In Germany, if your house is on fire, chances are that no professional firefighter will come to your aid. Instead, you’ll mostly rely on volunteers to respond to the scene and save your loved ones. Which works remarkably well: Volunteer firefighters may not be paid professionals, but they are experts nevertheless. In fact, the system works so well that the majority of the country’s almost 1.4 million firefighters are volunteers.
Volunteering is serious business in Germany, where one in four Germans is a part-time volunteer, mostly for social projects. Many of society’s fundamental services, such as caring for the sick and elderly, coaching sports or helping the youth and on civil society to such an extent that these services wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for volunteers. Volunteer firefighters are one of the logical results of a country made up of committed citizens who are used to taking care of things on their own.
What does this teach you about doing business in Germany?
In Germany, we like to...
- get things done even before someone official says the word
- get things done in a manner that prompts officials to seek our advice
- get things done in a manner that negates the need for official solutions.
These three approaches run deep in the country’s DNA and therefore in its industry, especially the Internet industry, which is why self-help and self-regulation have become such effective and efficient approaches. Should your company consider doing business in Germany, consider:
- Getting involved. Extend your work beyond the borders of your organization. Join industry working groups, sit down with competitors to work on common standards and guidelines, use your expertise to advise officials at municipal, state and federal levels. Reach out to your customers and ask their opinions
- Expecting involvement – especially from your customers. They may think they can offer valuable contributions toward your business and know how to improve your products and services. Just as firefighters may not be professionals in the strict sense of the term, your customers might not appear on your payroll -- but they just might be right.