by Hermann Kracke
Planungssicherheit - translated ‘planning reliability’, ‘planning dependability’ or actually I would say ‘a constant, insatiable desire to get a plan confirmed’ and - going without saying - strictly sticking to that plan along the way. A truly German ambition in my opinion and probably a mostly incomprehensible one in other parts of the world.
Planungssicherheit a German manager though never can have enough of.
Although flexibility also is a business buzz word in Germany which every HR department will be looking for in aspiring new trainees - people in this country actually dislike uncertainty and any form of vagueness deeply.
Time is money
Also ‘time is money’ and should be put to use as efficiently as possible. Planning time and tasks way ahead is therefore the generally accepted approach of any serious business undertaking here while leaving time and room for unpredictable developments is seen as unprofessional, a waste of time or even irresponsible.
The funny thing though: This perception of time and planning is not limited to business only.
The German word for spare time is Freizeit, i.e. free time - except that it does not exist. Not because we work so much and hard but because we Germans naturally also seek to use our leisure time in a highly efficient manner: Our hobbies, sports or fitness activities, most importantly friends and family time.
I can imagine how misplaced ‘efficient’ in this context may appear to some but I can’t help it have to confess: I, too, just love to make a plan.
In fact, I’m making plans all the time - for my career, travel destinations, how to spend my weekend but also what I will cook myself for lunch later today (actually I figured that out last night already). And, of course, I have also made a proper sketch of this article before I have begun writing.
Not that I could not stand going into a weekend I have not planned out completely but there is also the pleasant anticipation of things to come, so I cannot resist envisioning my plan blow by blow in my head.
Unknown territory on planet Germany
Obviously all this means inflexibility, expectations and sometimes sets the stage for disappointment. If a perception is as universal as time planning is in Germany, however, you better take it seriously.
You are right, even on planet Germany the future is largely unforeseeable and - more often than not - projects do not pan out the way you thought initially.
Your German business partner will usually still not be willing or prepared to start out into the blue with you though and adjust and iterate on the way.
What you will instead hear a lot is agenda, appointment, road map, schedule, overview and outlook and we do need all these to give structure and predictability to what our head knows is unpredictable but our hearts are somehow not equipped to accept.
Here is therefore what I recommend doing:
Three tested ways
#1: Do not disregard an agenda or schedule you receive. Be prepared that your German partner will expect you to move ahead with them as per their plan and - in a highly integrated partnership - hold you accountable for your responsibilities in the bigger picture - even if you feel that a production forecast figure which is still nine and a half months away in the future will today tell you so much only.
When things later do go wrong though or at least not as per plan - which they eventually will - it is your time to shine and be super-supportive.
Let your people fix it or better hit the ball out of the park while your partner still needs to rearrange and get his new priorities right.
Quicker than you think they will realize that your partnership can be a valuable resource, particularly at times of change - though this may not always be admitted by everybody openly. It will be noticed sooner or later.
#2: Do not hope that you will be able to renegotiate terms every couple of months once you are into a project.
If you have issues to state or add to an agenda or plan spell them out clearly when these are drafted and exchanged.
German managers do actually read such documents, they will probably even take a print out and pin them down at the wall of their office so that they can have a look at it every other day and check where they stand.
Put concerns you have on a to-do list in writing yourself and share it with them early on. Follow up on it in case you are not being heard right away.
It will be much better received to sort out issues in the initial stages than having to concede later on that envisaged targets can by no means be achieved.
#3: Do make appointments when you have to discuss a matter with your partner.
A spontaneous handshake over a cup of coffee will usually not happen short notice - not out of disrespect but because people here have their day so damn structured that it is just hard to get in between.
Don't be surprised if what they offer is another six or eight weeks away and your partner still suggests to arrange specific date, time and place for your meeting well in advance.
Germans simply feel more comfortable having weeks if not months scheduled beforehand.
The advantage of such appointments is that when it finally takes place and you show up at your agreed meeting point on time you will have your partner’s undivided attention.
Most Germans are used to focus on whatever they have planned to do - instead of looking at many different things at the same time.
Likewise, once a decision has been made and you yourself become a structural element of your partner’s plan he will not change his mind easily and throw it out again completely in a moment of stress or trouble.