“Würschteln vor sich hin”

Many Germans note, and sometimes complain, that Americans don‘t seem to take internal processes seriously enough. They‘re surprised to discover that for many Americans processes simply aren‘t a high priority. Americans „wurschteln vor sich hin“, which loosely translates into they „get the job done some way or another.“ The processes they do follow are neither well thought out, nor consistent nor particularly efficient.

From the German perspective, processes in the American business context are not used effectively enough as a management instrument. They wonder how complex companies can be managed if not with the help of processes.

A German engineer was in the U.S. as a long-term delegate. A capable guy, from Berlin, intelligent, focused, big fan of the Berlin soccer club Hertha BSC. And an open, honest person. We met just by coincidence. I was in town doing management training.

I asked how he was doing, what his first impressions were. He had been in the U.S. less than six months. „The processes here are a catastrophe. There really aren‘t any. A lot has been documented. The book cases are full of binders about processes and procedures. But they aren‘t lived in a consistent way. We‘re trying to clean it all up, put some system to it.“

Not results, but value of results

Such statements aren‘t unique. Germans sense time and again that Americans just don‘t put enough effort into reflecting on how they do the work. Germans often ask, but don‘t get a clear, black and white answer. Americans, from their German point of view, haven‘t mastered their craft. They don‘t reflect and analyze enough.

I think back on my initial sales calls within a very large German global company. It was in 2000, after having transitioned from the German Bundestag back into the business world. Sitting across from German managers I‘m asked to describe exactly what I do, and most importantly, how I do it.

Less so about the final results or the value of those results, more about: „Herr Magee, how do you proceed? What‘s the process step-by-step? Background interviews. Workshop design. Workshop execution. What are the topics? How do you address them? In what sequence? Why?“ Question after question.

What via How

The focus was on my method, on my work process. The discussions were exhausting, penetrating, analytical. The Germans gave very little feedback. But it wasn‘t uncomfortable or unfriendly. It was polite, respectful, almost caring about getting it right. The Germans want to do the right thing. Stated another way, do the thing in the right way.

Perhaps it had to do with the fact that my approach is for many new, different, a bit foreign. Perhaps in order to put my approach to work, folks need to first understand it, the what and the why.

“Würschteln vor sich hin”