A study comparing British and German approaches to management has revealed the deep gulf which
separates managerial behaviour
in many German and British companies. The gap is so fundamental, especially among middle
managers, that it can pose severe problems
for companies from the two countries
which either merge or collaborate.
The findings are from a study called
“Managing in Britain and Germany”
carried out by a team of German and
British academics from Mannheim University and Templeton
The differences are shown most clearly in the contrasting attitudes of many Germans and Britons to managerial
expertise and authority, according to the
academics. This schism results, in
turn, from the very different levels
of qualification, and sorts of career paths,
which are typical in the two
German managers – both top and middle - consider technical skill to be the most important aspect of their jobs, according to the study. It adds that German managers consider they earn their authority with colleagues
and subordinates from this “expert
knowledge” rather than from their
position in the organisational hierarchy.
sharp contrast, British middle managers see themselves as executives first and technicians second. As a result, German middle managers may find that the
only people within their British partner companies who are capable of helping
them solve routine problems are technical specialists who do not have
management rank. Such an approach is bound to raise status problems in due
Other practical results of these differences include
a greater tendency of British middle managers to regard the design of their
departments as their own responsibility, and to reorganise them more frequently
than happens in Germany.
German middle managers
can have “major problems in dealing with
this”, the academics point out, since British middle managers also
change their jobs more often. As a result, UK
organisations often undergo “more or
less constant change”. Of the thirty British middle managers in the study, thirteen had held their current job for less than two years, compared with only three in Germany.
Many of the Britons had
also moved between unrelated departments or functional areas, for example from
marketing to human resources. In contrast,
all but one of the Germans had stayed
in the same functional area. Twenty of them had occupied their current positions
for five years or more, compared
with only five of the Britons.
The researchers almost certainly exaggerate the strengths of the German
its very stability helps to create the rigid attitudes which stop many German companies from adjusting to external change. But the authors
report are correct about the drawbacks of the more unstable and less technically oriented British
pattern. And they are right in concluding that the two countries do not merely have
different career systems but also, in effect, different ways of doing business.