up, over and down play out?
Roger and Karl surprised – Product A German company acquires an American. Their core strength is engineering. Executive management wants rapid integration of the two engineering organizations. The respective leaders – Karl in Germany, Roger in the U.S. – agree on the steps to be taken.
The first, and most critical, step is a full-week offsite workshop in the U.S. with their top ten people. Their goal was to produce a draft roadmap. They failed. Instead it was five days of tension. And very costly.
Quotes from Interviews – Processes „If we are honest, we Germans think many times that the Americans have no real processes. If they do, we do not see them or understand them. Yes, they do write down a lot of things and have many books with lots of detailed steps written down. But either they do not understand them or they do not follow them!”
„Our German colleagues takes their processes a bit too seriously. They always want to talk about our processes, as if the entire success of our technology and our company were dependent on processes. Sure they are important, but more crucial is whether they help us reach our goals.”
“You got it wrong.” – Customer A very important client. German. Head of a thousand-person engineering organization. I had done nine months of work for it. Dinner at a restaurant. I finally meet him. Friendly, relaxed, anything but self-important. He had every reason to be formal, intimidating, testing.
None of that. All signals were positive. At least those in the first few minutes. Then he picks a fight with me. Verbally, intellectually, of course. „You know, Herr Magee, I was against you doing any work for my organization. I think you have it wrong.“
Seven videos. Twenty-five mins. Why CI is the optimal support.
CI stands for both our organisation and the web-based resource we have developed. CI’s purpose is to help global organizations to understand the influence of culture on cross-border collaboration.
Three Principles We have three guiding principles: The first principle is scale. CI is scalable. Because it is a web-based resource it can serve anyone and everyone who is interested.
The second principle is DIY – Do It Yourself.We at CI do nothing which our members can do themselves. In fact, we work to enable them to do as much themselves as possible.
The third principle is imbed. Based on our research method CI can grow in both countries and topics. We will do our best to respond quickly to the needs of our members
A Third Explanation What happens when collaboration doesn’t work? We’re surprised. “People are people. Engineering is engineering. We all speak English. What’s the problem?”
We try to find the reasons. Typically we have one of two explanations. The other culture is incapable. Or the other culture is unwilling. Sometimes we say it’s both: incapable and unwilling.
And by the other culture we mean the people we are collaborating with. Seldom does it occur to anyone that it could be neither, that both sides are capable and willing.
And that should lead us to a third explanation, an explanation which is the most probable: that the two cultures think and work differently. Different cultures, different approaches. It’s that easy. That’s the third explanation. The real cause. Most of the time.
Frankly, we shouldn’t be surprised. If we aren’t aware of the cultural differences if we assume: “people are people, engineering is engineering, we all speak English” no one will consider that there is this third explanation.
I’ve been living and working in the U.S.-Germany space for about 25+ years. I have worked with very, very few Americans or Germans who were either incapable or unwilling.
In fact, it’s just the opposite. Americans and Germans are very capable and they are very willing. They’re just different. Different in how they think, and in how they work.
Three Questions When we take a closer look at the influence of culture on our work, on collaboration, on success, we always address three questions, the same three questions and in this order:
Question 1 – Where do we differ in how we think, therefore in how we work? Differences in logics, approaches, methods, beliefs, traditions, mindsets.
Question 2 – What influence to do these differences have on on our collaboration?
Question 3 – How do we deal with the differences. In other words how do we get the differences to work for, instead of against, us?
Always those same three key questions. And in that order.
Three conversations The minute we decide to make a serious effort to understand the influence of culture on our work we have decided to enter into three conversations:
First conversation is with ourselves, as individuals, in self-reflection: “How do I think, therefore act? What’s my logic, my approach? When I communicate. When I make decisions. How I lead and want to be led. How I define what makes for a good product. What a good process looks like to me.”
Second conversation is with colleagues from the same culture, in co-self-reflection: “How do we as a culture think, therefore act? What’s our logic, our approach? When we communicate. When we make decisions. How we lead and want to be led. How we define what makes for a good product. What a good process looks like to us.”
Third conversation is with colleagues from the other culture, in cross-border reflection: “Where do we as cultures think, therefore act differently?” When we communicate with each other. When we make decisions together. How we lead each other and want to be led by each other. How we define what makes for a good product, which we are developing together. How we will harmonize our internal processes.”
These are three great conversations: enriching, valuable, exciting, business-oriented, bottom-line oriented. I promise, I guaranty, once you enter into these conversations you will never want to leave them. You will see yourself, and your colleagues, with new eyes. You will be amazed.
Three Steps Step 1 is Learn. CI addresses three fundamental questions: Where do we differ in how we think, therefore in how we work? What influence do these differences have on our collaboration? How can we get them to help instead of hurt collaboration? Learning about cultural differences is the starting point for discussion.
Step 2 is Discuss. As colleagues you want to understand each other. You will enter into an on-going discussion about how you think and how you work. And you will continually go deeper and broader.Discussing cultural differences is the bridge from learning to application.
Step 3 is Apply. You as colleagues will then apply that deep understanding to your work. This is about what you do and how you do it. Concretely. Specifically. Day in and day out.
Human Beings in Relationship Three Steps. Learn. Discuss. Apply. That sounds like process thinking. In my mind’s eye I see thousands of powerpoint presentations. Going back ten to twenty years. Especially in large global companies. And especially in companies strongly influenced by engineers.
Everything was process. On the slides it all flowing from left to right. With arrows and boxes and circles. All intense and dynamic and progressing. And all of it so machine-like.
Folks this culture stuff is not about a machine. It is not about process. This is all about human beings. Yes, that’s right, human beings. The most important thing in the world. And most certainly the most important thing in any global organisation.
Human beings make things happen. Not machines. Not processes. Not words and images on a presentation slide. In fact, human beings invented all of those things: machines, processes, organisations, words and images.
You want to know what CI is all about? It’s all about human beings. It’s about you, your colleagues, your customers, your suppliers. On one level it is about the business ecosystem in which you work. “ecosystem”, there we have another one of those new words being used.
Folks, you are human beings. You are not random moving pieces in a system. You are working in a network of relationships. Let’s call it a community of relationships. community beats network. Community certainly beats system.
Three Good Things If you ask me why or how CI is helpful to you, I have three simple answers:
First, CI will help with cross-border collaboration. It will help you and your colleagues to get the job done. You hit your numbers. You’re on schedule. Your work-results are excellent. All of that is good for the bottom-line. Which is good for you, for the team, and for the company. Folks, that alone makes CI very worthwhile to you.
Second, you will sleep better at night. And I mean this both literally and figuratively. Better collaboration means less tension, less anxiety. We all know what sleepless nights are like.
You will enjoy your work. Joy is a big word, a really big word. It goes far deeper than being happy. We all spend most of our lives working. Not with our loved ones, not with family. But instead with co-workers, with colleagues.
Why shouldn’t our work, our time together, at work, be joyful? Folks, that is a rhetorical question. The answer is: our time together should be joyful.
Third, CI will help you and your colleagues to contribute to world peace. I can imagine your response to that: “Wait, what? What was that? Is Magee some kind of do-gooder? Is he pushing some kind of whacko one-world-government?”
Yes and no. Yes, I try to do good. I am not sure how much good I have done in my life. I try. No, I am not whacko. And no, I am not pushing one-world-government. I’m not even sure what one-world-government is.
I do know this, however: if we look at the interactions between countries, between nation-states, much is not going too well, and many of the actors do not understand each other.
And that lack of understanding leads to a lot of bad stuff. You don’t have to be an expert on international affairs. You only need to open your eyes and see things as they are.
Remember, you as colleagues are all voters in the U.S., in Germany, in all of the other countries except for the countries which are not democracies. Which means that if you understand each other at the deeper level of national-culture you will better understand what your governments are doing, not doing, should be doing.
And if you have the time, you can even discuss such topics. All of this will, in turn, help you as voters to make better decisions. And with your deeper insight you can help other people to understand these complex issues.
At a minimum if you as a German hear other Germans make uninformed and unfair statements about the U.S. you can correct them right then and there. The same goes for Americans who hear uninformed and unfair statements about Germany.
Let me leave you with this one last thought: you may know that I worked in the German parliament, the Bundestag, from 1995 until end of 1999. I gained great insight into German politics, into another facet of Germany and German culture.
I can state without hesitation that the relations between the U.S. and Germanyare far deeper and broader, far more intense in the private sector, in business, than they are in the government sector.
People in the public sector at the national level have very little experience or knowledge with other countries and cultures. Very little.
How could they? They have to work very hard in their country in domestic politics in order to be elected to high office or to be a high-level advisor or civil servant. Their career paths do not allow them to live or work abroad. And they are certainly not working in global teams year in and year out.
My point here is that you folks working in global teams in global companies have far more experience, insight, expertise about the interactions between counties, between cultures, between peoples, than folks working in the public sector.
So, is John Magee pushing one-world-government (whatever that is)? No. But what he is pushing for is understanding.
It is difficult to get angry at someone, and to then want to smack them, if you understand where they are coming from, if you can see things from their perspective, and also if they understand you and see things from your point of view.
Seven videos. Twenty-seven mins. Why global companies get no support.
Introduction I just did a previous string of videos explaining why global companies make the mistake of not addressing culture. There are people within global companies who sense the differences between cultures, differences in how they think and how they work.
These people know that there is enormous influence of culture, and they want to address them. In fact, they know that they have to address culture, but they cannot find support, real support. Why? Well, let’s look at the players and let’s look at the options.
Consulting Firms What about strategy consultants? We know the names of the major players. McKinsey, Boston Consulting, Bain, Roland Berger and many others, including very fine boutique firms.
What do they do? They come into the companies, analyze the situation and recommend to the client the direction of company, the structure of the organization, products, services, business models, and internal processes.
What about the accounting firms, the so-called Big Four, EY, PwC, KPMG, Deloitte? They have been breaking into the strategy field over the last years. And there are many other accounting firms, also boutiques.
Then there are the M&A advisors, financial institutions, the M&A attorneys, the entire M&A ecosystem. These folks typically serve small- to mid-sized companies.
Do any of these groups help clients to address culture?
M&A advisors do not, but might soon, because their clients are beginning to request it. The strategy and accounting firms do offer assistance with post-merger integration, but they do not address culture, at least not yet.
Folks, actually all could, perhaps should, be helping with culture. But they are not. Why not?
Strategy consultants provide advice about M&A. They guide their client through the process. At he end of the M&A process strategy consultants are very familiar with the companies, both the acquiring and the acquired companies. Because they did the analysis. The should know where integration must succeed.
Why do strategy consultant not help with culture? I think there are several reasons.
The first is that addressing culture is not in their dna. Soft factors are not in their dna. These people are numbers-oriented. Their thinking is if you can’t quantify something, then it is not relevant. They come from the disciplines of finance, accounting, the natural sciences, and business.
Their mindset cannot explain how Americans and Germans, for example, lead and want to be led. The cannot define what an effective process looks like in Germany or in the United States.
The second reason is scalability. Their business model resists addressing national culture. If they did take culture into account their methods and techniques would have to be modified, customized. That would make their business model not universal, no longer scalable.
They would have to customize for each country. What they offer in U.S. they would not be able to offer in Germany, and vice versa, and this would be the case regarding all other countries.
The third reason is implementation. If strategy consultants were to offer assistance with post-merger integration, and thereby address influence of cultural differences on cross-border collaboration, they would have to transition from interacting with executive management down to interacting with employees on the working levels, where collaboration actually takes place, where collaboration succeeds or fails.
And that means hands-on support. It means sharing responsibility for implementation of their own recommendations. Involvement in implementation means getting their hands dirty. It means they can’t run away from what they sold to the client.
I could be wrong, perhaps these firms do help their global clients with culture. Either way there is a simple way to verify this. And not by reading what they claim on their websites. Instead, simply ask them.
If their response is yes, then ask them a few simplye questions: Which countries do you address? Can you show us some of your content about their business cultures?
Please explain you research methodology which led to that content. Can you provide examples of key differences between, for example, the United States and Germany?
How exactly do you deliver your expertise? Can you send us bios of the people who will be doing the delivery? Would you, please, supply us with references in the US-Germany space? And finally, what would a program looks like?
Business Schools We all know the big-name strategy firms. And we all know the big-name business schools: Harvard, Stanford, UPenn Wharton, and many other top-tier schools. And in Europe there are the elite universities: HEC Paris, London Business School, St. Gallen, Insead, IESE.
Do any of them address the influence of culture on cross-border organisations?
They do not. Neither in their executive education programs, nor in their consulting services. And seldom do the MBA programs touch the subject of culture. Why? Like the strategy consultants there are reasons:
The first is lack of expertise. Professors lack country expertise. Let’s think about it, how does one develop that expertise? With the help of theory? No, there is only one way.
You have to have lived in the culture about which you claim to have expertise. You have to have experienced differences in many situations, and over a longer period of time. You then need to step back and analyze those experiences. Finally, the expert has to put those results to work in the real world.
This is a very long and arduous path. There are no shortcuts. You have to go deep and broad. And over a long period of time.
The second reason is their business model. If global companies have difficulties addressing national culture, how much more will the business schools struggle with it? How can business school professors address cultures if global companies do not address culture? And then there is the very practical question about what cultures to build expertise? Which countries should be chosen? Now, what is true for professors is also true for executive education programs.
The third reason is it would raise rather uncomfortable questions. Addressing cultural differences would have serious consequences for business school curriculums. If the academic world were to address culture it would mean major changes to their business model. Their course content would no longer be universal. What is true for the U.S. would not necessarily be true for Germany and vice versa.
Change Management What about change management experts? These are excellent people. Most have studied business or psychology or the humanities. Many have lived and worked abroad. They have experienced cultural differences.
Their skill set is valuable. They grasp quickly the change needed within the companies of their clients. They are familiar with how companies operate. They are good at structuring the conversation.
However, they have weakness. They lack country-culture expertise. This is not a criticism. It is a simple fact that they do not focus on culture. Instead their focus is on the change process.
If they were to address culture, they would do it via change methods. They would get colleagues on the client side to talk about cultural differences, with the hope that these same colleagues during, for example the post-merger integration process, would come up with their own intercultural insights.
In other words, change management people are at their core discussion moderators. Now that is very helpful. And it is better than not addressing cultural differences at all. But frankly, you as the client, you and your colleagues, can run discussions yourself. There is no need for consultants. Save yourself the time and money. There is no reason to engage them.
Organizational Development Can organizational development people help? Organizational development is a generic term which includes change management. Like their colleagues in change, the OD approach depends on concepts and methods. And it is also their hope that people will talk about culture in order to understand each other.
Unfortunately, like their colleagues in change, OD-experts simply do not have any cultural expertise. Neither in the differences between countries nor in understanding the influence of those differences on cross-border collaboration.
Intercultural Trainers What about intercultural trainers? They are typically trained as psychologists, anthropologists or sociologists. They have lived and worked abroad, experienced cultural differences, and know how to run workshops. That’s all fine.
They, however, have a significant deficit. It is their content. Typically it is rather shallow. Often their content is flat out wrong. In some cases it is both, shallow and wrong.
Intercultural trainers remain on the theoretical level. Frankly, it is not enough to describe Germany as a so-called low-context communication culture and the U.S. as a high-context communication culture.
Intercultural trainers can, under certain circumstances, be helpful as an introduction, but they are no help with specific problems. I become very nervous when they begin talking about cultural dimensions such as power distance, individualism vs. collectivism, masculinity vs. feminity.
If cultures were so simple that it was enough to describe a few dimensions then there would most likely be an app on every smartphone which magically allows Germans and Americans to understand each other and to collaborate. The app does not exists.
Language Instructors What about language instructors? It is interesting that of all of the groups thusfar mentioned only the language instructors can be of assistance. Because they build the bridge via words. It is words, and the thought behind them, which can begin to enable insight.
Think of the German word Qualität, and the American word quality. When Germans and Americans collaborate they do so in the English language. Both use the word quality. But do they have same understanding? American quality and German Qualität?
But language instructors also have a deficit. They can’t go beyond words. Word history is a great tool of analysis. It can give valuable insight. And it is fascinating.
But explain to Americans the German understanding of Qualität. You can go far back into its history, but does that address the challenges which American and German engineers face when collaborating, when designing a gas turbine or a braking system or a complex medical instrument.
Language does not explain what a German mechanical engineer means when he says the quality of the technical solutionis not good enough. Nor does it explain what an American marketing expert means when she says that the U.S. customers want value more than engineering.
These are rather obvious reasons why language instructors cannot help global companies to address the influence of cultural differences on cross-border collaboration. They are educators and not businesspeople. They seldom understand companies. And seldom do they understand the international environment in which the companies are operating.
Expertise The big question, the overarching question, is who can help global companies to understand and manage the influence of culture on collaboration? Stated differently, how is expertise in this are defined?
I believe that expertise is experience understood and explained. Experience in and across cultures is not enough. Expertise is more than a long list of interesting anecdotes based on having lived and worked in the US-Germany space.
Nor is theoretical knowledge enough. Theory must be based on experience. Without experience theory is empty words. Instead, authentic expertise has three components:
First, extensive experience means having lived and worked in the culture not one year, not five years, but at least ten years. Second, the person has to step back in order to analyze those experiences. What are the differences? What is their impact on collaboration? How do we get the differences to work for not against collaboration?
Third, the expert has to be able to explain all of this effectively. Their delivery must be pragmatic, practical, and effective. If we apply this definition to groups discussed thusfar, frankly, none of them meet the criteria.