Does UK culture and traditions create business stability or stifle change?

Does UK culture and traditions create business stability or does it stifle change?
This question was indirectly posed twice in the last two days. British culture has long danced to its own tune and in many ways, it has been a positive but questions are being asked if the UK business mentality is really open to change that is being asked of it at times?

The first by a leading Chair who questioned if boards were really open to the changes being asked of it, especially by younger generations. The Chair’s view was that many boards will change as little as is possible.

The second was by a leading global tech entrepreneur who noted that UK was in danger of lagging behind many other countries in their tech advancement which is central to so many emerging models.

Most experts will note that 2023 is seeing a real focus on 6 core areas of development:

  • Increased digital enablement within businesses
  • Combating rising inflation and supply chain costs.
  • Service innovation
  • New customer experiences
  • Sustainability
  • Talent

The above Chair did not believe that most boards had a handle on 4 of the above 6 major areas. Most were focused on inflation and supply chain and on sustainability as it had become apparent that both investors and clients wanted strong sustainability strategies in play. They went on to comment: “If most boards were honest, their strategies were focused on the here and now with little long term planning. If I am wrong, let me ask most boards as to show me their increased investment in talent, in innovation, in new service levels and in digitalisation. I would wager that the answers would be pretty thin on detail”.
This view has been echoed by a number of entrepreneurs who have been openly surprised by how hard it is to achieve traction and progress even when it is desired. Many have noted that implementation processes, even for pilots, can find itself bogged down in process, and red tape with the result being that it can take months to make real progress. Many have privately wondered if companies really do want change or just play lip service to it.

This view was echoed by a leading consultancy expert who noted that boards do not like to change the basic rule book by which they have operated, and prospered for the last decade or two. They noted that boards would “argue that they have performed well against the most formidable of odds in the last few years so is it right to criticise them?”

Another noted that “the observations are probably true but the British psyche has always been about following a leader. The British place more emphasis on leadership than any most others. In business this is a problem as it also can lead to more internal politics and ignoring of accountability – the old business prevention squads – which means that cultures are less interested in transformation and change than in the US as an example. However, leadership is often better which is why you often note that the age of leaders has increased as it has provided stability.”

The above comment does of course lead onto the question as to whether the “wisdom exit” which is due to happen will also see a greater level of change in the above areas.

At the end of the day, business has performed well for long periods of the last thirty years so not too much can be wrong but undoubtedly, there is a period of change beginning to emerge which will result in an increased pace of change.
Whatever the answer to the question, business always seem to deliver. The question is only whether it can be improved?

Written by Chris Sheppardson, Founder of EP Business in Hospitality