Luke Upward’s Excellent Business Advice
Luke Upward’s loyal disciple, Ted Level, was touchingly anxious to give England’s premier but indigent man of letters any opportunity to earn easy money.
He thought he had found one when he met an American businessman who was complaining about his difficulties in adapting to the British business way of life. He asked for a few “pointers” in how to communicate effectively with British executives and Level quickly volunteered Upward’s services at a fabulous fee.
His meeting with Upward got off to a bad start when he described himself as “a people person” and was doomed when he asked for help in understanding England’s “business culture”, an expression which always induced Upward to reach for a revolver. (Wisely, Level had persuaded Upward not to pack one, with the shrewd suggestion that it would spoil the cut of his suit). Upward gritted his perfectly set teeth and listened to another hour of executive flannel and flummery from his client.
Finally, he could take no more. “My dear sir,” (the client’s name had never registered with him) “I must now adjourn. I have the honour to represent the beautiful accented archipelago of São Tomé e Príncipe as their delegate at the World Parcheesi Congress. I will, however, send you a memorandum which will tell you everything you need to know. Follow my advice and you will see a new epoch in your business relations with the British.”
True to his final pledge, Upward sent the client these excellent pointers. .
1) Do not be deceived by that stiff upper lip. The British are, underneath a repressed and conventional exterior, a deeply emotional race and they like to see feelings frankly displayed in the workplace. Especially men. You will be amazed at the effect if you take the initiative emotionally. If a British man does a good piece of work for you, don’t stop at saying a bare thank you or congratulations. Give him a big hug right in front of everybody and tell him how deeply you love him as a person, not just as a fellow-worker. This is called hands-on management.
2) The British are very flexible about working hours, so long as they are given strong leadership. Make it very clear that you expect jobs to be finished even if it means weekend working, or a special journey or effort, or giving up time for sport or a hobby or family activity. You might detect a sullen attitude when you make these demands, particularly late on a Friday afternoon, but this would be wrong. The employee will actually be delighted to be singled out in this way, and valued more highly than other employees. You can reinforce this message by making a point of letting others leave early when you ask the valued employee to stay in.
3) By the same token the British love to be asked to do things which are outside their normal routine or job descriptions. Make a point of changing tea breaks, meal times, work shifts and details. Make unexpected requests of people and throw away the rule book. Hint: when you make these requests you will often hear one of those quaintly ironic British phrases: “it’s more than my job’s worth.” That means “Thank you for thinking that I can cope with extra responsibility and initiative despite my lowly status.” Compare the standard response of a Russian private in the Tsarist army when given an order by an officer, not “Yes Sir!” but “Glad to do my best, Your Excellency!”
4) The British are at their best when dealing with a difficult customer. If you are a customer of any British business, large or small, try to make your order unusual, outside the normal specifications of the business. It will be delighted to show how it can meet your needs. This will be shown in the phrase “We don’t get much demand for that here” – expressed with a rising note of pleasure and surprise.
5) Indeed the British have very much taken to the idea of salesmanship. Salesman – and incidentally women in sales like to be called salesman too, to show that they can keep up with the boys – is a term of profound respect in British life and the best way to flatter an executive is to call him a salesman, or better still, an estate agent. The British invented product placement, and many of Shakespeare’s finest passages are really extended “commercials” (think of Lady Macbeth, the harassed housewife desperately searching for a cleaning product to remove persistent stains). Anyone who gives any kind of public address in England, even a Member of Parliament or a church minister or a judge is expected to create some kind of buying opportunity for his or her audience, otherwise they will regard it as a complete waste of time.
6) The British particularly like to know when they are dealing with someone important. If you are facing any sort of confrontation or obstruction, the golden phrase to use is “Do you know who I am?” If troubled by a British journalist, say “I know your editor”.
7) At an official level, the British work best when they are unencumbered by red tape and paperwork and are able to use their initiative to solve a problem. If you are asked to bring a set of official documents to a meeting, make a point of not bringing at least one of the documents. Particularly with a tax official, you will get on so much quicker if you say “Look, I don’t think either of us want to wade through all these invoices and records.”
8) If you have any kind of problem with a British official, including the police or a judge, don’t be coy: ask him straight away what it will cost to fix it.
9) The British have a healthy disregard for rank and seniority. People are often given apparently important titles or job descriptions, such as director-general or permanent under-secretary of state or even commander-in-chief, but that does not mean that they are respected or influential. When one of these people is holding forth on a problem and you know the solution, do not hesitate to interrupt and take command.
10) Matching the apparent hierarchies of rank and seniority, British names are often complicated with a string of titles before and letters afterwards. However, these titles are adopted only out of personal respect for the sovereign and they are used only in her immediate presence. It is very bad form for anyone other than the Queen to say “Your Lordship” or even “Colonel Mustard” or “Professor Plum”. All important Britons have a nickname or some other secret identity, known only to their intimates. Find this out and use this right away. For example, when you meet the Duke of Devonshire, give him a big hug and call him “Bingo!” In the political world, the Prime Minister [then Tony Blair] likes to be called “Babycakes”, the Speaker of the House of Commons is invariably nicknamed “Betty” and only very special friends call Peter Mandelson by his real name of Alan Partridge.