Cliché

A phrase or expression. Boring from much use. Not fresh or original. Something that has become overly familiar or commonplace. French, literally, printer’s stereotype, from past participle of clicher. (MerriamWebster)

Bureaucracy

1. Non-elected government officials. Administrative policy-making group. 2. Specialization of functions, adherence to fixed rules, hierarchy of authority. 3.A system of administration marked by officialism, red-tape and proliferation. From French bureaucratie: bureau desk and –cratie a kind of government. (MerriamWebster)

Constant Info Flow

Information: For a close collaborative effort between customer and supplier (consultant, vendor, etc.) to function effectively in the American business context a high level of communication between the two parties is essential. 

Information flow is guaranteed via short-term feedback between customer and supplier during the entire business relationship. This allow customers to modify their requests depending on changing situations.

Responsibility for Results

Results. Because the customer exerts such a certain level of control over the external expert (the how as well as the what), the expert is held accountable exclusively for the work dictated (ordered) by the customer. 

How the results might affect related areas within the client company remains the responsibility of the customer. Responsibility cannot exceed scope of work.

Collaborate

Collaboration: To work jointly with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavor; to cooperate with or willingly assist an enemy of one’s country and especially an occupying force; to cooperate with an agency or instrumentality with which one is not immediately connected. From Latin com- together + laborare to labor.

Input: Something that is put in; power or energy put into a machine or system for storage, conversion in kind, or conversion of characteristics usually with the intent of sizable recovery in the form of output; a component of production such as land, labor, or raw materials; information fed into a data processing system or computer; the means by which or the point at which an input (as of energy, material, or data) is made; the act or process of putting in.

Accountable: Subject to giving an account, answerable; capable of being accounted for; explainable.

Fine Line

To serve the customer is to deliver what the customer has ordered. No more, no less. Quickly. Precisely. Fulfilling the order. Full. Filled. Unless asked, a waiter does not discuss with the customers the wisdom of their choice from the menu.

To consult the customer is to enter into the decision making process, to co-discuss, to co-think. To discuss with, think with. Perhaps initially just as a sounding board. Then later as a provider of information, input, advice. At the highest level, acting independently, but in the spirit of the customer’s wishes.

Stages. From order-taker all the way to co-thinker and co-decider. Grades. Gradations. Graduation. Gradual. From serving to partnering with. And there is a fine line between each phase, at each transition.

If the lines are identified, understood and managed (walked carefully), the collaborator is graduated, “makes the grade.” If misidentified, misunderstood, therefore mismanaged, the collaborator is not graduated. The business relationship might be terminated.

Mandate

Mandate. Latin mandatum, task, job, order to do something for another; to represent another legally; an elected office to represent the voters.

A mandate is a broadly defined task where the service provider – consultant, attorney, architect, subject area expert – advises the client. The business relationship is not made up of small, individual tasks.

Instead, the service provider – the person who has been granted the mandate – serves, represents, and advises the client in a complex area involving many different kinds of issues and interactions.

Attorneys represent their clients in legal matters. Political office holders represent their voters. A mandate obligates the adviser to act in the interest of the client even without the client‘s expressed permission.

More than Just Business

A mandate is a serious matter in Germany. The client needs to think through and research carefully, which service providers are not only capable, but more importantly trustworthy.

Even though German law strictly defines the relationship between for examply an attorney or tax advisor and the client, the German client seeks a kind of special relationship over the long term, similar to one between a physician and a patient. For the German client its a matter of discretion.

And even when the advisor has significant decision making latitude, there is nonetheless constant dialogue and collaboration between the two parties. This is more than a typical business relationship. It is both business and personal. It is about representing the interests of the client in complex matters.

Both parties need to respect each other at a deeper level. They must be convinced that they can work together. Any kind of misunderstanding can lead to a difference of opinions, which potentially can allow mistrust to seep into the working relationship.

A political mandate is different. Although the office holder focuses on serving the interests of the voters, there is no personal relationship between them. The voters have to demand transparency in order to fully trust their elected office holder.

And because office holders have to represent the interests of many kinds of voters, there is a certain natural level of mistrust over and against her or him. If voters are dissatisfied, or have lost trust in the office holder, the political system enables them to end the relationship.

Taking on a mandate is a complex and delicate matter in Germany. In business as well as in politics.

Auftrag

Auftrag. A command, instruction, order, to complete a task, job, assignment; to order a product or service; an obligation, a duty. An Auftrag is given by a manager or a customer. The Auftrag indicates that someone will do something for another. An Auftrag can be rejected. They can be legally binding. An employee can assign herself an Aufgabe, but not an Auftrag.

Aufträge (plural of Auftrag) are foundational to any economy. Whether it is involves one colleague answering the email of another or one company building a production site for another, Aufträge are the lifeblood of commercial activitiy.

An Auftrag is at its core a request from a customer. Taking on the Auftrag signals that one will complete it to the best of their ability. The details are set in a purchase order or in a contract.

German companies report time and again that their Auftragsbücher, order books, are full, but that they cannot fulfill all of them due to a shortage of trained personnel, often technicians and engineers. Taking on an Auftrag is no guarantee that one can complete it.

This also means a certain degree of risk for the Auftraggeber (Auftrag giver), the customer, that the supplier will not supply the end product on the agreed upon date, or at the expected level of quality. In many ways it is also unimportant who completes the task. In contrast to an Aufgabe, an Auftrag is impersonal, business-like, unemotional. The relationship is all about the execution of the job. No more, no less.

A self-identification with the task is secondary. Only the final results count. Is the Auftrag completed, rejected or not doable, then it automatically no longer exists.

Aufgabe

Aufgabe. Task, job, project given to a person to complete.

An Aufgabe in Germany is a job one feels obligated to do to the best of their ability. More than completing the task, it is a personal matter, a question of professionalism and integrity. People can assign themselves an Aufgabe or have it assigned to them by a third party.

The Germans say Aufgabe für das Leben, a task for life; Sie müssen Ihre Hausaufgaben machen. You have to do you homework; Man wächst mit den Aufgaben. One grows with the tasks given to them; Eine zu große Aufgabe. A task too great.

It is important for Germans to have a clear separation of tasks, clear borders delineating who does what. It is considered to be a negative sign for a team when one German says to another: „I thought that was your job.“ Even worse is when a German employee does not have an Aufgabe or has too few Aufgaben.

This could be an indication that management doesn‘t regard all too highly that employee‘s capabilities. On the flip side, German employees often take on as many Aufgaben as possible. This is part ambition, part job security, part arrogance in the sense of being able to claim to their colleagues „That they have so much to do, so much more than the others.“

For Germans it is important to have important Aufgaben, to have a lot of Aufgaben, to complete them well.