Micro vs. Macro Goals

“I find my German counterpart likes to break down tasks into micro goals. I tend to keep macro goals in view but not bother recording the steps along the way. Is this cultural or just us?”

Yours is a question I have never been asked. Nor have I done any thinking about micro and macro goals, and whether there is a cultural difference between Americans and Germans. Let me take a spontaneous stab at it anyway:

It is actually one of the great American strengths to take complexity and break it down into its component parts, in order to focus on the essential, and to not waste time on the non-essential. Of course, what is essential and non-essential is in the eye of the beholder.

In contrast, it is one of the great German strengths to see – understand, grasp, penetrate – the specific as a part of the general … the particular as a part of the system. Germans instinctively look for the connections, interdependence, mutual influences among particulars.

Your German counterpart appears to break down complexity into its component parts, whereas you focus on the overall.

However, it could be that she/he has already gotten the overview, and is now addressing the particulars, the most important among them.

Can you be more specific about “my German counterpart likes to break down tasks into micro goals” … and about “I tend to keep macro goals in view but not bother recording the steps along the way”?

I don’t want to split hairs, but how do you distinguish between a task and a goal?

Don’t empower us

“Headquarters in Germany wants us to run our business, but they don’t empower us to do so. Frustration in the U.S. is significant: ‘Why am I in this team if our German colleagues are always negative about new ideas we propose?’

We Americans collaborate differently than Germans. When tasked with a job, we’re allowed to go and dig into it, then come back with recommendations, as a team.

Do the Germans respect us? What do they value? We never get anything back from them and when we do it’s always challenging questions. So we Americans sometimes ask ourselves: ‘Why are we here’?

How can we convince headquarters in Germany to truly empower us?”

Fear letting go

“There are a lot of benefits to doing product development regionally. But our colleagues in Germany are not open to that. Nothing is made in U.S. We buy internally from Asia or Europe. Why? The German fear of letting go. We had no other choice but to find a source in the U.S. Under the radar, of course. How can we convince our German colleagues to let go a bit of control?”

Who likes to let go of control?

Sincerely, folks, I can fully understand the perspective of headquarters in any company operating globally. All those regions, far away, foreign cultures, unfamiliar markets, colleagues who you may or may not trust as competent, constantly coming up with all sorts of half-baked ideas about how “the company can make a lot of money.”

Especially when it comes to product development. Remember, the German economy is the fourth largest in the world with only about 80 million people. And the strength, the core, of the German economy is their science and technology, in the end their products.

And what is at the core of a product? It’s development: science, engineering, manufacturing. Who wants to give up, or even share, that core?

Now, if you are sourcing within the company from other regions, then your German colleagues will have to react at some point. Because if that sourcing goes well – technically just as good as what comes out of Germany, and less expensive, and more flexible to the needs of your customers – well then Germany will have to respond to that company-internal competition.

So, let’s get back to the key issue here, which is product. Americans and Germans have different product philosophies, meaning how they respectively define what makes for a good product.

Get clarity on those differences. Perhaps your German colleagues would be more open to letting go of some of their control if they better understood what you are proposing.