Germans are uneasy with uncertainty and ambiguity. They like to analyse problems in great depth before reaching a conclusion and are uncomfortable with feelings or hunches in the business setting.
In-depth, long-term planning is both expected and respected. Such planning helps, in large measure, to shape the future.
The greatest amount of respect is due to the person with the greatest depth of technical merit. Therefore, education is highly prized.
Once decisions have been made, everybody is expected to carry them out without question, regardless of their agreement or disagreement with the original decision.
The boss is expected to know his/her subject and gives clear leadership. As there is a strong respect for authority, subordinates will rarely contradict the boss in public.
Outbursts of emotion in the workplace (anger, frustration etc.) are seen as signs of weakness and lack of professionalism.
Employees expect to be given precise, detailed instructions regarding specific tasks, but then expect to be left to carry them out without undue interference or supervision.
Relationships between bosses and subordinates tend to appear somewhat formal.
Appraisal systems are difficult to implement. Germans are expected to perform their tasks professionally and correctly. Why should positive feedback be necessary?
German companies tend to be hierarchical and departmentalised. Each department seems to guard its power base and information is expected to flow through proper channels.
Teams built across hierarchical lines tend to be difficult to arrange and manage as they interfere with the normal structures and rules.
Meetings tend to be formal, unless on a one-to-one basis. If you want to find out opinions, possible trends of thinking etc., it is often more successfully done in an informal one-to-one meeting.
Germans will usually arrive extremely well-prepared-for meetings with all the facts and figures at their disposal. The idea of attending an important meeting with no firm opinion would be quite unusual.
The truth does not lie in a compromise or middle ground between two conflicting ideas. Compromising can be seen as weakness, diffidence or uncertainty.
It is better to say nothing than to comment on topics about which you have no particular knowledge or expertise.
Internal information flow is top-down on a need-to-know basis. It is expected that superiors are better informed than others are.
More reliance is placed on the printed than the spoken word and it is always important, therefore, to put information, decisions etc. in writing.
Humour is generally out of place in the workplace. You should certainly avoid humour in all difficult or important business situations. However, when socialising with Germans you will find that they are as keen to enjoy themselves as you are.
Punctuality is important – do not be guilty of stealing time.
Germans may seem extremely formal – even amongst themselves. This over-formality is a sign of respect as is using the formal Sie and Herr or Frau with people they may have known for many years.
Written and Produced by Keith Warburton
Germany continues to retain its position as the driving force of the European economy. It holds a pre-eminent position within the massive economic and political block that is the European Union and it shows no signs of relinquishing its position of leadership and power anytime soon.
Possibly aided by a weakened Euro, Germany is the archetypal successful modern economy with a massively effective export engine at its core. German engineering and ingenuity finds its way to all corners of the world with those exports competing from a quality angle rather than on a price basis. Whatever Germany is doing, however it is doing it – it is extremely successful and, therefore, well worth studying.
On the flip side, Germany is also a highly attractive market for your products and services and if you are not currently doing business in Germany you should certainly consider doing so. Germany has a large sophisticated consumer base with high levels of disposable income and a large manufacturing base looking for components, inspiration and expertise.
One of the keys to success when doing business in Germany is an ability to understand German business culture and the profound impact that the local business culture has when interacting with German colleagues or clients. Lack of preparation could cost you dearly; inattention to detail could result in lost opportunities. Do your homework before engaging in Germany – it’s a must.
This country profile provides an overview of some of the key aspects of German business culture in a concise, easy to follow-format. The document includes information on: