The most American German

No worries, Bernd is the most American German, I’ve ever met.

So I was introduced at the plant in Enoree, near Greenville, South Carolina, when my predecessor announced the leadership change. I wasn’t there. An employee from this plant later told me this anecdote.

I was very excited when I became aware of my task. As global manufacturing leader for one business unit, I was responsible for eight plants worldwide. And two of them were in the US. A German supervising American employees in the USA in an American company. What a challenge!

I had internalized intercultural advice to German managers in dealing with American executives. Rule number 7 was immediately getting to my mind. “Treat your American boss like a 5-star general. Remember: the boss is the boss. If you are the boss, act like a (benign) 5-star general“.

And that’s how I wanted to approach it: Stay authentic. Understanding how the relations at the site work. Listen.

Before I started, I had thought a lot about it and prepared a strategy for my appearance:

✅ Convey to the plant manager that, of course, he manages his plant himself within the framework of the specified guardrails (objectives, strategy, purpose). I’m there when he needs me. He is always my first point of contact for all matters concerning his site. And I align it with him if I want to dive deeper into the site organization myself.

✅ Searching, challenging and promoting talent. Preferably and very gladly in personal contact with the junior manager and accompanying him/her in his/her development path. Of course, always with the knowledge of the respective site leader.

✅ Plan and use small talk topics. Because: Small Talk is Big Talk. Sport as a topic almost always works. In Greenville there was a Red Sox farm team. My early expatriate experience from Boston was very helpful because I understood the rules of baseball well. Personal topics from family life are also confidence-building measures. Making connections is the be-all and end-all.

And it actually worked. I have always built a personal bond with the employees at those sites, I was responsible for. Not only in the USA. I felt that I was very welcome during my visits and that the site’s employees were looking forward to it. And this feeling was mutual.

As you can read, “Welcome, Dr. Bernd Scharbert, the Boss”.

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