Recently, an intern we know confessed that it was hard for him to get to know people in his primarily-German company because people didn’t dress to express themselves individually. Sounds odd at first, but hear us out. Everyone in his office was very concerned about ‘dressing the part’ and coming across as a generic polished business person. He was accustomed to the more American way of outward individual expression, through the use of color (or purposeful lack of), patterns (or solids), or…well, anything but the traditional suit and tie. It took him forever to learn who everyone was because to him, everyone seemed like carbon copies of everyone else.
In Germany, ‘business pedigree’ is important. Before a major meeting happens, respective parties want to know who they are meeting and what makes these people important. Are they on the same business level? Is this going to be worth my time? The typical German business person wants to know that whomever they are making the time to meet and do business with has ample experience and authority within their company. How a person presents herself and the resume she can offer is crucial in German business interactions.
Go ahead and picture what would happen if, in what has become the norm in America, a young, slightly-disheveled-but-in-a-charming-way, man with a tattoo across his knuckles and an incomplete college career was to walk in the room. He wants to talk to them about investing in his technology company because he has proof of a solid and lucrative business endeavor. Regardless of the validity of his claims, he would be seen as a joke. Could this man who clearly can’t take care of himself properly possibly know how to take care of a business? “Errmmm, no,” would be their answer.
But, as Bill Gates and every person featured in Inc. Magazine has proved, pedigree doesn’t necessarily make the business person in America.
In an attempt to lessen these inevitable cultural shocks, we invite our German colleagues here in America to remain open-minded when it comes to accepting and attending meetings with new people. Just because someone isn’t the CEO of a well-established company doesn’t mean that this person isn’t an authority on his topic of expertise. And just because this person was a health volunteer in Mali for eight years before switching to intense computer coding last year, it doesn’t mean he isn’t the absolute best at what he does.
You’ll find talent in the most unusual places. Don’t let the business title or the Hawaiian shirt fool you.
We would like to extend our thanks to the AHK USA LinkedIn group for their input on this entry. In response to a question about observed cultural differences, Rick Farris gave us the idea for this topic. Thanks Rick!