typically german; – Anja Spohr, Belinda Villbrandt und Gastautoren

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Artikel der Kategorie ‘Real life Experience’

Promised land of Service – omote nashi (1)

November 08, 2011 Von: Anja Spohr Kategorie: Real life Experience 1 Kommentar →

Unfortunately this is not Germany – it’s Japan. Nevertheless we put this article here….

If you have travelled to Japan, you might agree with me: service orientation in Japan is more than overwhelming. A little different from service experiences in Germany….It may happen to you, that you sit in a bus which is supposed to bring you from a Japanese Hotel in Düsseldorf to Frankfurt Airport (yes, still in Germany), and the Japanese employee, who welcomed you in perfect German, treats you like a First Class passenger. I travelled economy class, but anyway. The same Japanese employee will then bid farewell by bowing and waving and I asked myself again: what is going wrong with our German service attitude? Language does not seem to be the prime factor to practice “omote nashi” (1).

This of course does not mean this is not possible in Germany, no way. I have also experienced very good customer service in Germany as well. And every time I have been surprised again. What I am trying to say is: it is not a matter of course.

Back to Japan: this positve service experience was complemented with an in time departure of the plane. I enjoyed a very considerate service and support thouthout the entire flight. This time performed by a German stewardess, but of course she worked for a Japanese company. That gives hope: we are able and willing! At least if  we are not hindered by culture and circumstances.

A couple of additional examples enhanced the outstanding service experience during my stay in Japan.  One was a taxi driver, who helped another taxi driver with my heavy luggage. The one who received the support was my taxi driver, the other one was waiting for the next customer. As a German customer I could ask: why is he doing this?  Another one was a lady in a visitor center south of Kyoto: only a second after I entered the visitor center she approached me with a booklet in English to explain the exhibition, even before I could think about it. She also immediately showed me where and how I could get the free green tea. Excuse me?

All these phantastic experiences were crowned, when my trip to Tokyo was stopped by a strong Taifun. The Shinkansen [2] stopped suddenly in the middle of nowhere. After 5 hours of waiting (with regular translation updates from a Japanese fellow passenger), we reached a small train station close to the ocean. Another fellow passenger asked if I needed a Hotel room and what price would be ok for me. This friendly gentleman and his colleague helped me to find the way to the Hotel they booked for me, again asked if I would like to join them for dinner, we found some other passengers to join for dinner on the way and had a very funny evening. I failed inviting them as this is not the Japanese way to treat guest: so I was invited as I had such a bad luck with my journey and I did not have further questions.

Cut. When a customer enters a shop to buy some stuff for dinner, greets the sales people, who reply this with the remark, that if the customer may want some fresh cold cuts, this would be very unfortunate as the cutting machine has been cleaned alredy and it is 7 o’clock in the evening and the store closes at 8 o’clock…… you are back in Germany. We can learn a lot.

[1] Omote nashi = Japanese way of service orientation

[2] High speed train in Japan

An American Managers‘ experience in Germany (Joe Canterbury, Starbucks Coffee Deutschland)

August 26, 2011 Von: Anja Spohr Kategorie: Real life Experience Noch keine Kommentare →

My name is Joe Canterbury. For almost 11 years now I work for Starbucks Coffee in variable roles. I like to talk about the time living and working in Germany as the leader of the German Starbucks business.

 

My experience managing a business in Germany encompassed many things that other American or global managers could expect to encounter managing in Germany, but it was also unique for two reasons:

  • I had prior experience working in Germany (circa 4 years with Daimler in the 90s) and could speak German – albeit quite rusty and
  • I was there during the height of the Global Financial crisis and low point for Starbucks global and Starbucks Germany. The first reason meant that I had the advantages of perspective, direct communication ability and realistic expectations of working and living in Germany, while the second reason resulted in extraordinary and unforeseeable circumstances and ultimately a short tenure – plagued by challenging restructurings and unexpected deep insights into employment law in Germany.

My  expectations  vs. reality

Because of my prior experience and the reality of Starbucks global culture, which had taken root in Germany, I expected certain communication styles and cultural norms that would not be as strict or pronounced as what I experienced working for Daimler. However, I also knew it would be quite different from other Starbucks organizations in US or the heavily UK/US influenced Amsterdam office.  Generally, I expected

  • A certain soberness and seriousness, with little humor
  • A less formal and bureaucratic form of communication than what I experienced in Daimler, but one that would still be reserved, cautious and more rigid than elsewhere
  • A tendency to overanalyze and discuss issues too long;  ” analysis by paralysis”, but more of a strategic and structured mindset than in other Starbucks organizations
  • A very deflated team due to business challenges and past restructuring and a team that would be very skeptical of me – a non German- coming in as somewhat an outsider
  • Store employees to be deflated, disengaged and somber.

I had an advantage already having worked in Germany.  Nevertheless, there were some surprises – positive and negative; some cultural and some related to the extreme circumstance – above all else, having to immediately plan and execute an unexpected restructuring, including many lay-offs of people who I had not even met.

What I liked for example was the  informal and non-deferential communication (not” Herr Canterbury”, not “Sie”), high energy and an openness to provide honest feedback – beyond what I may actually here in US or other markets, where there is a tendency to paint everything in too positive a light and avoid being seen as critical.

I found it difficult throughout my time to judge if I was able to effectively communicate key messages and establish trust and enough credibility. Part of this was because of the painful re-structuring work  I had to lead, but culturally I also found it hard to read faces that often showed little emotion or response and voices that were often quiet .  It was easier to pick-up more in smaller groups, where employees felt more comfortable speaking up and I did a few of these sessions, along with trying to connect 1:1 with many colleagues.  The one: connections helped, but they were more difficult to forge in a meaningful way because of some real cultural barriers.  These included;

  • My own challenge in expressing myself well in German.
  • My lack of knowledge of some many things those are relevant and topical to many young Germans.  I did not know – albeit more than most Americans-much about the sports, politics, local events and issues.  I did not grow up there and I missed much of the small talk and attempts at humor.
  • The natural and desired separation between work and personal life in Germany – which is more rigid than in the US – exceptions always existing.

Some things proved to be very challenging and were completely new to me. Examples were:

  • Having to lay people off in Germany.  This is rare and hard to do in Germany and I knew this at some level, but the challenge was grater than I expected and I never anticipated that I would have lawsuits against from some of the impacted employees.
  • Dealing with the Works Council  (Betriebsrat);  Although I understand the concept from prior experience, I was shocked to realize that individuals were paid full time to just be a BR member and spent minimal time actually working for us. More over, some of the leaders were quite hostile and juvenile, which absorbed a lot of energy. The best way to deal with this is be a great employer and treat people as they deserved to be treated, but also have effective channels for managing communication with disgruntled employees and challenging BR members.

The Leadership Team: I thought they would be skeptical of an American with no Operating experience coming into the role.  I found some of this true, but the story was different with each individual.  Generally, I was pleased to see an openness to accept and support me and I felt that a level of trust was established with many fairly soon – partly due to the extraordinary situation we went through, which I tried to handle in an equitable and reasonable way – with much support from my HR director.   I was pleasantly surprised to see the level of therapeutic humor with a few key members and a commitment to help me lead us through these challenges

Practical hints for other international Managers

Key things for any International manager to be aware of when taking on a leadership role in Germany:

  • Generally, Germans communicate in a very different style than Americans or Brits.  They are much more serious, formal (especially older Germans), careful and quite thorough in their written and oral communications.
  • More analytical and strategic.  They think things through and pride themselves on showing this.  This is good, but can be too much of a good thing when quick decisions are needed to react to a quickly changing market.
  • Germans are much more critical and skeptical than Americans and do not like hype spin and empty rhetoric that just sounds good. They want content, proof and logic and will challenge hard the lack thereof. Avoid just “winging it” or embellishing. They want it factual, clear and unemotional
  • Many Germans see Americans as being too superfluous, superficial and loving to talk big – but lacking substance and strategy. It is important to know this going in.
  • Don’t ever try to take away the cars!  Many stereotypes exist for good reasons – they are true.    I was reminded that Germans truly are car loving and driving fanatics. While trying to cut costs, I wanted to do away with or at least heavily limit company cars (refusing to take one myself), but this was met more resistance than pay cuts would have.  Even in the midst of a crisis, many employees – and good ones – would complain about the lack of luxurious whistles and bells. Something I found incredible.

Summary

Now that I am back in the US for over a year now, I think…..

  • Was it a personal success?  Yes and no. It was good to live in Germany again and to freshen up my German in an intense work environment and the work situation gave me opportunities to grow and really challenge myself.
  • What remains?  I learned a lot about managing a team during a crisis in the midst of a broader corporate crisis and about managing a fully cross-functional team. I gained overall valuable experience sitting in the Managing Director seat and I learned more about the true nuts and bolts of the business.
  • What did I take away / strong memories?   Knowing something or someone from a far as very different than up-close.  I had to learn much more much faster than I had ever expected.  At the same time an up-close relationship can look different from afar. When the pressure is extreme and ships are sinking, behaviors and approaches really change.”