“Here in U.S. the customer is at the center of what we do. Our German colleagues do not think that way. They actually say: ‘You need to stand up to the customer re: what they need and how they should buy from us.’

Our response: ‘No, we are customer-centric. We cannot do that.’ The German response is then: ‘Tell the customer that they should just try our product. They will like it.’

It comes down to who customers want to work with. Coming in cold, calculating, factual, analytical does not work with Americans. Every relationship is personal first. How can we get our German colleagues to understand this?”

“Please respond quickly”

“How can we ask our German colleagues to respond more quickly without annoying them?”

Explain to your German colleagues what time looks like in the specific situation. Lay out the cause-and-effect relationships, i.e. if late by this much time, then this happens.

Prepare, and inform them about, contingency measures you will need to implement in order to react to the negative consequence of lack of speed.

Ask your German colleagues if there is anything you can do to help them to move faster. Offer suggestions on how you might be helpful in speeding things up.

Finally, and very importantly, reflect on your need for a speedier response from your German colleagues. Is speediness truly important? Who and/or what is driving speed as a priority? Is it a real or a perceived need? 

Is your customer – whether corporate-internal or -external – really demanding it? In fact, why not ask your customer? Do you have the courage to ask your customer what is truly important to them?

If you do not have the courage, why not? What kind of business relationship is it if you feel that you cannot ask such questions?

Perhaps there are good reasons for you to be patient and/or for you to ask your customer to be patient. Perhaps because you and they will receive a higher quality result from Germany. “Patience is golden” and “Haste makes waste.”

Response time

“In the U.S. market everything is done in a hurry. Shipments come from Germany. We in the U.S. want to know when the shipment will arrive. Germany: ‘I did my part, can’t help you.’

We have to chase down the shipment. Where is it in the process? Our minds explode. Germany: ‘Just trust the system.’ U.S.: ‘That is not an answer for us. Please, show me where it is in the process.’

How can we get our colleagues in Germany to respond more quickly to our needs?”

“Just trust the system” is the German way of saying: “Relax. Calm down. We’re working on it. Our internal processes function well.” American minds explode. It’s true. Those are not legitimate responses for Americans. Why?

Because German processes – the system – don’t work, don’t deliver results, don’t get shipments out in a timely manner? Maybe. But maybe not.

I’ll never tire of writing that Germany is the fourth-largest economy in the world, is the size of the US state Montana, and has only eighty million people. Which means that Germans do get shipments out, and on-time.

So, what’s at play here?

Well, possibly in this German company, in a particular division, the system is not delivering, cannot be trusted. Not all German companies, and not all divisions within German companies, are so-called hidden champions. Some, perhaps more than some, are simply slow, unresponsive, and bureacratic. “Our minds explode.”

But wait, it could also be that Americans don’t place much trust in processes. Relying on a process in crunch-time is never an option. Wait, what does that say about American processes?

And let’s keep in mind that cultures – i.e. USA and Germany – often have a different understanding of what urgent means.

Urgency is also related to the so-called magic triangle – price, quality, schedule -especially the importance of speed – “hurry” – in the American business context.

Country B loses customers

“Company based in Country A. Headquarters is in Country A. Manager is native of Country A. Manager is working in Country B, however. And customers are in Country B.

Headquarters makes product changes without input from countries. Customers in Country B do not like the product changes. Danger of losing customers. Manager escalates with Headquarters.

Response: ‘Customers in Country B are much smaller than those in Country A. Nothing can be done for customers in Country B. Manager has to accept.’ Result: Country B loses customers.

How can Manager in Country B best address this problem?”

First, let’s take a look at the context.


Headquarters has their goals. They are under pressure, too. They have to see the world from a global perspective, to see the big picture. Their goals are corporate goals. Among them maintaining consistency, control, overview. Across the regions.

Keep in mind that headquarters seldom understands the regions. And how could they? Headquaters staff typically have little to no experience working in a region. It is difficult for them to see things from the regional (country) perspective.

Often it is not a question of willingness to listen, but an ability to understand. So be patient with your colleagues in headquarters. They are asked to deal with all of the regions. Multilateral relationships. A complex task.


In one respect the regions have it a bit easier. They focus on their country only. And they interface with headquarters only. It is a bilateral relationship. However, they have to hit their numbers. They’re under pressure. Understandably they want headquarters to help, and not hinder, them.

Keep in mind that the regions seldom understand headquarters. And how could they? Regional staff typically has little to no experience working in headquarters. It is difficult for them to see things from the headquarter (global) perspective.

Often it is not a question of willingness to listen, but ability to understand. So be patient with colleagues in the countries. They are asked to bring in the business. They pay the salaries of colleagues in headquarters.

Tension is healthy

Tension between headquarters and countries is natural, unavoidable. It is reality. And reality is always good because it’s all we have. But the tension itself is good, positive, a source of strength. If, however, acknowledged, addressed, understood, and managed cooperatively.

Headquarters can, and should, constantly learn from the regions. A whole is made up of its components. No components, no whole. The components are the key to success.

The regions, on the other hand, can learn much and benefit from headquarters. HQ keeps them informed about overall strategy. The countries benefit from approaches which HQ has harmonized and streamlined.

Headquarters and the regions are dependent on each other. Neither cannot succeed without the other. They have no other choice but to enter into, maintain and deeper their dialogue, constantly.

Dialogue is a must

And that conversation is always based on – cannot work without – first understanding eachother.

Headquarters has no other choice but to constantly strive to understand the business in the individual countries. The countries have no other choice but to constantly work on understanding what drives headquarters, how HQ tries to hold the whole thing together.

And that dialogue involves: Who speaks with whom. About what. Why. With what concrete influence on strategies, processes, decision making. And a whole host of other questions.