Posted by: Malin Munkel
I joined Elanco in 2020, following their acquisition of Bayer Animal Health. I think all of us experienced the cultural differences that came with combining our two companies. One, a long-established and traditional German company. The other, a recently independent company with a “startup feel.”
Home for me is Germany. But being responsible for Elanco’s employer brand strategy means that I need to have a deep understanding of Elanco’s global culture. To help me better connect to where that culture originates, my manager, Laurene Lonnemann, and I added “travel to corporate headquarters” to my development plan. That’s how I got the privilege of spending the month of May in Greenfield, Indiana, USA.
It's probably not surprising that my most received questions were - “How do you like it here? How is the culture in Germany? In what way are they different?" My standard answer was: "It's same. The same, but different."
The same –
- We are united by the same passion for animals. Whether in Germany or in the USA - walking down the office corridors you can find large photoprints of employees and their pets. The human-animal-bond comes alive in our working environments.
- Working remotely during the pandemic offered us flexibility to take care of our health and our families, but I think many people missed the casual coffee catch-ups with colleagues as much as I did. I’m glad the leadership team shows effort and creativity to welcome the employees back to the office. In Greenfield, I was able to take part in Bingo games during lunch, weekly happy hours and breakfasts sponsored by one of the Employee Resource Groups.
- In both the German and American cultures exists a “can-do” mentality which creates a lot of dynamism, as it is believed that there is always the possibility to do things in a better way. This is also reflected in the Elanco culture in which we can innovate and show ownership. Moreover, it’s incentivized through the Corporate Bonus plan, Inspire points (internal kudos) or the distribution of employee awards.
- Fun fact: The same kind of Canadian geese live on both the Monheim and Greenfield campuses!
But different -
- Although Germans and Americans both have this “can do” mentality, their approaches tend to be very different. In the science of intercultural communication, Germany is listed as one of the uncertainty avoidant countries. This means there is a strong preference for deductive rather than inductive approaches. For many Germans, details are important to create certainty and the systematic overview has to be given in order to proceed. In contrast, Americans are very open-minded for new topics and don’t seem to require a lot of rules while striving for quick results within the workplace.
- The one thing I’m always overwhelmed by is the friendliness and openness of American people. In Germany, we tend to display cynicism and pessimism, whereas people in the United States tend to express how great and amazing things are. The truth probably lies in the middle, but I’m still grateful for the warm welcome by my lovely colleagues.
We all tackle the challenges of communicating effectively among international colleagues, while understanding and celebrating these cultural differences. I’m glad that I finally had the chance to meet my team in the U.S., because in-person meetings can never be fully replaced virtual get-togethers and it’s way more fun too. I will leave you with my top tips for international communication –
- Speak slowly. This is a hard one for me. Even if English is the common language at Elanco, not everyone is a native speaker. An acceptable pace, breaking your sentences into short segments and pronouncing your words properly will help your counterpart to understand better.
- Avoid closed questions. Don’t phrase a question that needs a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. Ask open-ended questions that require information as a response instead.
- Practice active listening. Listen carefully and summarize what the other person has said, to ensure that you have understood them correctly.
- Take turns to talk. Make a point and then listen to the other person respond.
Last but not least: Be supportive. Effective cross-cultural communication is about all parties feeling comfortable. Do your best to communicate clearly and give your counterparts encouragement when they respond. This will help build their confidence and trust in you.