Cross-cultural issues loom large in the AR teams of most multinationals, and there is an interesting discussion on whether the German offices of US firms are closer to the German culture than to the US culture.
That’s an interesting discussion, and one usefully illustrated by examples. For example, I recently visited the large German offices of a US multinational and had, quite seriously, the shock of the year. You might know that German businesses are normally rather formal: first names are rarely used and normally people use the the formal form of address, Sie (a rather like the formal ye we used to have in English, or like Vous in French). I was there with two German colleagues and told the receptionist who we were there to see. The receptionist calls up the senior manager we are visiting, and not only calls him du (the informal alternative to sie) but even calls him by his first name. It hard to explain the shock and amazement this produced in me and my colleagues. It’s like visiting our Queen, and footman picks up the phone to say ‘Yo Liz, your homeboy’s in da’ house’.
So clearly, culture in a company can be very different from the norm, and in various ways. For example I’d say that in most large US-owned technology companies in Germany that dress is pretty informal; few men wear ties. However, in most large German-owned technology firms in Germany dress is more formal; many men wear ties. There are other forms of this difference, but you get the idea.
Many German professionals would find it hard and unusual to work in an business where everyone uses her or his first name and used du with everyone. Of course many US-owned firms also prefer their German colleagues to write and speak fluent English. While many, if not most, Germans in the technology business understand some English most would not want to, or could not, use it as their working language for a large part of their workweek. So this means that there are a number of extra filters that give US firms a different recruiting pool. There’s actually some self-selection of candidates because not everyone might want to work for a US firm, especially because not every German aspires to work within their understanding of the US cultural and business values and working culture.
I’d also that this means that Germans working in internationally owned firms often work rather differently. When I directed analyst relations for Brodeur Worldwide, a Boston-headquartered firm, I was often surprised by how easily international teams worked together. With hindsight, I can see that my experience there was unusually positive, and the product of sustained hard work: Brodeur had slowly built up very explicit and extensive terms of engagement, and had a specially trained class of international project managers to lubricate relationships. However, the general trend remains, that Europeans who work for internationally-owned firms are generally better at adapting to the working habits of other countries.
That said, this does not undo the formal education of those professionals. German analysts in US-owned analyst firms, for example, tend to translate easily into an Anglo-Saxon working environment, but they still serve clients in the more rigourous and cautious German market. Having studied both in the US and in Germany, my experience is also that their higher and secondary education system is still less integrated and more focussed on correct process than is the norm in the Anglo-Saxon countries.
The bottom-line for AR managers is clear: even if German analysts working for US firms, speak, spell and act in more ‘American’ ways, their customers and training in reasoning are much more likely to need the similar depth of data and breadth of concept as those needed in German-owned firms.