“Germans enter into an agreement only after they have gathered all of the relevant information up-front. In the U.S. business context, however, speed and rapid reaction time are critical success factors. How can we reconcile the two approaches?”
First: explain to your German colleagues as often as possible how mission-critical rapid reaction time – speed – is in the U.S. business context. Use concrete examples how speed led to new business, to profitable business, to business growth. It is not enough to simply repeat how important speed is in the U.S. market. Provide examples of wins and losses, and the role reaction time played.
Second: always acknowledge the rightness and legitimacy of the German logic. Honor the strengths of the German approach of gathering all relevant information up-front in order to decide whether to make a commitment. Remember, when German commit, they commit. They will do their absolute utmost to live up to their commitments.
Third: discuss with them, as partners, how you can together reconcile the two strengths – American speed with German reliability.
For example, ask your German colleagues what information they need up-front in order to commit to an early-stage piece of a commitment. In other words, break down a larger commitment into pieces or stages. Then move, together with your German colleagues, stage for stage. Do not be shy about asking them what kinds of information are critical vs. nice-to-have.
In addition, always give your German colleagues a sense for the risk involved when breaking down a commitment into smaller pieces. The American logic of breaking down complexity into its component parts – see CI’s content on the topic Persuasion – then focusing only on the key parts, is their way of not only maintaining focus, but also of managing risk.
Compared to Americans, Germans are risk-averse. When coaxing your German colleagues to move faster, for example, by asking them to make mico-commitments, provide them with your assessment of risk. Simply say:
“Look, colleagues, we’re breaking this commitment with the customer, or potential customer, into smaller commitments. This allows us together to move faster, while at the same time reducing risk. What (truly critical) information do you need from us in order to enter into this micro-commitment?”
Fourth: this may sound not only counter-intuitive, but also potentially dangerous for business, but do your best to manage the time expectations of your customers or potential customers. Americans are too speed-oriented. Rapid reaction is often unnecessarily important. The importance of speed is often a result – a bad result – of poor planning, of nervousness, of allowing oneself and one’s team or project to be driven faster than necessary.
Yes, it takes real courage to say to the customer: “We can hit that date. But frankly, if you will be patient, if you will give us a bit more time, we will deliver even better results than you are expecting. How critical is the due date you are requesting to your needs? Please be patient with us.
We mean this respectfully, but isn’t it often better to receive great results a little bit later than less-than-great results quickly? We want to be fully in synch with your schedule, but we also need to coordinate with our colleagues in Germany. Would it possible to sit down and do into a little more detail about your schedule pressures, and the parameters within which we are operating?”