typically german; – Anja Spohr, Belinda Villbrandt und Gastautoren

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Artikel der Kategorie August, 2011

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.


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.”

Work councils

August 26, 2011 Von: Anja Spohr Kategorie: Working in Germany Noch keine Kommentare →

In Germany there are so-called workers representatives in companies of all stripes. For the protection of their colleagues works councils exercise their legally defined right for active participation and codetermination.  Thus, business decisions are influenced, either by the required approval of the works council when hiring a new employee or transfer of employees or by the necessary strategic actions with employee representatives. In total several co-determination and information rights of the works councils needs to be observed, especially if you are planning changes in the organisation, no matter if they are small or large.  At this point we like to give some more insights.

Types and Characteristics

There are various types and characteristics of work councils in Germany: local councils, joint works councils, group staff councils and across the European borders, you can find the European Works Council. There are cooperative and constructive competing works councils, union faithgul works, the “Red Socks”, the power players and the preventers- and certainly many other characteristics and intersections.

Why work councils?

A company has the possibility of having a staff association, but it does not have to.

The historical background in a few words: As internal stakeholders of employees staff associations were already present in German companies during Weimar Republic. A first law was enacted in 1920: the staff association law. In 1952 the “Betriebsverfassungsgesetz” has been enacted and has been adapted in 1972. Also today this law is the foundation for the staff association’s work (see: http://www.gesetze-im-internet.de/betrvg/index.html).

Another law from which rights for the staff association are educed is the “Employment Protection Act”.

This may already be the beginning of the end of a trustful cooperation. Because you will not prevent the implementation of the work council, if the stone had been set rolling.
A responsible council knows itself about the law and its rights and obligations. He also knows his business very well, knows that the core competencies are and how employees can best be integrated into business processes. Such an advantage can be used by an entrepreneur or a manager very constructively.

It would be the best, if you include your work council as a spokesperson in both directions:
• as a transmitter of messages or questions from colleagues or
• as a supporter of communicating relevant information within the company
Such kind of cooperation automatically requires that you inform each other timely notice of significant developments. It promotes dialogue and benefits for both sides,  employees as well as management.


If nothing works
Quite often we hear in Germany from international colleagues that works councils prevent entrepreneurial successes and that developments do not precede fast enough by its influence. This assessment is certainly sometimes true, but there are also plenty of examples of constructive cooperations between works councils and management. If cooperation with the work council is not going well, it is not only a fundamentally oppositional behavior due to the council’s work. And if you look closely often the statement: “Every company has the council that it deserves” is very appropriate. This also means that the relationship between the parties is always a result of mutual intercourse. That is often forgotten. So if the situation seems stuck, you should certainly also sometimes try to do something unusual: Talk.

“It is the crisis which has shown how companies benefit greatly from the fact that there are dedicated and responsible works councils, which represent on an equal footing with employers, flexibly and with great care the interests of the workforce. Without the involvement of works councils, Germany would not have survived the crisis so well. If there were not works councils the German economy would not be so powerful. “
Dr. Ursula von der Leyen, German Federal Minister of Labour and Social Affairs


August 26, 2011 Von: Anja Spohr Kategorie: Living in Germany Noch keine Kommentare →

The beginning

It is a shame the most unpleasant part of your “Germany Adventure” takes place right in the beginning: the organization of documents and the handling of formalities.

Try to negotiate with your boss to get a help from a professinal relocation-agency.  That gives a relief and saves much time.

But of course it does also work without your employer’s support. You just need to be well prepared, some things need to be provided before your arrival in Germany.

One of the most spread prejudices about Germany is, that it is very bureaucratic. Right. Like it, or not, you cannot change it. And attached to a reasonable bureaucracy are lots of forms and documents. So, it is much better to deal with the imagination of writing a lot and sitting in never-ending isles for ages, at an early stage.


But, keep in mind that we do not do that to harm you, but to keep everythin in good order…

There is another prejudice you will see to be confirmed: there is potential of development regarding the politeness and service orientation in German authorities. But do never give up, we are working on that!

Who needs what?

Depending on your home country, you need to fill in varying forms.

    1. Visa:  EU citizens and some other nationalities do not need a visa for their entry in Germany. If you do need one, you need to apply for it in your home country (visa are basically never issued in Germany). Find more information on http://www.auswartiges-amt.de//.
    2. Application: Your local registration office is expecting your visit within one week after your arrival to sign in your new place of residence. Find more information on http://www.meinestadt.de/ .
    3. Green card: If you want to stay in Germany longer than 3 months, you need a green card (even as an EU citizen).  After your registration, you file your residence authorization at the responsible aliens department. Concerning this also look at: http://www.duesseldorf.de/auslaenderamt/index.shtml
    4. Work permit: After having received your green card, you are able to file a work permit: http://www.arbeitsagentur.de/nn_8942/Dienststellen/RD-N/Kiel/AA/01-AA-Seiten-nach-Navigation/o2-Unternehmen/AGS/A-AGS-39-Arbeitsgenehmigung.html . EU citizens do not need a work permit.

    Before your departure to Germany you should check if you need one of the following documents and should get them if you ‘don’t have them yet:

–          Valid passport for the entire stay in Germany

–          Certificate of Enrollment or a copy of your application form

–          Confirmation of your funds to cover the life expenses in Germany

–          Visa (no tourist visa)

–          Original and certified translations of your birth certificate, your graduation and further academically qualifications. You get this certifications in German embassies or consulates

–          Certification of your health insurance. Students from the EU need an European health insurance card.

–          Vaccination card (if you own one). As a precaution you should get information in the German embassy or a consulate, if you need special vaccinations for your arrival in Germany

–          International driving license, if you want to drive in Germany (EU citizens do not need one).

As if this was not deterrent enough, it unfortunately appears often, that the immigration and residence regulations in Germany change from time to time. So please inform yourself in German embassies, consulates, aliens departments und the German Foreign Office (http://www.auswaertiges-amt.de/).  A lot of time and patience is required, because the  high number of inquiries.  Reaction rate often is not as good as it could be. However, please never abandon.

Telephone in Germany

August 26, 2011 Von: Theda Eilers Kategorie: Living in Germany Comments Off on Telephone in Germany


Calling someone? Find out how to do it best.

Meanwhile in Germany there is a variety of mobile operators. Owning a mobile phone is part of everyday normality for most people. It makes is much easier to communicate, especially if they travel frequently or have a lot  to organize at the beginning of your stay.

No matter if it is the forwarder of the furniture delivery, the broker or the car-dealer, you are well advised with the so-called “Handy”.  Increasingly the fixed line connections or the house telephones are replaced by the mobile phones.

Additionally, sending sms-messages has become really popular. Within seconds a date is called off, or the flat mate is asked whether you have to buy low-fat or full cream milk for him. However, even in business world SMS are not that uncommon any more.

For people who “heavy user”, providers offer contracts with special pay scales or special flatrates. Usually you should always inform yourself about the cancellation period before signing the contract.

Telephone providers always act very customer oriented when doing solicitation or the conclusion of the contract. But after the contract has been signed, this service orientation may disapear.

Usually terminating of the contract is the best way to deal with dissatisfaction concerning services or rates. The consequence of that is initial friendliness towards customers, to rebound backsliding customers.

Dangers of a contract, for example to quickly lose track of fees, are banned best with a prepaid card which can be recharged quickly at petrol stations or kiosks.

Since it is quite expensive to call an operator to find out the required phone number, it can be an alternative  to look it up on the internet, e.g. at http://www.dasoertliche.de/. This is a free alternative to expensive and time-consuming phone calls to the information. There also is the opportunity to download a phone book app for your smartphone which allows you to find the required number easily and quickly.

For long-distance calls, there are several possibilities, e.g. using “Skype”. After a free registration at the instant messaging provider, you have the opportunity to make calls both from computer to computer or even from computer to landline or mobile phones. These calls are charged with a small fee.

The only things which are required for a telephone call via Skype are a headset or a mobile phone with the Skype Application.  Depending on your mood there also is the possibility to use the video function and see your partner on a Web camera. Also for teleconferences Skype is used more frequently.

However audio interferences can be caused when the computer is overloaded. But nevertheless an occasionally appearing random noise is accepted due to the lack of cost.

Another way to make calls conveniently offers the Website http://www.peterzahlt.de/. Without any prior notice you type in your own age and telephone number and the person you want to call, presses “Kostenlos telefonieren” (=Free phone)  and only a few minutes later your telephone rings and connects you to your partner. You may find it a little inconvenient, that these calls are limited to  30 minutes per call.

For international calls, it makes sense to use the Internet. However, there are also some mobile phone providers that offer special rates for overseas calls. Therefore it is good to inform yourself in different shops and to compare the offers.

House hunting

August 22, 2011 Von: Anja Spohr Kategorie: Living in Germany 1 Kommentar →

How do I start?

No more sitting in a café on an early Saturday morning, reading the recently bought weekend edition of a local daily newspaper, frantically searching the apartment ads for a suitable abode. These times are definitely long gone. Today you just open your laptop and look around the internet. On sites like http://www.immobilienscout24.de/ or http://www.immowelt.de/ you find a comprehensive range of rental apartments, condominiums and houses.

The range is extensive and you should always be clear about the following:

–          Where exactly do I want to live (rural or urban)?

–          What do I really need in my neighborhood (shopping, nature, pubs, etc.)?

–          Do I prefer old or new building?

–          Do I need a parking space or is there enough parking in the residential area?


Most estates of all kinds are offered by brokers, but also in case of successful mediation a commission becomes due. Usually the brokerage fee lies once again between two and three monthly net rents. Would be great if your new company pays for it. The rental fee is usually composed of the amount for the base rent and the utilities (heating, water, house cleaning, etc. ). Costs for electricity and telephone connection need to be counted on top.

The first impression

If you have identified a suitable object and have agreed to an appointment with the property manager, owner or the broker, it often is the moment of truth when you enter the door. Not just because you might notice that you are not the only potential tenant:  In some cases it happens that you do not see much of the apartment but that you gain the impression that the appointment is a well-attended party in broad daylight. It might be a good idea to bring a person you trust, because two heads are better than one – also in the survey of state housing.  And if the flat is advertised to be “Renovated” , it does not always mean that it looks the way you want it to.

The kitchens in apartments often include only a sink and a stove, sometimes they even are models from the good old days..

So do not be surprised if you need to purchase a fully equipped kitchen before you move. Look closely with what type of heating your flat the flat is equipped (you will find air conditioners in the rarest cases) and whether it has a basement or attic space.

If it can be arranged, try to get little information about your prospective neighbors – ideally by the previous tenant, who usually does not have reasons to fool you.

The decision

Usually a standard form for the lease is used. Before signing this, it is quite common that the hirer asks for an income statement. This is normal. The contract includes a reference to the “House Rules”, and thus your rights and obligations as a new housemate (cleaning the stairs, behavior in the laundry room, rules for bicycles and strollers in the hallway and the like), and also regulates the period of notice.

By the way, it is a nice, traditional German way to give bread and salt for moving into the new home. These were regarded to be precious food, standing for prosperity and settled community for centuries. And that is exactly what we want for you in your new home!

7 Rules for Succeeding in the German Office Environment

August 22, 2011 Von: Belinda Villbrandt Kategorie: Working in Germany Noch keine Kommentare →

We need discipline, tidyness and concentration.  Pull yourself together and focus on the real important things in the German office environment. The 7 rules are not only just rules. They are law.Survival plan, key to a complex, well-regulated world of German working culture. Only this counts, not more and not less.

The 7 Rules for Succeeding in the German Office Environment

1. Everything used to be better.

You cannot enrich your meetings enough with your opinion about how things not only used to be better, but the current status quo is also perfectly fine. You will be surprised how popular you will become among your colleagues in only a few minutes! And all of them will want to share your pursuit of continuance.

2. “We really need to document that!”

You should always request for minutes to be taken. By doing this, you have the possibility to file casual comments made in meetings and to dig it out again, when it is needed 10 years later.

Furthermore you should never ever forget to challenge everything! It is very important to know everything about every little fact. This must be done before making any kind of decision.

3. No pain, no gain

Let everyone in your office know how hard you are working! You push yourself to the limit, work hard, much longer and more than is demanded, and even at home you spend your evenings thinking about the recent problems. Leaving on time? Just as an exception! Applying yourself is a case of honour. All-rounders, who are both successful and easy-going are cause for suspicion!

4. Keeping order is what life is about

Stick to the rules! Clean up your desk several times a day, but never let it looking empty. Prepare a will ordered filing system (see Rule #2). Keep yourself updated on rules and regulations. Stick to break times and office hours. Be on time for meetings. Prepare yourself thoroughly for the topics on the agenda. Create checklists. There are so many obvious ways to create a sense order.

5. Look for the hair in your soup

In the rare case you are commended for your work, please pay close attention to whether or not the comment is connected with a critical undertone. If that is not present, point out a few yourself! Be sure to mention the many difficulties and that this is definitely not the optimal solution and that of course it was very hard work. (See point 3). And should someone offer anything, e.g. to help prepare for an event, take special care of your own best interests and be sure there is no hook attached.

6. Pass the buck!

Changes are always being made. First, reveal that “the new” is not new for you and that it has already been tried before AND that the attempt was not very effective.

Old wine in new skins. If your complaints only fall on deaf ears, it is the best to encourage others to become a bit more active. Remember, none of this is new to you!

7. “I’m only defending my rights!”

Naturally, there are obligations at work, but also a lot of rights. And many times it is very clear where the one or other person places the most emphasis. Jump in their misery boat in a timely manner, if what they represent is how hard everyone is working, the kind of injustices all are suffering, who gets overlooked and underpaid and most importantly, how privileges are being distributed. If you don’t, the others will.


Presumably, not all the necessary rules for the workplace have been listed. Please feel free to add your own personal rules! We look forward to seeing what other examples of German office etiquette our blog users will come up with…