Cultuurscan

Duitsers staan bekend om hun Gründlichkeit en Pünktlichkeit. Wat betekent dat in de praktijk? En hoezeer verschilt de Duitse zakencultuur eigenlijk van de Nederlandse? Hieronder vindt u een vergelijking van de twee culturen, met concrete tips voor het zakendoen.

From Take control to Go with the flow

Cultuurscan Duitsland Nederland

People who have an internally controlled mechanistic (or mechanistic) view of nature - a belief that one can dominate nature - usually view themselves as the point of departure for determining the right action. They seek to take control of their lives.

In contrast, cultures that go with the flow have an externally controlled (or organic) view of nature - which assumes that man is controlled by nature - orient their actions towards others. They focus on the environment rather than on themselves.

Provide clear information using facts and figures.

German managers are usually trained in engineering, economics or law. They expect and appreciate clear statistics, factual information and relevant data on quality performance in order to form a clear picture of the product or service under discussion. Operating from an internal control orientation, they will assume that all this information should be made available to them in order to allow them to come to an informed decision.

Eliminate surprises.

Germans operate under the assumption that surprises should be avoided. When presenting your product or service, elaborate on a number of scenarios that could happen, and show how your product or service will fare in these scenarios. Stress the reliability and predictability of your products, and the range of situations in which it has proven successful. This will appeal to the German need to have a sense of control over possible uncertainties.

Preparation is the key to an efficient meeting.

Germans put a lot of time and effort into the preparation of meetings. Instead of relying on the free flow of ideas during brainstorming in the hope that a solution will arise, Germans like to be in control of the outcomes of a meeting. This means that each person is expected to do extensive preparation before a meeting and be prepared to defend his/her views in the best possible way. For people from other cultures this attitude may be confused with stubbornness, which is not the case. One should be able to defend one's opinion with conviction.

From Rules/Standards to Exceptions/Relationships

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This concerns the standards by which relationships are measured.

Rule based societies tend to feel that general rules and obligations are a strong source of moral reference. They are inclined to follow the rules - even when friends are involved - and look for "the one best way" of dealing equally and fairly with all cases. They assume that their standards are the right standards, and they attempt to change the attitudes of others to match theirs.

Relationship based societies are those in which particular circumstances are more important than rules. Bonds of exceptional relationships (family, friends) are stronger than any abstract rules. Response to a situation may change according to the circumstances and the people involved. Relationship based societies argue "it all depends".

It is not official unless you get it in writing.

Reliance on written communication is important in Germany where there is a strong legalistic tradition. Any form of written information ensures communication is more official and binding. Explicit rules, if communicated in a formal and correct way enjoy a high level of legitimacy and elicit a high level of compliance.

Do not sue unless you have to.

Not adhering to a legally binding contract may lead to legal action in both the USA and Germany. However, in Germany such behavior is more likely to permanently damage the business partnership. In America, the function of a lawyer is to win the case. Germans focus more on the spirit than on the letter of the law. Suing a business associate in Germany may damage your credibility in the market place. For Germans, personal integrity and adherence to norms and rules are strongly connected. You may win the case but lose the customer. What's more, you may lose other customers as well, since they will conclude that you are likely to sue them as well.

Putting agreements in writing ensures transparency.

Common practice and informal verbal agreements are often seen as too vague and may at times even be suspected of some hidden intention. Everything written is out in the open. People have the ability to take recourse in regard to a particular text, and this provides a solid basis for the relationship.

From What people do to Who people are

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While some societies accord status to people on the basis of their performance, others attribute it to them by virtue of age, class, gender, education, etcetera.

Set realistic goals and err on the side of caution.

In negotiating with Germans, one should be careful not to be too quick to promise fantastic achievements in the future. If the promised results are not achieved, Germans may consider this a breach of contract and judge you as an unreliable business partner. If the facts do not support the grand statements, Germans will be very unimpressed.

Make sure that technical experts form part of your negotiating team.

Due to the strong technical orientation of German management, it is often inadvisable to send only marketing or sales people into business negotiations, especially if some technical issues may be involved. Germans do not like to discuss the broad outlines of a business proposal and leave the details to the technicians. Indeed the German side may often strongly involve its own technical personnel in making a decision. They are therefore more interested in the exact technical details than in seamless presentation skills. It is also important to keep in mind that generally speaking, marketing people do not enjoy particularly high status in German organizations.

Ultimate decision-making power rests with the people in the line who are actually doing the job.

Because of the high level of technical competence of line workers in German organizations, decision-making power and responsibility may very often lie at this level. Staff functions, on the other hand, have more of a supporting and consulting role. In general, relations between staff departments and the line tend to be cordial, with few conflicts between theoretical and practical orientations. The greater authority of the line also has to do with the high level of technical competence of line workers in German organizations.

From Past to Future

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If a culture is predominantly oriented towards the past, the future is often seen as a repetition of past experiences. In a culture predominantly oriented towards the present, day-by-day experiences tend to direct people's lives. In a future-oriented culture, most human activities are directed toward future prospects. In this case, the past is not considered to be vitally significant to the future.

In business, this may manifest as emphasis on projects successfully completed as evidence of capability for past oriented cultures. Or 'come and see what we are doing now' for present societies through to emphasis on research and innovation for future oriented cultures.

Be reliable, stick to your commitments and fulfill them.

On a personal level, reliability implies sticking to one's commitments and fulfilling them. When it comes to customer relationships, reliability implies in particular delivering a quality product and Termintreue (on-time delivery). The emphasis on reliability is part of a more general attitude that once a decision is made, one is expected to stand firmly and unalterably behind it. Changing plans after things are in place tends to strike Germans as arbitrary and irresponsible.

Business meetings do not allow time for relationship-building.

In business negotiations, Germans like to come right to the point. Lengthy introductions, small talk and polite conversation are considered a distraction and a waste of time. The scheduling of business meetings therefore is consistent with the estimated time needed to discuss the issues at hand, and there is very little time left over for rapport building.

Time commitments apply to senior managers as well as their subordinates.

In some countries, lower ranking individuals are expected to be on time, whilst superiors have the right to be flexible. This is not the case in Germany. It is not considered acceptable to let somebody wait for the benefit of somebody of higher rank or of somebody with whom one has a closer personal relationship. Apologies for delays are owed to all people in the same manner and should be based on some "objective" rather than a personal excuse.

From Low involvement to High involvement

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Generally, people from low involvement oriented cultures begin by looking at each element of a situation. They analyze the elements separately, then put them back together again - viewing the whole is the sum of its parts. They are also oriented on hard facts. People from cultures more oriented more towards higher involvement see each element in the perspective of the complete picture. All elements are related to each other. The elements are synthesized into a whole which is more than simply the sum of its parts.

Low involvement individuals engage others in specific areas of life, affecting single levels of personality. In such cultures, a manager separates the task relationship with a subordinate from the private sphere. Cultures more oriented more towards higher involvement engage others diffusely in multiple areas of life, affecting several levels of personality at the same time. In these cultures, every life space and every level of personality tends to be interwoven.

Building long-term business relationships is very important.

There is rarely a cross-over between personal and business functions. Business relationships in Germany are built around technical knowledge and competence. Unlike countries like the US, business relations are generally not established for isolated, specific deals only. Business relationships are formed on the identification of a "factual" common interest - a company is involved in what could be called "relational contracting" with its stakeholders.

Avoid haggling about the price.

Germans do not like haggling. While they tend to be tough negotiators, they do not like bargaining for the sake of bargaining. It always leaves them with the feeling that they may have been cheated and paid the "wrong" price. In a trusting business relationship, Germans expect to be offered the correct price right away without lengthy negotiations.

Changing contractual conditions may damage the trust relationship.

A sudden raise in an agreed-upon price or a change in agreed-upon conditions should also be avoided at all costs. This is often considered as an attempt at deceit and can only be justified if there were major unforeseen circumstances. Otherwise, it will spoil the business relationship.

From Single tasking to Multi tasking

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People who structure time and tasks 'one-at-a-time' view time as a series of passing events. They tend to do one thing at a time, and prefer planning and keeping to plans once they have been made. Time commitments are taken seriously and staying on schedule is a must.

Cultures that multi-task structure time synchronically and view past, present, and future as being interrelated. They usually do several things at once. Time commitments are desirable but are not absolute and plans are easily changed. They are less concerned about what single-tasking cultures define as punctuality.

In business, how people structure time is important with how we plan, strategize and co-ordinate our activities with others.

First work, then pleasure - "Erst die Arbeit, dann das Vergnügen".

If negotiations proceed faster than expected and some "free" time remains in their schedules, Germans will engage in more general conversation. Still, it is normally considered polite to end a meeting with more general conversation like questions about one's background or one's opinions about some economic or political topic. Generally speaking, Germans tend to consider more social-type activities as something one does after the hard business is over, not before. This is reflected in the German saying "Erst die Arbeit, dann das Vergnügen" (First the work, then the pleasure).

Be punctual.

Punctuality is very important in Germany. Business meetings are often tightly scheduled, and delays of more than fifteen minutes are considered unacceptable. However, in the same way that meetings are meant to begin on time, they are also expected to end on schedule. This corresponds very much to the linear conception of time in Germany. A delayed meeting may disrupt the whole sequence of activities.

Working hours are strictly adhered to.

Germans expect to start and finish their work within the official hours. Last-minute demands are unacceptable and any overtime work should be compensated and agreed upon ahead of time.

From Emotions reserved to Emotions expressed

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This dimension focuses on the degree to which people express emotions, and the interplay between reason and emotion in human relationships. Every culture has strong norms about how readily emotions should be revealed. In cultures where emotions are overtly displayed, people freely express their emotions: they attempt to find immediate outlets for their feelings.

In cultures where emotions are more reserved and not openly displayed, one carefully controls emotions and is reluctant to show feelings. Reason dominates one's interaction with others. In such countries, people are taught that it is incorrect to overtly show feelings. This contrasts with cultures in which it is accepted to show one's feelings spontaneously.

Focus on the business at hand and do not get too personal.

During negotiations, Germans are focused on the task at hand and rarely deviate to personal domain. There is rarely a cross over between personal and business functions. One should also avoid getting too personal as this may be seen as an intrusion into the personal/private sphere.

Recreational activities tend to be strictly separate from business dealings, so do not expect to be entertained.

Avoid ultra lavish settings and expensive gifts. They may be seen as attempts at bribery. Whereas Germans are rather tolerant when it comes to people's private inclinations and behavior, they are very strict about appropriate standards of public behavior. One example of someone who crossed the line and suffered the consequences is Lothar Späth, a very popular minister of Baden-Württemberg. Although there was no concrete evidence of corruption, he was forced to resign because he had accepted free flights and a sailing trip from a top manager of a local company.

The harsh sound of the German language should not necessarily be mistaken for harsh intentions and attitudes.

One reason why outsiders often perceive Germans as rather harsh can be related to certain characteristics of their language. German makes use of lots of hard consonants like k, p and t and in pronunciation; individual words are clearly separated from each other. Moreover, German is a very noun-oriented language, so that things and structures rather than activities are emphasized.

From Individual focus to Group focus

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Do people primarily regard themselves as individuals or as part of a group?

In a predominantly individualistic culture, people are expected to make their own decisions and to only take care of themselves and their immediate family. Such societies assume that quality of life results from personal freedom and individual development. Decisions are often made on the spot, without consultation, and deadlocks may be resolved by voting.

In contrast to this, members of a predominantly group oriented society are firmly integrated which provides help and protection in exchange for a strong sense of loyalty. In such cases, people believe that an individual's quality of life improves when he takes care of his or her fellow man. The group comes before the individual, and people are mainly oriented towards common goals and objectives. Negotiation is often carried out by teams, who may withdraw in order to consult with reference groups. Discussion is used to reach consensus.

Often, individual orientation is seen as typical of modern society, whereas more group based cultures are associated with traditional societies.

Specialists, experts or lower-level employees may have significant authority during negotiations with third parties.

Although in German companies, important decisions tend to be made within groups, individual representatives may often hold comprehensive authority in negotiations with third parties. An appropriate specialist lower down the hierarchical scale also often conducts negotiations with third parties and makes decisions that are then countersigned by more senior managers. Negotiating teams often consist both of senior managers and subordinates who have a more detailed technical knowledge. While the senior person holds the ultimate decision-making power, the subordinate's opinion may be very influential with regard to the outcome.

Contracts are based on the principle of Treue und Glauben (literally loyalty and trust).

This principle demands that both sides of a business transaction behave in a reliable and well-meaning way. Apart from having legal force in courts, this principle expresses a more general German belief that the two parties in a business deal carry a moral obligation not to renege on the commitments they have made. Germans generally put great stress on written agreements, and this stress on honoring one's agreements is thus complemented by a more general expectation that one will behave in a socially responsible manner. The opportunistic cancellation of a deal, even if not going against the literal agreement, is thus seen as a serious breach of confidence and as undermining the general standards of trustworthy behavior.

Although negotiations are done by individual representatives, final decisions are discussed with the whole group.

Important decisions, in most German companies, are made by groups. Individual representatives may hold significant authority in negotiations with third parties. However, supervisors have the final decision-making power.