To the rest of the world English business people still have a somewhat amateur air. They seem to prefer to rely on an instinctive approach to business, mistrusting foreign methods of analysis and working. This makes them slightly out of their depth in the global business arena.
Some of the more courageous members of the English business community are trying to push their colleagues forward with fighting talk about not being left behind. You can recognise these brave souls by their personal fax machines, portable telephones and lapel badges at international exhibitions. Not for them the horror of isolation.
They are in touch with everyone at all times and in all time zones. How long it will take for them to get the rest of their compatriots connected remains to be seen.
The English have been characteristically cautious when dealing with Europe. Some small comfort was afforded by the community's original appellation "the Common Market" with its implication of "common-ness", and therefore, dismissability. Subsequent re-christenings of itself have been predictably slow to catch on in England where the idea of a European Union is still considered with deep suspicion and undisguised distaste. Few are prepared to jump into the water. Like timorous bathers, they prefer to hover on the brink until someone they can really trust tells them that "It's lovely once you're in". The problem is, whom can they believe?
In English business practice operations are characterised by an unusual devotion to democracy. Since individual decision making is considered dangerous, almost every decision is taken by committee. So much so, that whenever you try to get hold of an English business man or woman, you will invariably be told that he or she is "in a meeting". Here they will sit trying to reach consensus in preference to a decision.
The popularly held belief that the English work harder than other people took a hammering when a report showed that, on average, the Germans work 44.9 hours a week, the Italians 42.4 and the English 42. The English, of course, pointed out that both the Germans and the Italians have more holidays and that anyhow, it is not the quantity but the quality of work that counts.
They also pride themselves fiercely on their ability to "muddle through", that is to act without too much worry about discipline or planning. In the past this attitude has served them well, and the past holds all the lessons the English wish to learn.
In Good Company
English companies are still largely organised on traditional lines. That is to say, they are based on the concept of a many layered pyramid - a vertical chain of command from the Chairman and Managing Director at the top to the humblest employee at the bottom.
This mirrors the class structure at the heart of the English way of life and indeed many of the tenets of "well-bred" behaviour still subsist in business etiquette. For although the English are naturally distrustful and suspicious when it comes to business, they appear to be prepared to put their faith and indeed their money into a bargain sealed with nothing more than a handshake. Stranger still, it seems to work.
Just Obeying Orders
The English do not like being told what to do. Any order has to be given with a degree of politeness which many other nations find incomprehensible.
Should you follow custom and express an order as a request, you will achieve the desired effect. Express it simply as an order, with no hint of personal choice, and the English will invariably break for tea.