7 Main Differences Between U.S. and U.K. Business Culture
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Following a decade of working in London corporate environments with the likes of Dell and Experian, I made the leap into entrepreneurship. Fast forward 12 years -- five of which I spent developing my U.K. enterprises -- and my time as an entrepreneur in the U.S. actually outstrips the time I spent pursuing business back home.
In addition to the enormous change in living environments, naturally I've also spent considerable time and effort adjusting to differences between business culture in the U.K. and here in the U.S. They're not impossible to overcome, of course, but they certainly keep things interesting!
I've found American workers to be more dedicated and loyal to their employer than workers in the U.K. Brits tend to put in fewer work hours (OECD data backs this perception, placing average hours worked per year in the U.K. at 1,681 and in the U.S. at 1,780). Americans also seem to eat lunch at their desk frequently, whereas in the U.K. we take an hour for lunch plus other breaks throughout the day.
Or holidays, if you will, consist of about four weeks per year in the U.K., and only about half that here in the U.S. As an employer, that suits me!
Even though both countries speak English, there can be variations in phrasing and terminology that can lead to misunderstandings. For example, when people say "Let's do lunch!" As a Brit, I take that literally. It can get confusing! Networking and building connections before you make the move across the pond can help you adjust to this before you're fully immersed in the American business environment.
Manner of speaking
Piggybacking on terminology differences, Brits are a bit more direct, particularly when it comes to business dealings. This can be a challenge as bluntness can come across as rude when it's not intended that way, but it highlights the importance of being very specific in what you expect from your colleagues and employees -- and encouraging them to be specific and open as well.
Even though it's not directly business related, water cooler talk -- about celebrities or sports -- is a staple of office culture. This can be a difficulty for Brits in terms of fitting in. American sports aren't a major focal point of interest in the U.K., which can create a lack of common ground for small talk. That doesn't mean you can't create a connection though, just try sticking to the weather, movies, travel or other sort of neutral topics.
Due to geographical differences, face-to-face meetings in the U.S. are much less common than in the U.K. However, technology like Skype allows CEOs and other entrepreneurs to conduct business with people from virtually anywhere, so it's a hurdle that can be jumped quite easily.
In the U.K., self-promotion is seen more as bragging than it is in the U.S. That is something to which I've had to work hard to adapt because being able to promote yourself and your brand across social media and countless other outlets is an absolute necessity in American business culture. That's why having the right team to guide your marketing is crucial. You want someone who is experienced at taking the temperature of your target market so you know just what -- and how much -- information they want and need.
Ultimately what I've found most useful in transitioning from U.K. business culture to the U.S. is listening to my customer base and adapting to their needs. In my specific industry -- helping people save money on communications services -- that meant paying attention to the challenges consumers are facing here in that area.
In the U.K., the money-saving methods that I specialize in have already been around for years. That's not the case here in the U.S., so I had to hone in on what I could offer that provides the most value for the specific needs of American consumers. Once I identified where the need was, it was just a matter of adapting my business to meet that need.
That's a long way of saying -- there are significant differences in business culture between the U.K. and the U.S. -- and you will have to find ways to adjust. In the end though, people are people, and if you are good at what you do -- at identifying and meeting the needs of your customer base -- that language and culture is universal.