What 8 Weeks of Interviewing for Jobs Taught Me About the Gap in Berlin Businesses

German startups lack this key quality that American companies have.

learn more about Heidi Lynne Kurter

By Heidi Lynne Kurter


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I'm a natural born market researcher. I never lost my "Harriet the Spy" abilities and quite frankly, I hope I never do. It's served me quite well thus far.

As a human resources professional who has lived and traveled in and around Asia, America and Europe, I've developed a strategy that allows me to quickly identify the gaps in my current market in a unique way that goes far beyond networking.

Related: How to Keep Your German Customers Happy

How I assess local companies

Four months ago, I took the leap moving to Berlin, one of the largest startup hubs in Europe. As an expat who speaks just enough of the language to get by, it made conducting business rather challenging. I quickly learned that entrepreneurship as a non-native German speaker was going to be difficult. After going through the bureaucracy to run my business in Germany and getting denied, I was forced to seek out a position as an employee or scrap the idea of living in Germany altogether.

I decided to focus on running my business outside German borders while repealing my freelancer visa and opting to take this time to conduct market research instead. This would give me time to network and establish my brand across German cities while getting a feel for the internal culture.

This led me to take a different approach to getting a feel for the pains and struggles of the local businesses. I had to use my human resources background to get inside of the businesses and get a firsthand experience of what their working culture was truly like. I started by researching and applying to many of the local organizations throughout Berlin.

Related: The Case for Berlin's Claim as Europe's Startup Capital

Regardless of where I'm at in this world, one thing stays the same: I'm determined to be the go-to person for human resources consulting, specifically building and onboarding teams. In order to do that, I need to understand the gap in the markets I'm in.

While networking is a valuable way to get the answers I needed, I wanted to take it a step further. I started applying and interviewing with companies so I would have the dedicated one-on-one opportunity to ask the questions I wouldn't have otherwise had the chance to ask.

The common thread I noticed was their lack of an onboarding program. Either they had one and it was weak or they didn't have one at all. During each of my interviews, I had the opportunity to interview employees within the company as well to get a better understanding of the culture and morale. Each startup faced the same issue -- they remained efficient in producing work and meeting deadlines, but the culture was stale, the relationships were non-existent and they were fiercely siloed.

Engagement increases efficiency.

While Germans are known for their efficiency, one thing remains the same: They lack the skill set that an American can provide in terms of bringing life to their business. In fact, their efficiency was debunked. What people often mistake for German efficiency is actually a dedication to clear and orderly rules. Before making my move to Germany, people approached me with sincere concern because they believed I was committing entrepreneurial suicide. "You'll never have a successful business with the stiff German mentality and deep-rooted bureaucracy," I heard time and time again.

While many Germans squirm thinking of the bubbly, over-the-top personality they associate with the average American, the truth is Americans have a knack for creating a more engaging workplace. According to recent research by Gallup, Germans are satisfied with their jobs but they're not engaged.

While Germany wins at innovation, America is far ahead in terms of employee engagement. When an employee is engaged, her productivity increases by 38 percent.

Related: 3 Things U.S. Startups Do Better Than European Startups

Structure reduces stagnation.

A lack of a structured onboarding program keeps engagement and culture stagnant causing high turnover of employees.

Founders and entrepreneurs start their businesses with growth in mind. They have a big picture vision of where they ultimately desire their company to be. Yet, when their business quickly gains traction and it comes time to hire support, they lack the strategy to keep up. This results in hiring and onboarding the wrong people leading to disengaged employees, a lack of clear expectations, poor working relationships and increased turnover.

The biggest takeaway I gained from my eight weeks of interviewing in Berlin is that startups and businesses desperately crave a structured hiring and onboarding program. They would benefit greatly from having the support of an American mindset to bring life to their businesses which would result in a longer lifespan. In order for this to happen, their priorities need to shift and they need to understand the value and importance of how the right people can take their business further.

Heidi Lynne Kurter

Global People Development Consultant

Heidi Lynne Kurter is a people development consultant, executive coach, speaker and writer who has helped businesses and organizations around the world hire, train and lead their teams confidently and effectively. Learn more at heidilynneco.com

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