Business Spotlight

Case study: Feedback

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The following comments are provided as food for thought. Different interpreta­tions are, of course, possible.

What issues relating to trust does Bernd identify? Bernd identifies all the elements in the “Trust Equation” (see p. 39) as part of the problem. First, he is concerned about the competence of the UK team to plan successful­ly, and about the credibilit­y of what they tell him. Second, the UK team is rather unreliable in his eyes, as their promises made in forecasts are often usually not met. Bernd also seems to feel that the UK team is not fully open with him and that their level of self-interest is high — both in terms of how the team tries to position itself internatio­nally and in the way the bonus system encourages individual­ism rather than collaborat­ion.

How accurate do you think Bernd’s interpreta­tion of the situation is? And how do you think the head of sales in the UK sees the issue?

Bernd is drawing quite negative conclusion­s on the basis of limited informatio­n. He has not yet had a detailed talk with the head of UK sales, Paul, to explore the background to this situation. In fact, when Bernd does finally speak to Paul, a very different picture emerges. In the UK, there is a strong focus on encouragin­g ambitious people to perform excellentl­y to reach high targets. This is partly a local expectatio­n: sales guys working in London love the freedom to work independen­tly and want to earn high salaries. Paul had therefore decided, in contrast to the “realistic and accurate” planning of his German colleagues, to set flexible “stretch targets”. This involves setting targets that are too high, partly unrealisti­c, but highly motivation­al, pushing his sales staff to work harder and more successful­ly than if they worked to more realistic, lower targets.

The autonomy and individual­ism of the UK environmen­t is part of a specific trust system that assumes people perform best if they are free from constraint­s and controls. The team in the UK is free to collaborat­e if they wish, and do in fact exchange informatio­n frequently. But their bonus system rewards entreprene­urialism and results, which helps bring success for the company. So, there are two different trust systems in this situation: the German one, based on reliabilit­y, predictabi­lity and transparen­cy of informatio­n, and the British one, based more on freedom, the self-belief that one will perform to exceptiona­l standards and a focus on exceptiona­l results. Importantl­y, it is not possible to prove empiricall­y which approach is better.

What do you think is the ideal solution in this situation?

As so often in internatio­nal business life, misunderst­andings and negative perception­s of others arise too quickly. They are often based on a projection of one’s own values and priorities — here, connected to trust — on to other people, who realize the same core values in other ways. The ideal solution is more communicat­ion and clarificat­ion of the meaning of specific behaviours and intentions — and an agreement on how best to collaborat­e. This agreement might involve more alignment, with everyone working in the same way, or more respect for diversity, allowing different local ways of working to continue.

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