Separated by a common language...

Published: 12 Dec 2016 By Bill Mitchell

Throughout my career I have had the good fortune to work internationally, being based in the UK, then in Paris before moving to New York and then returning to the UK, older and hopefully wiser.  This experience has provided me with an insight into some fundamental differences in international business culture and how the growing and insidious trend towards seeking to apportion blame for failure is in danger of destroying the UK's ability to compete in the global marketplace.

Let me offer you 3 examples:

  • In a lunch meeting with a Vice President of a Florida bank we were discussing his favourite customers...
  • At a conference in Atlanta I listened as the CEO of Coca-Cola talked about the impact of the catastrophic change to the recipe that Coke introduced some years previously and which resulted in a huge loss of market share and their stock price plummeting, and what happened to the staff involved...
  • Having just moved to New York, I spent my first few weeks assiduously preparing to meet with the CEO and CFO to present my carefully constructed multi-media, fully-costed, risk assessed, "Future state strategy for HR"...

How do you think executives in the UK would have responded to each of these scenarios?

  • Customers with significant cash reserves, solid long term order book, positive financial metrics?
  • Fire the entire sales and marketing teams, profuse apologies through the media, resignation of the CEO and Chairman?
  • Detailed analysis of the minutiae of the proposed strategy?  Debate and discussion over Plans "B" "C" and "D" to offset potential failure of risk assessment of Plan "A"?

Here's what did happen...

  • The bank's favourite customer?  First time bankrupts....
  • Coca Cola?  They promoted their Marketing Director...
  • And me?  I was asked one question - Why are you showing us this?  It's your responsibility; get on with it.

The cultural difference is significant and shows that success is predicated on understanding the past but being focused on outcomes.

For the bank, someone who has been bankrupt once would understand the underlying causes and would take all the steps necessary to ensure there was no repetition (twice?  That's stupidity!).

For Coca Cola, their CEO said that had he fired anyone he would never have been presented with a new idea in the future - and new ideas are the lifeblood of business success.

And as far as I was concerned, my colleagues would evaluate the success of my programme by its results, not by evaluating my proposals, I had a job to do - so I got on with it!

Success lies in providing freedom that facilitates organisational agility and aligns the three core capitals in every organisation: Financial, Human and Infrastructure.  In the US, reward rests on achieving successful outcomes, while in the prevailing culture of too many of the UK's corporations reward rests in adhering to process. 

As my CEO in New York said, we can take risks because we understand it...

Bill Mitchell, CEO, Optimum Organisation Design

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