Congratulate to accumulate: Britain’s no-praise business culture is holding our economy back

Emma Sinclair
US-based SoulCycle is exactly what Britain could do with learning from

A few weeks ago I spent three inspiring days in Silicon Valley. Part of the mayor’s International Business Programme and Silicon Valley Comes to the UK (SVC2UK), in partnership with the British Consulate General in San Francisco and London & Partners, I met legendary entrepreneurs, investors and senior executives such as Sheryl Sandberg at some of the world’s most notorious companies with 12 other British female entrepreneurs.

I had first-hand experience of how their business culture is all about recognising and rewarding success. Many Brits are brought up to believe that public recognition is akin to egomania and anyone who either welcomes it, let alone seeks it, should be scorned. Why do we cringe at the US culture of backslapping when this collaboration culture clearly helps them grow and, in my view, contributes to big successes?

At Eventbrite, I met co-founder Julia Hartz, who does this so well. When an employee meets a target, they post it on the video network and people holler and cheer. No chance that would happen in the UK!

And it’s not just in business. I am an avid fan of US-based SoulCycle, the indoor cycling studios. They pride themselves on having epic spaces, inspiring instructors and loud, uplifting music. Their walls display the sign “Athlete, Legend, Warrior, Renegade, Rockstar” and, by the end of class, I almost believe it. I leave on a high, feeling utterly charged and more motivated to face the day ahead. It’s so uplifting.

The converse, more demure British style means that, often, we don’t reward brilliant employees, we demotivate our workforce and, ultimately, business suffers. Time and time again, research shows that recognition need have no financial value. Workers of all ages, not just millennials, feel that recognition for contribution is more fulfilling than any rewards or gifts and that peer praise is extremely motivating. Perhaps we should try harder and say well done more often.

In February, Mike Hussey, the chief executive of Almacantar and a man I respect and admire, replied “well done” when I sent him some news about the progress of my business. I practically fell off my chair as (honestly) people outside my family and oldest friends very rarely say it. It should come as no surprise that we all need a little pat on the back to keep us going.

Having sat on the board of a large public property company and started a business from scratch, Hussey too understands that it is all about nurturing people. With the right support, you can deliver outperformance from almost any individual.

However, as he notes, “you have got to mean it and motivation is only achieved in tandem with honesty and integrity. I am known to be tough, but fair. Therefore, recognition is valued by those that receive it from me and secretly desired by people that have yet to benefit – an equal motivation perhaps!”

It’s not just the aftershock of a compliment or my recent dose of US culture that has reminded me of the importance of recognition. This weekend I was awarded an MBE for services to entrepreneurship, alongside fellow Silicon Valley missionary Caroline Plumb (now OBE) of FreshMinds.

For me, the MBE is recognition; very public recognition – and I will treasure it. And when Hussey told me I deserved acknowledgement for progress made, I so appreciated that too. If we want to further lift the UK economy, I believe this is a culture we need to embrace and an attitude we need to change.

Oh – and recognition is a two way street, so thank you to everyone I know who supports my endeavours, whether personal, philanthropic or at EnterpriseJungle, in any small or large way. Because just so you know, I really appreciate it.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.