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Does the principles of strategy consulting apply to all cultures?

working culture
New answer on Dec 31, 2023
8 Answers
389 Views
Anonymous A asked on Dec 06, 2023

Hi all, I will soon start a strategy consulting position in Germany. As a foreigner, I started to read the book “THE CULTURE MAP” to understand what the German work culture looks like. 

I was a bit confused about the difference in styles of reasoning between different cultures: principles-first / deductive reasoning (e.g. Germany) vs. applications-first / inductive reasoning (e.g. US). 

The book mentioned that, in Germany, people try to understand the “theoretical concept” before adapting it to the practical situation. So when people begin by presenting the conclusions and recommendations (which are highly adopted in the US) without setting up the parameters and how they got to the conclusions, Germans may feel shocked. 

I was quite surprised when I learned that there are such differences in the approach of reasoning between US and Germany. All the key consulting concepts that I have learned seem very US-centric, such as “answer-first” (starting presentation with a clear recommendation in a “top-down” approach).

Could you please share your experience on whether you have observed a clear difference in presentation/communication styles between Germany vs. the US? It would be greatly appreciated to gather insights from people who have strategy consulting experience. Did you have to adapt different styles when working with German vs. US clients?

Appreciate your advice!

 

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Cristian
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replied on Dec 06, 2023
#1 rated MBB & McKinsey Coach

Hi! 

First of all, thanks for the book recommendation :) I didn't know about the book, but have added it now to the reading list. 

Honestly, you're asking a very interesting yet very complex question. 

As a McK consultant, I worked in around 8 countries, mostly across Europe and Australia. There were significant differences between the clients, but I wouldn't only account it to the country. 

They were also different because of the industry and the type of people who worked in senior management. You're also likely to have a different experience as a consultant based on the firm you'll be working in and the methodologies they use. 

So I'm wary of generalising it on a national scale and saying it's more inductive or whatever. I also feel that these conceptual things will not be super useful in the day-to-day job. Instead, I recommend you try to have good conversations with people, really connect with them and understand what makes them tick. In that sense, reading about emotional intelligence might be more useful than understanding cultural differences (you'll easily understand the latter, and in record time, if you master the former). 

If you'll soon start in consulting, I'll also share with you two resources you might find useful:


Good luck!
Cristian

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Lorenzo
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replied on Dec 10, 2023
University of St.Gallen graduate | Learn to think like a Consultant | Personalized prep | CV review

Congratulations on your upcoming strategy consulting position in Germany! Your awareness of cultural differences, especially in communication and presentation styles, is crucial for a successful transition. Here are some insights:

Presentation Styles:

1. Germany: Deductive Reasoning

  • Germans often prefer a structured and principles-first approach.
  • They value a detailed understanding of the theoretical framework before diving into practical applications.
  • Presentations typically start with context, principles, and methodology before moving to conclusions and recommendations.

2. US: Inductive Reasoning

  • In the US, a more applications-first approach is common.
  • Presentations often lead with conclusions and recommendations, following a top-down structure.
  • The focus is on the "answer-first" or the key takeaways, with details provided afterward.

Adaptation Tips:

Contextual Setup:

  • In Germany, provide a robust theoretical foundation before presenting recommendations.
  • Clearly articulate the principles and logic that lead to your conclusions.
  • Ensure a comprehensive understanding of the problem statement.

Top-Down vs. Bottom-Up:

  • Be prepared to adapt your presentation style based on the cultural context.
  • When working with German clients or colleagues, consider adopting a more bottom-up approach, gradually building up to your recommendations.

Communication Clarity:

  • Emphasize clarity and precision in your communication.
  • Germans value a thorough understanding of details, so be ready to provide data and evidence supporting your recommendations.

Cultural Sensitivity:

  • Be aware of cultural nuances and be flexible in your approach.
  • Seek feedback and adapt based on the responses you receive from your German colleagues and clients.

Build Relationships:

  • Invest time in building relationships, as this is essential in the German business culture.
  • Understanding your colleagues' communication preferences will contribute to effective collaboration.

Personal Experiences:

Strategy Consultants in Germany:

  • Colleagues with strategy consulting experience in Germany often note the importance of a structured and logical presentation style.
  • Detailed analysis and a clear understanding of underlying principles are highly valued.

Adapting to Cultural Preferences:

  • Many professionals who work across cultures emphasize the need to be adaptable.
  • They suggest being observant, listening actively, and adjusting your style based on the preferences of your audience.

Remember, while these generalizations exist, individual preferences can vary. It's always valuable to seek direct feedback from your colleagues and clients and be open to continuous learning and adaptation. Good luck in your new role!

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Dennis
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replied on Dec 06, 2023
Ex-Roland Berger|Project Manager and Recruiter|7+ years of consulting experience in USA and Europe

Hi there,

I'm German myself and worked both in Germany and the US.

One key difference I noticed is that on average, American consultants have better salesmanship and a more developed ability to “entertain and inspire”. The ways of presenting are typically “more passionate” and “sensational” compared to Germans who might find the American approach rather “bombastic” or “dramatized” and tend to stick to the mantra of “factually true, conservatively derived - but dull”. 

In terms of executive communication and top-down approaches, I did not notice any major differences. 

Happy to chat more in case you have further questions. It's certainly a broad and also somewhat subjective topic so it cannot adequately be tackled with a few paragraphs here.

Best

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Raj
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replied on Dec 16, 2023
FREE 15MIN CONSULTATION | #1 Strategy& / OW coach | >70 5* reviews |90% offers ⇨ prep-success.super.site | MENA, DE, UK

Hello! Congratulations on your upcoming strategy consulting position in Germany. Having lived as a consultant in the US and Hamburg I can share my perspective

Indeed, there are cultural differences in presentation and communication styles between Germany and the US. In Germany, there is a preference for a more principles-first and deductive reasoning approach. This means that Germans tend to value understanding the theoretical concept before applying it to the practical situation. They appreciate a thorough explanation of the parameters and the process leading to conclusions and recommendations.

On the other hand, in the US, there is often an emphasis on an applications-first and inductive reasoning approach. This means that presenting conclusions and recommendations upfront, in a top-down manner, is more common. The focus is on the answer and its practical implications, with less emphasis on the detailed process.

When working with German clients, it is important to adapt your communication style to align with their preferences. Providing a clear and logical framework, explaining the underlying principles, and demonstrating a systematic approach will be appreciated. Germans value a comprehensive understanding of the analysis and may expect more detailed explanations.

In contrast, when working with US clients, you may find that they are more receptive to a concise and results-oriented approach. Presenting the answer upfront and then providing supporting evidence and analysis can be effective.

Adapting your communication style to the cultural context is crucial in building rapport and effectively conveying your recommendations. It shows respect for the local work culture and enhances your ability to connect with clients.

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Moritz
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replied on Dec 14, 2023
ex-McKinsey EM & Interviewer | 7/8 offer rate for 4+ sessions | 90min sessions with FREE exercises & videos

Hey there,

I am German and ex-McKinsey myself and have lived and worked in 9 countries. Germany isn't really different from the other countries as it relates to the points you mention.

There are, however, some differences regarding culture e.g. perceived value of specialists vs generalists (see high number of PhDs on executive boards) or the importance of hierarch and formality ('sie' vs ‘du’).

Bottom line: I honestly wouldn't worry about it too much up-front and make up your mind as you go along. It's important to realize that you don't necessarily have to adapt and can instead bring a new perspective where differences exist.

Hope this helps. Best of luck!

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Benjamin
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replied on Dec 31, 2023
Ex-BCG Principal | 8+ years consulting experience in SEA | BCG top interviewer & top performer

Hi,

I worked on a few global projects before, and have also conducted training for APAC wide cohorts. Here are some quick thoughts

  • Yes - there is presentation and communication differences based on cultural nuances
  • However, please note that the core principles of ‘strategy consulting’ don't really change
    • → Bring robust logic and critical thinking to get to a good answer
    • → Tailor your communication based on the needs of your stakeholder
  • The logical answer to a problem will not change. But what changes is how you communicate and educate your client on that logic
  • Even if you are in the US or other markets that are used to “Answer first” approach, there will be situations where you cannot take that approach - e.g. the audience hasn't been exposed to the logic before and it is a contentious POV

The above should have been covered in storylining training in your firm. If not, this is something that a well managed global project will table up front, in the first internal alignment meeting

 

 

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Ian
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replied on Dec 06, 2023
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Hi there,

Yes and no.

There are certainly going to be universal principles. But there are also likely to be differences as well.

Importantly, the implementation and application of these principles can change.

Mind you, this can change not just across cultures, but even companies/firms, clients, leadership within a firm, etc.

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Frederic
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replied on Dec 06, 2023
ex Jr. Partner McKinsey |Senior Interviewer| Real Feedback & Free Homework between sessions|Harvard Coach|10+ Experience

Hi there,

wow did not know that such books exist in today's globalized world. I'd say this is not true. Having also lived and worked in the US you can meet the same type of thinking/reasoning as you described that should apply for Germany. It has nothing to do with countries, rather education/seniority/background/context of a situation whether someone is more receptive for a bottom-up or top-down communication. I guess you asked some other questions here in the forum on Germany, happy to chat over a free coffee. Warm regards, Freddy 

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Cristian gave the best answer

Cristian

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