Cultural differences between UK and USA


Instructions to students:

a>>Lecture Slides <<

Please read all extracts and prepare to discuss the following questions in your seminars:

1)    By being an organisational ‘detective’ please find the differences and/or similarities between some aspects of organisational culture in these organisations.  Which organisational culture suits you the best and why?

2)    By using the relevant extract below, outline what organisational reputation and branding really mean and how they are interlinked with strategy.

3)    What is your view on the cultural differences between UK and USA and do you agree with the author’s views or not and why?

International student No. 1 – Black Dog Publishing 

The size, scope and speed of 21st century media shatter traditional boundaries, making information and communication more accessible across frontiers.  Today, journalists are forced to confront continual change, as technologies allow for new concentrations of global media power to form.  Furthermore, reporters are required to question and frame the world around them for the public to gain increased insight.  In an effort to live up to this task most effectively, I wished to view, explore and experience a global market.  In witnessing and contributing to an organisation in my field on an international level, I am confident this could greatly enhance my future role as a professional communicator.  Hence, on of my primary motivations in pursuing a term abroad in London at the University of Westminster was the option to undertake an international internship.  Now, in hindsight, I believe that this chance to gain practical, hands-on experience in my field of interest in an entirely new environment has pushed me out of my comfort zone, expanded my skills and personal attributes that are high priorities for potential employers including: adaptability, commitment, confidence, independence and networking.

After learning of my acceptance into the Study Abroad internship program, I eagerly awaited my placement into a British organisation.  The academic term prior, at my home University back in the States, I had taken an introductory publishing course.  This prompted my interest in the field, taking my focus away from the journalistic training and work experience I had consistently concentrated on.  Therefore, I expressed to the internship coordinators at the University of Westminster my desire to pursue work experience in the publishing field.  When I arrived in the UK, I interviewed with two potential employers and selected Black Dog Publishing as my professional home for my three-month stay.

What first attracted me to Black Dog was its mission statement: the company aspires to: ‘…take a daring, innovative approach to (its) titles, to maintain high production values and authoritative content and to produce books that challenge, provoke and entertain.’  I firmly feel that with any published content, regardless of its mode, medium or intended audience should maintain comparable values and I aspire to communicate through the written word in a similar fashion.

According to well-known social scientists, Huczynski and Buchanan (2010, P:100),’…organisations have ‘something (personality, philosophy, ideology or climate) which goes beyond economic rationality, and which gives each of them a unique identity’. A company’s shared understandings or meanings influence its overall functioning in a number of ways.  Other Americans interning in London tended to agree that their professional settings were exceedingly more laid back than those found back home.  At Black Dog specifically, the organisational culture is primarily informal (Mullins, 2010).  This is displayed in the casual attire, friendly conversational communication and overall freedom employees maintain.  I quickly learned that several staff members are social with one another, in and out of the office.  I deemed this a positive aspect of the intimate, 20-something person office.  Also, Black Dog individuals and teams rely on one another in order to ensure a completed product or project that best represents the whole.  Many of my co-workers maintain a similar creativity, light-heartedness and natural curiosity.  Because of the shared personality traits, including sociability, a Black Dog value system seemed to cohesively hold the members of company together.  I regularly witnessed the good social and working relationships resulting in professional success.  However, there were apparent downsides to this as well.  I learned that entering an existing organisational monoculture, as a newcomer can be both challenging and daunting (Morgan, 1986).  Also, observing, engaging and bearing in mind cultural differences such as: education, language, economics, values, politics, religion and philosophy, allowed me to gradually grow more comfortable with the established culture at Black Dog.

Without a single individual in the office to complete or manage the press and publicity Black Dog received and desired, many of the duties fell on shoulders of the entire staff; an example of the collectivist culture posing complications.  Something I detected from the get-go at Black Dog was their inherent task rather than role-based work style.  Based on my work experiences in America, an individual’s job title often dictates how they spend their days and ultimately contribute to the greater purpose of the organisation.  Individuals with the same role may collaborate on similar projects.  However, the small Black Dog ‘family’ works on the assumption that tasks will be completed, regardless of who specifically delivers the finished job.  Often, a member of the editorial team is responsible for new business transactions or a designer must assist with office management.  For me, the social media project I was assigned to tackle had, for the last two years been worked on by each individual in the company.  When a book was published or event in the works or interesting news to be reported, any given member of the Black Dog team could post it online.  This led to chaos and no unified scheme or strategy.  It certainly took some time for me to understand and integrate into the environment where everyone tends to pick up the slack for one another.  I found that to have a single point person to consolidate the work allowed the process of putting information online to me more efficient, effective and successful.  I received positive feedback from few team members for politely suggesting this and providing a comprehensive plan for how to proceed with the strategy.

International student No. 2 – Asia House

My experience of interning in Asia House for the Fall 2011 semester provided a unique opportunity for growth and development.  An organisation is composed of two parts: the formal and informal (Mullins, 2010).  I will explore both aspects of Asia House.  The formal organisation includes aspects such as the policies and procedures of the company and job definitions and descriptions.  The informal aspects include group norms and sentiments, emotional feelings, needs and desires; and the informal leadership and power play that arise between members of a group.

Britain and Asia are two highly influential regions of the world that must work together to uphold the world as we know it.  This requires overcoming cultural stereotypes and ignorance of the difference between the two.  Both regions are home to some of the largest, and most influential, organisations in the world.

Founded in 1996, Asia House is a non-political organisation that strives to form, maintain, and enhance relationships between Britain and Asia.  This aim is mainly achieved through events, whether they are of a cultural of corporate nature.  Asia House seeks to reach a market consisting mainly of businessmen and women and politically influential people, including diplomats and politicians.  While Asia House is relatively unique in its services, competition arises with other art galleries, universities offering discussions and debates, and various societies and clubs.  However, as a promoter of partnerships, Asia House tends to form partnerships with competition to offer guests and ever-widening ranch of events.  The goal is to provide guests the knowledge they need to learn about, form relations and partnerships with, and investigate Asian culture and issues.  Guests want events that shed light on Asian politics and issues, divulge how Britain is responding to Asia, and become more acquainted with the culture of countries all over Asia, from the Middle East to Russia, India, China, the Pacific, and beyond.

Asia house strives to have the reputation of being a formal, organised, authoritative and professional organisation and this reputation must be built through the perceptions of the customers.

Asia House was a dynamic organisation to intern at.   Through this internship, I gained deeper understanding of British culture as I observed the workings of a British organisation. As this was my first experience in a professional business setting, I gained valuable insight to the internal workings of a corporate organisation, including company hierarchy, professional ‘lingo’ of the corporate culture (Trice & Beyer, 1984)

I interacted with people from diverse cultural backgrounds every day and learned about the influence of culture on communication, business and social life.  The exposure to a wide array of cultures during my time at Asia House has deepened my curiosity of different cultures and widened my worldview.

International student No. 3 –  Riva PR

As I’m just months from graduating from my home university, I came to London in the hopes of challenging myself both academically and professionally and getting some international work experience to take into the workforce with me.  I pursued an internship at Riva Public Relations in London in the hopes of diversifying my experience and learning how a small PR agency functions, one that is specialising in luxury travel and tourism brands.

Riva PR was founded in 2004 and it offers the promise of helping clients launch their brand, position themselves in the marketplace, raise brand awareness, and create a sustainable reputation.  Riva’s main goal is to continue to provide exceptional results for their clients and establish themselves as the go-to PR agency for luxury brands.  They value their reputation in the industry and developing personal relationships with media representatives so they can continue to offer the best service possible.  To create innovative and successful PR campaigns, it is crucial to have a creative and cooperative team working in the office, so a significant amount of value is placed on team collaboration and open discussion so that the office becomes a centre for pioneering ideas.

PR is a results driven industry, and often around press deadlines can get very stressful.  Their impressive clientele is proof of their success in positioning brands and establishing sustainable reputation for continued growth.  Despite the current economic state, PR is one field that continues to grow.  As Bill Gates states, ‘If I had a dollar left in the world, I’d spend it on PR’, referring to the importance of positive relationships between company and its specific target audiences.  Due to the continued presentation of results, Riva continues to sign new clients for representation and grow a leading agency in their niche of travel and tourism.  This considered, it is likely that the company will continue to develop and grow.

Being such a small office, there is a high level of collaboration with other departments.  While the office is democratic in nature and each employee is responsible for determining their own responsibilities and making decisions, there are often occasions when advice is needed on how to deal with a particular issue or to brainstorm the best possible way to get coverage for a client.  I would argue that they have a task culture and a project orientation.  They place value on Work Hard/Play Hard mentality (Deal & Kennedy, 1982).

The experience I have gained from this internship has been invaluable.  The welcoming and supportive environment at Riva has allowed me to grow and mature within the field and become more confident in my skills, while learning how to assimilate into the structure of a PR agency.  Working in an unfamiliar cultural environment has taught me how to be more introspective and I have found my self-awareness has improved dramatically as I learned to quickly adapt to different expectations and cultural norms.

International student No. 4 – Ralph Lauren

Ralph Lauren Corporation is a leader in the fashion industry.  Drive by four categories: apparel, accessories, fragrances, and home, Ralph Lauren is a leader in ‘design, marketing and distribution of premium lifestyle products’.  Nine brands make up the Ralph Lauren family, giving way for more consumers to be reached on multiple levels and price points:

  • Men’s Purple and Black Label
  • Ralph Lauren Collection and Women’s Black Label
  • Blue Label (Men’s and Women’s)
  • Polo by Ralph Lauren
  • Lauren by Ralph Lauren
  • RLX
  • Polo Golf & Polo Tennis
  • Rugby
  • Club Monaco

The three segments of Ralph Lauren are Wholesale, Retail, and Licensing.  Teams of merchandisers, sales and production all work closely with each other in order to gain full market and beneficial input.   In addressing the wholesale segment of the business, Ralph Lauren has taken careful consideration for his business.  The economic downturn has influenced the Lauren brand to the point where department stores carry more Ralph Lauren designs.  This means that the larger chains have the ability to influence lower pricing from wholesalers like Ralph Lauren.  The result is lower wholesale demand and lower margins for the Lauren organisation.

Ralph Lauren is an international brand that is well respected in all markets.  Though not all markets can be reached at a full scale, Ralph Lauren has several strategies as to how they can expand their international presence.

In the recent Annual Reports of 2011, the company expressed their growth strategies for the future.  One is to ‘Continue to Build and Extend the Brand’, which showcases how Ralph Lauren will continue to specialize in their specialty branding in expanding markets.  Through their retail stores, they are able to keep the Ralph Lauren Lifestyle as an important extension of their physical branding.

The second strategy is ’Focus on Specialty Retail’ which encourages the inclusivity of products within the Ralph Lauren retail stores.  In developing a strong retail real estate portfolio, Lauren is able to introduce new stores in the United States, Europe, and several parts of Asia.

Lastly, ‘Expand International Presence’ through structure of each region based on business climate and structure.  The opportunities in e-commerce initiatives and the capitalization on global business is the ultimate goal of Ralph Lauren. As Mr Lauren said of his vision, ‘I am not designing clothing, I’m creating a world’.  Ralph Lauren has always stood for ‘providing quality products, creating worlds, and inviting people to take part in (their) dream’.

Having risen from an American tie company forty years ago, Ralph Lauren has become a leader in American fashion.  As one of the leaders in marketing, the business has its own term for marketing, ‘Merchantainment’, which is a blending of commerce and culture.  Ultimately, they are having the philosophy that ‘the luxury shopping experience is not just about the transaction, but the immersion as well’.  When put against Louis Vuitton and Burberry, they won the Marketing of the Year award in 2010.

As the company continues to grow throughout the world, Ralph Lauren feels that he must maintain his brand management.  Within the last ten years, Lauren has bought back an estimated 350 licenses of which his products were manufactured.  He did this to ensure that the brand was being represented as well as it could be.  Being a publically traded company limits the amount of control Lauren has over his business, so this gesture ensures his stockholders and investors of his confidence within the company and its future.  ‘Everything I do, everything I’ve ever done, is about what I love and the taste level I believe in.  There’s a lot of emotion behind the brand’.

Being sold throughout the world, with flagship stores in all major fashion markets, it is only expected that the brand will continue to grow and inspire.

International student No. 5 – OperaUpClose

OperaCloseUp is the resident company at the King’s Head Theatre in Islington.  In 2010 this company took over the King’s Head Theatre which opened in 1970 and had a brilliant history in sending talented people into the world, such as Joanna Lumley and Hugh Grant, and sending 37 shows to West End.  This organisation is producing various productions from Opera to comedy plays and has been rebranding the theatre as ‘London Little Opera House’.  Its history is very short but outstanding.

Their field is classified as the theatre production industry.  They have to pay for the set, props and labour costs in advance but they do not know how much income they can gain before show starts because income mainly relies on tickets sales.  Therefore, their culture can be referred to as ‘Tough-Guy Macho’ (Deal & Kennedy, 1982) which has high risk and quick return.  The result can be easily found out by the media review, the reaction and number of audience and total income.

Employees share the artistic value, passion, love of the theatre and target of income, so there is a strong togetherness and strong intensity (Luthans, 1995).

American student’s view on the differences between UK and USA

For many years, theorists have tried to define culture; a complex term that is used in our daily life.  Hofstede (2007), a well-known theorist defines culture as a collective programming of the mind, which distinguishes the members of one group of people from another.  As each culture differentiates their group members through values and meanings, it brings awareness to its community members about their beliefs, values, language and environment.

Entering a new culture it is easier to identify the difference rather then the similarities.  Due to each culture having different customs and gestures, it may make the individual face culture shock.  It is important to understand cultural difference, because culture is a significant factor of not only how people interact, but also how a corporation fits into the community.

There are vast differences between UK and the States when conducting business.  For example, the British can be formal and at times prefer to work with people and companies they know.  Due to globalization, in today’s societies the younger generation is different; they do not need long-standing personal relationships before they conduct business with people.  Also, they do not require an intermediary to make business introductions.  Nonetheless, networking and relationship building is often the key to long-term business success.  Most British look for long-term relationship with people they conduct business with and will be cautious if the other appears to be going after a quick deal.

The British have an interesting mix of communication styles encompassing both understatement and direct communication.  Many older businesspeople rely heavily upon formal use of established protocol.  When communicating with people they see as equal to themselves in rank or class, the British are direct, but modest.  If communicating with someone they know well, their style may be more informal, although they will still be reserved.  Written communication follows strict rules of protocol.

Contrasting with the UK, the States tends to be informal, it is crucial to smile and simply say hello while maintaining eye contact during the greeting.  Most people will insist that you call them by their nickname, if they have one.  Americans are direct; they expect people to speak clearly and in a straightforward manner.  It is important to ‘tell it how it is’ because if you do not then it is considered wasting time, and time is money.

Contrasting with the British, Americas will use the telephone to conduct business that would require a face-to-face meeting in most other countries.  They do not insist upon seeing or getting to know the people with whom they do business.


  • Power culture
  • ‘Be Perfect’ working style
  • Extrinsic rewards
  • Working overtime is necessary
  • ‘American English’ is spoken
  • Longer working hours
  • Less vacation time
  • More strict and hierarchical structure (Up tight)


  • More laid back when it comes to work schedules (quote: First day I was told to ‘take my tie off and relax’ – working for the international film magazine)
  • Non-defined breaks (most people eat at their desk)
  • ‘British English’ and British slang is used
  • More time off for holidays
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