German artisans

Germans believe that processes — how the work is done — is the key to success. Americans, however, favor relationships, or how to gain and retain customers.

By tradition, Germany is more a culture of artisans (Handwerkerkultur) than of traders (Händlerkultur). The Germans have always made things. And they believe that process — how the work is done — is the key to success. Good processes lead to good products, bad processes to bad ones.

One well-known German manager, Klaus-Hardy Mühdeck, the CIO of ThyssenKrupp, is even nicknamed the “process pope” and has changed his title to Chief Process Officer. Because processes govern the internal workings of a company, whoever has the say over process has the say over the company. Process is power. Germans want the power.

Scientific Management

Frederick Taylor was an American engineer from Philadelphia whose studies in the early 20th century had great influence on American industrial processes. His Principles of Scientific Management focused process standardization, systematic training and the definition of roles and responsibilities. It led to the term Taylorism.

Processes provide clarity

Processes provide clarity. They allow employees to concentrate on core activities. They lead to cost reductions by identifying and eliminating unnecessary work steps. Thinking in terms of processes – how the work should be done – strengthens conscientious work and allows for quality control.

Well documented processes are critical for orienting new employees. Processes make transparent, make understandable, each and every segment of complex work methods. They are the basis for optimization, for reducing mistakes, for root cause analysis of systemic errors. All of these benefits lead to increased product quality. Work processes, however, must be understood and accepted by those doing the actual work.

In Germany it is critical that processes do not take on the character of laws, but instead remain guidelines. German workers expect a certain level of freedom in terms of how they perform their daily tasks. Processes should not become a kind of straightjacket.

Definition of processes

Ein Prozess ist ein Satz von in Wechselbeziehung oder Wechselwirkung stehenden Tätigkeiten, der Eingaben in Ergebnisse umwandelt. A process is a set of activities which are interrelated, interdependent, influence each other mutually, and turn inputs into results.

The Bavarian Ministry for Commerce defines a process as: „The sequence of all activities which are linked with each other and convert inputs – based on customer requirements, legal boundary conditions, market demands – into a desired outcome.“

Simply put, a process is a set of work steps, which are sequenced logically, that have a beginning and lead to a specific desired outcome.

Craftsmanship

America history is made up of waves of immigration, the earliest ones bringing with them and maintaining the deep European tradition of craftsmanship. That focus on how the work is done – imbedded in what later became processes and procedures – gave way, however, to Taylorism, mechanization, mass production, and eventually to the outsourcing of manufacturing to low-wage countries.

That tradition – the European medieval guilds – craftsmanship, caring about how the work is done – is being reintroduced to the United States via its current reindustrialization. German companies, for example, are not only increasing manufacturing capacity in the U.S., they are importing their methods for training skilled workers. European, more precisely, German craftsmanship is returning to America.

Importance of price: No business culture gladly admits that price is a critical success factor. The U.S. business and consumer sectors are both strongly influenced by price. Americans buy and sell more on price than on craftsmanship.

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