It’s different here

I visited the SAP headquarters in Germany a few weeks ago.  Although the week was jam-packed, I really enjoyed the face time with so many German colleagues and executives.  It has been a few years since I was there, and things have certainly changed a lot.  One of the nice changes was that I stayed in Kalipeh, which is the guesthouse on campus.  It is a beautiful place with a decent restaurant, and it was great to be able to walk to the office in the morning.

I just had my thirteen year anniversary with SAP last week, and there was a time in my career that I knew the names of all the regular US Airways flight attendants on the Philadelphia-Frankfurt-Philadelphia route.  It’s been many years since I traveled like that.  My kids are two and four now, and I think I’ve only traveled once or twice since I was pregnant with my oldest.  Maybe because I have been traveling less, what struck me the most this visit was the differences (large and small) that I was less aware of in the past.  Here are a few examples …

The organization I work in is housed in Building 18, which is one of the ‘star’ buildings (so named because they are shaped like an asterisk).  There is an elevator and atrium in the center of the building, and then a series of wings emanating from that center.  Here is a picture to give you an idea of what it looks like:

This picture was taken with my Blackberry, so it doesn’t do the space justice … but it’s a pretty cool working environment!  There are German labor laws which require employees to have access to natural sunlight, so this type of architecture is a fun and creative way to achieve those requirements.  However, also of note is the interior space houses coffee corners (the coffee is free!) and small seating areas on each floor.  These are actively used informal meeting spaces, as you can see from the picture.

One of the other things that really surprised me was bathroom etiquette.  In the German offices, a toilet brush is provided and people are expected to use it.  I can’t imagine a US work environment where people would be explicitly asked to clean the toilet bowl!  Below you can see the pics from the bathrooms in Walldorf:

Note the toilet brush prominently displayed within reach to the left of the toilet.  And here is the current signage in our Newtown Square offices:

No toilet brushes in sight, and no mention of them, either.

This seems like a small (and maybe a gross) thing, but I do believe it’s an indicator for a larger underlying difference.  An friend of mine is in senior management at SAP, and he has worked in SAP offices around the world.  As part of his cultural sensitivity training in Japan, his instructor asked him if he could articulate what motivates US, German, and Japanese employees.  Unable to provide a concise answer, his instructor provided him with the following guidance:

If you want to motivate an American, tell him he’s going to be a hero.
If you want to motivate a German, tell him it’s the right thing to do.
If you want to motivate a Japanese, tell him everyone else is doing it.

As far as scrubbing the toilet goes, this logic fits for what I saw in Germany.  As for the US?  I’ll scrub my toilet at home, but I have no interest in being a hero in the bathroom at the office, thank you very much!

And of course, when we travel to other countries, we find familiar words used in new ways:

German Thai food, anyone?

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