British companies tend to develop managers to be generalists rather than specialists and managers are expected to be interested in, and take a view on, a wide number of topic areas.
Recent years have seen a change in working patterns with many people moving job and employer on a reasonably frequent basis.
British organisations have moved away from the traditional hierarchical models of the past towards a much flatter system. In the process, many layers of management have been removed.
Job descriptions in the UK are often very unclear and imprecise leaving a potential vacuum in ownership of task and decision.
Managers try to develop a close, friendly relationship with staff and like to be seen as part of the team rather than removed from the team.
The value of pure academic education is viewed with some suspicion. Respect is earned through experience rather than qualification. It is rare to see a professor or doctor on the senior management committee of a large UK company.
Managers find it difficult to articulate direct instructions and will often couch instructions in very diplomatic language.
There are a lot of meetings in the UK and they often fail to produce the desired decision.
The British do less empirical preparation for meetings than other nationalities – seeing the meeting as a forum for debating potential solutions.
Meetings are reasonably formally structured, roughly following a predetermined agenda and keeping more or less to time.
The British like to be part of a team and like the team to have a companionable atmosphere.
Members of a team are expected to take an holistic interest in the project, rather than confining themselves to their allocated role only.
The British place diplomacy firmly before directness and will try to avoid engendering negative emotions in meeting situations etc.
The British can misinterpret direct speech as rudeness, aggression and arrogance.
Humour is acceptable and expected in virtually all business situations. Humour is not seen as unprofessional, even when used in tense and difficult meetings.
Self-promotion is not appreciated in the UK. It is far better to self-deprecate. It is, of course, acceptable to be positive about your company and products.
Meetings will often begin with a good amount of seemingly meaningless small talk. This is seen as a good way to start the meeting in a harmonious manner.
Women play an increasingly prominent role in business life – especially in service industries.
Formal dress codes of dark blue and grey suits are still predominant although changes are starting to occur in this area.
Colleagues will virtually always use first names amongst themselves. It is considered very formal and distancing to use surnames.
Written and Produced by Keith Warburton
The United Kingdom remains one of the largest, most competitive markets in the world. It is a global centre of excellence across a wide range of business sectors as well as being a world-leader in higher education. The City of London, along with New York, continues to dominate international finance and UK-based legal firms retain their pre-eminence as global players.
Despite these massive positive factors, the UK faces a number of challenges going forward. How will the UK cope with a post-Brexit world as it navigates its way through the Brexit negotiations and looks to forge new partnerships outside it traditional markets within the EU? Will the UK be able to improve its notoriously poor productivity levels and will the City of London be able to retain its leadership role in global finance?
All of these questions will be answered in the coming decade but in the intervening period the UK remains open for business and the prospects for doing successful business in the UK remain positive. The UK actively seeks overseas companies who see the country as an attractive market and world-class incentives are in place to help you take advantage of a sophisticated consumer base and a highly educated workforce.
If you are considering doing business in the UK, you need to consider the cultural issues you are likely to encounter. Put simply, the British are quick to take offence. Your communication style might be viewed as aggressive, when you thought you were merely being helpfully direct or your negotiating style could appear confrontational when you thought you were offering useful alternatives. Study the UK approach to business in advance – it will pay dividends.
This country profile provides an overview of some of the key aspects of business culture in the UK in a concise, easy to follow-format. The document includes information on: