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Food and entertaining.



Introductions

“You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”*

The tone of a business relationship can be set by an initial introduction. It is important to make a good impression right from the first handshake.

When meeting businesspeople for the first time, is it better to be formal or informal? Here are some points to remember when making business introductions in English-speaking western countries:

• Introduce businesspeople in order of professional rank - the person of highest authority is introduced to others in the group in descending order, depending on their professional position. Gender does not affect the order of introductions.

• When possible, stand up when introductions are being made.

• If clients are present, they should be introduced first.

• The name and title of the person being introduced is followed by the name and title of the other person. It is also helpful to include a small piece of information about each person to start the conversation.

• If you are being introduced to someone, shake hands and say 'Hello' (informal) or 'Pleased to meet you'/'How do you do' (formal), followed by the person's name.

• Treat business cards with respect. Take a moment to read them and carefully put them somewhere safe.

• Address people by their first names only if they indicate that they want you to.

Of course, in practice we often break these rules - but knowing they exist provides a starting point.

It is also worth remembering that many aspects of etiquette are not universal - cultural norms vary from country to country. What passes for good manners in one country may be frowned on in another. A firm handshake may be appreciated in the US, UK and Australia but a French businessperson is more likely to offer a single, light handshake. In Japan it is more usual to bow. Preparation is important in order to avoid culture clash. Doing some background research to get acquainted with local business etiquetteand social customs can spare the blushes of both visitor and host and avoid causing offence.

* anecdotal saying

 

Work and leisure

It has never been easy to balance work and leisure. During the late twentieth century the concept of a job for life was largely replaced by the short-term contracts favoured by the enterprise culture. Some found themselves with too much free time on their hands when company restructures led to redundancies. Others saw leisure time shrink and working hours increase in exchange for greater financial rewards. The British TUC (Trades Union Congress) estimates that, despite European Union legislation, 4 million people in the UK work more than 48 hours per week and 1 in 25 work over 60 hours. It is thought that managers and professional staff work the longest hours.



New technologies have proved a double-edged sword. E-mail, laptops and mobile phones have intensified the pace of work and allow people to be contacted anywhere at any time. A MORI* survey carried out for Toshiba of 300 British workers who use laptops found that users worked an average six-day week. Yet 70 percent agreed that developments in mobile technology offered them more freedom in their working lives and 64 percent believed that it made them more productive. However, it was noted that not alt employers value performance over presenteeism (this is when people stay at work later than necessary in order to make people think they are working hard). So, those leaving the office on time and taking work home to finish may be less highly valued than those who remain at their desk and do little actual work.

Workforce values in the twenty-first century do seem to be shifting. Employees are less willing to trade all other aspects of life for purely professional or financial gains. Work-life balance has become a new goal for many. Some flexible working practices such as flexitime or part-time work have become well-established. In 2003 the British government introduced legislation to encourage people to negotiate more flexible working hours to improve family life.

Teleworking seems like a natural application of modern technology. A recent report notes that 20 percent of employees in the UK work from home occasionally. However, 80 percent of those that do are managers. This suggests that managers may embrace the freedom of homeworking themselves, but still do not trust their employees to be productive outside a traditional work environment. Some people choose to downshift by moving to a less demanding job or decreasing hours and pay in order to enjoy a less pressurised lifestyle and to improve quality of life.

Work remains an integral and, for most of us, essential part of our everyday life. We are arguably armed with more tools and opportunities than ever before to share the time we give to work and the time we give to ourselves and family. Yet getting that balance right remains a difficult task.

* MORI is the largest independently-owned market research company in the UK.

 

Food and entertaining.

 

Food can communicate complex messages about status, nationality and identity. The fashion for eating out in restaurant was adopted by the upper classes during the French revolution. Most English words relating to eating out are adopted from the French (hotel, cafe, menu, chef, etc.) including restaurant, which was originally from the French verb meaning 'to restore'. Later, the migrations of the twentieth century proved fertile ground for mingling cuisines and knowledge of the vast variety on offer is viewed as a mark of modern cosmopolitan taste.

Codes of eating vary from culture to culture. In one culture it is polite to leave food on one's plate; in another it shows lack of respect. An American will be amused to see a British person struggling to balance peas on the back, rather than the curve of the fork. A European will retain the knife in one hand and the fork in the other throughout the meal. In contrast, an American will cut with the knife and fork and then lay the knife along the top of the plate and transfer the fork to their other hand to eat. The order in which food is served also differs from country to country. When eating out in Eastern countries a variety of dishes can be served at the same time rather than dividing the meal into courses. The dinners serve themselves by transferring small amounts of food from communal bowls onto their own plates. In Western restaurants the food is served in individual portions and the meal is generally divided into starter, main course and dessert.

Anthropologist Robin Fox believes that 'doing lunch' has little to do with business and everything to do with status. He says, “just to be having business lunches marks one down as a success in the world of business” This was taken rather too much to heart by five bankers fired by aLondon investment firm for trying to write off on expenses a dinner bill of over £60,000. The traditional concept of a business lunch or dinner has broadened to encompass other meals. First there were breakfast meetings, now the latest trend in the US is to have meetings over afternoon tea. Whatever the context, it is important to check what etiquette is expected and what behaviour is acceptable. If in doubt, follow the lead of the host and allow them to guide you through the meal. Turn off mobile phones and be polite and attentive. It may be a free lunch but remember that it is still business.

 

Sales

Things have come a, long way since the days when peddlers went from door to door selling wares from a pack. Now advertisements pop up as text messages. Goods can be ordered by marl order. We can compare prices, get Quotes, check if an item .is in stock and place an order without moving away from our computer screen. In some ways the methods of buying and selling have undergone a revolution arid in others little has changed since the early 1900 when keywords in sales were service and relationships. A modern sales force uses a mixture of tried and tested techniques and new technology to increase sales. The foundation of modern sales techniques was developed in the 1950s and includes gaining the client's interest, building desire by showing product features or giving samples, increasing conviction by comparing the product with competitors or using statistics to highlight benefits and, finally, closing the deal

One of the main strategies for building a solid customer base is through relationship selling. It costs more than five times as much to win a new customer as it does to maintain an existing client. So it makes sense to find ways to encourage customer loyalty. Most people react with suspicion to hard-sell, high-pressure techniques even if they are genuinely interested in the product. Instead, relationship selling; involves a low-pressure, soft-sell approach. The salesperson listens carefully to the needs of a client «nut works with them to find solutions tailored to their requirements. This involves maintaining regular contact and building trust by keeping promises and being accessible when a customer needs help. In addition to encouraging repeat orders, such an approach promotes good service. This encourages word-of-mouth referrals which can lead to additional sales. Where a real relationship exists between client and supplier, competitors find it more-difficult to entice customers away with promises of lower prices or special deals.

Modern technology complements this approach. A Customer Relationship Management system (CRM) uses software to track interactions between the customer and the departments within the company which are supplying goods. Marketing, Sales and Customer Services can collate and access information about customers in order to address their needs quickly and efficiently. Another modern sales technique is called high probability selling. This uses a detailed series of questions to focus efforts on clients who actively require the product or service that a company has to sell. This saves the clients’ time and the sales team does not need to prepare a detailed proposal that is unlikely to be accepted by the potential customer. Sales techniques need to be adapted in accordance with each customer profile. The most effective techniques use technology to modernise traditional customer-care methods. The clients are encouraged to feel that they are more than just a signature on an order form.

 

People

 

What characteristics can help people to succeed in business and in life? A positive attitude, intelligence, perseverance and self discipline all help. Are the personality traits that contribute to success or failure genetic? Or do we learn these characteristics as we grow up? Experts still disagree as to whether nature or nurture is more important.

Can personality and intelligence be measured? IQ and psychometric tests remain popular, and the latter are still used by many companies as part of the selection process. However, in recent years the idea that only one type of intelligence exists has been criticised. Howard Gardner developed the theory of multiple intelligences. This said that people have a number of different types of intelligence that they possess to varying degrees. These are linguistic, musical, logical-mathematical, spatial, body-kinesthetic, intrapersonal (e.g. insight) and interpersonal (e.g. social skills and the ability to understand and motivate other people). Gardner noted that teaching and learning should focus on the dominant intelligence of each person.

In business it is important to recognise that not everyone perceives the world in the same way. This is particularly true in negotiations. At work and home we negotiate all the time, whenever there is a problem with two or more solutions. No progress can be made without respecting the fact that the other party may have an alternative viewpoint to our own. An effective negotiator needs good communication skills and an ability to adapt to situations. In a negotiation it is useful to consider the following:

• Be prepared. Know what you want and what the other side wants. Think about how to present your case and how the other side may respond.

• Adapt your negotiation style to the situation and the people involved. Be aware of cultural,
generational or personality differences that might affect the negotiation,

• Remain flexible and explore options. Listen to the other person's ideas and concerns, even if they are different from your own. You can respect the other person's point of view even if you don't agree with them.

• A successful negotiation arrives at a solution that is acceptable to all parties involved.

• If there is no hope of a compromise, be prepared to politely end the negotiation.

Markets

If a company wants to sell a product or service successfully, it must identify the target market. There are many different types of market to choose from. The mass market aims to sell to as many people as possible, crossing age and income groups. In contrast, a niche market focusses on a narrowly defined group of customers. It often caters to need that has been overlooked by those suppliers who cater to markets which deal in more mainstream products or services. Focussing on niche markets can be cost effective as marketing campaigns can aim budgets directly at potential customers, for example through advertising on local radio or in magazines targeting special interest groups.

Two European countries lead the luxury market. Italy has 30 percent of the market and France 25 percent. Luxury product categories include art and antiques, cosmetics and fragrance, jewellery and cars. One of the most successful companies in this market is LVMH (Louis Vuitton, Moe: Hennessey) with over 13 percent of the global market for luxury goods.

Before a new product or service is launched on a particular market, it can be tried on atest market to see if people are likely to buy. If a seller corners the market, they own or produce most of the goods or services on sale and can therefore set prices. In a buyer's market there is more supply than demand, so buyers are at an advantage and prices are low. When these conditions are reversed, it is a sellers’s market.

Economic blocs are countries that have official trading agreements with each other in a variety of markets. Some of these include:

APEC-Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum

ASEAN -Association of Southeast Asian Nations

Central American Common Market

ECOWAS - Economic Community of West African States

EU - The European Union

NAFTA --• North American Free Trade Area

The World Trade Organisation aims to promote open markets worldwide, where foreign competitors are allowed to trade.

Financial markets is the general term for the buying and selling of shares, bonds (tradable documents promising to pay a sum of money - often government loans), and commodities (e.g. oil, metal, agricultural products). Stocks and shares are traded on stock

markets (or stock exchanges) around the world. Generally a stockbroker will buy and sell on your behalf. Investments fluctuate depending on a variety of factors such as news from the company, national/international economics and media reports. In a bear market prices fall and in a bull market prices rise, usually over a long period of time.

Companies.

A company is an organisation that produces goods or services to make a profit. There are many different types.

A small business might become a medium or large business. If a company sells directly to the public, it is a retail business. A wholesale business sells goods in bulk to other companies. Some companies have Ltd in their name. This stands for Limited company. Here, shareholders only lose what they invested if the company goes bankrupt. A company with PLC after its name is a Public limited company -its shares can be freely bought and sold. In contrast a Private limited company only passes shares to another person if other shareholders agree. A conglomerate consists of several companies that have joined together. A multinational or transnational company has global operations in many different countries.

Funding influences the type of ownership. Companies can be funded by share capital, money raised from investors who bought shares. It is owned by the shareholders who elect a board of directors to make decisions and set company policy. Venture capital companies lend money to people to start a new business. Some projects which venture capitalists invest in may be high risk and unable to attract funding from elsewhere. If a person owns their own company without investors, they are a sole proprietor. When two or more people join together to start a company, they form a partnership. A company is bought by another company in a takeover, which can be friendly or hostile.

Traditionally a company board's main responsibility was to increase profits on behalf of the company's shareholders. In contrast, business ethics have been influenced by the idea of the stakeholder, which advocates that a firm also has an obligation to a wide range of people and groups, including shareholders, employees, suppliers, customers, government agencies, protest groups and the community in which the company operates.

A successful company needs change management, charismatic leadership with a commitment to Innovation and improving performance, a clear business strategy and an easily identified corporate identity (so that the company name or products are recognised). However, James C Collins found that a key factor in companies that made the transition from good to great was a company culture that encouraged disciplined people to act in a disciplined manner.

The ethics and actions of big companies have increasingly come under scrutiny, it will be interesting to monitor which qualities and values come to define the most successful companies of the twenty-first century.

The Web

Now that the Internet has arrived, it is difficult to imagine how we lived without it; it has revolutionised communications. Changes are taking place at an incredible speed. Hardware is becoming more compact, faster and more affordable, allowing more individuals and companies to utilise the Net. In the past, research took longer, important documents got lost in the post and information could be difficult to find.

Unfortunately this revolution has brought with it a new set of problems. Research is certainly quicker but connections can be slow, making it difficult to access the websites that you need. Documents can still get lost, but now they float around cyberspace. Spam can be a problem when your e-mail account becomes overloaded with advertising that you don't want, but more sinister are the various computer viruses which can make your computer crash. And not all countries have equal access to the advantages of new technology.

The global economy has come to rely on the constant exchange of up-to-the-minute information. Information and communication technologies (ICTs) have transformed the way that companies and individuals communicate. E-commerce and the changing way that businesses connect to customers, suppliers and new markets are gradually creating a new economy. Traditional business models and processes may need to be re-evaluated and adapted to the network economy of tomorrow.

Technology has also opened up new horizons for education. E-learning continues to grow, allowing educational and professional courses to be taken by distance learning. This means that access to courses is not determined by geographic location. Online seminars can be synchronous (in real time) or asynchronous (where students and lecturers post messages for reading later). Blended learning: integrates both online and traditional learning techniques. Language learning has also benefited from the technological breakthroughs with TELL (technology enhanced language learning) - using computers multimediaand other new technologies.

The World Wide Web is still young. It will continue to evolve and change; both individuals and businesses are still coming to terms with the impact and applications of the vast flow of knowledge at their fingertips. Can the Internet of the future help bring about true global communication and shared prosperity? Only if the gap between the information-rich and the information-poor can be bridged.

 

Cultures.

Companies which deal in the global marketplace need to be able to adapt to different business cultures. It is easier to make a good impression in our own culture than in another, where our knowledge of the language and rules of behaviour may be limited. Knowledge of the protocol and etiquette in the countries we do business with is essential. Protocol is adhering to the correct procedures and conduct in formal situations. This involves knowing the acceptable way to behave and includes formalities of rank which denotes the level of a person's position in an organisation. Etiquette focuses on communicating in a respectful and polite way in accordance with the good manners and accepted norms of the culture.

When employees travel abroad on business, particularly on prolonged assignments, there can be a period of adjustment when they adapt to the local culture. If sufficient preparation has not been made, then the person may not be able to acclimatise to the loss of familiar cultural cues. These cues normally allow us to read gestures, body language and facial expressions and provide us with prompts that indicate how we should act in particular situations, if this is not possible then culture shock may occur, leading to frustration and ineffective communication on both sides. To avoid this, some companies provide cross-cultural training. Staff is shown skills and strategies to help with cultural adjustment. These include factual information about the culture, negotiating across cultures, managing employees from different backgrounds, decision-making styles in different countries and differing attitudes to time and task management. A good course will also teach employees about their own culture and the-preconceptions that others might have of them.

It helps to be aware that even the most basic forms of non-verbal communication are culturally specific. In most Western countries people stand close enough to shake hands without moving forward. This is the ‘comfort zone’, which means that standing closer than this can make other people feel slightly uncomfortable. However, in Asian countries people usually prefer to keep a greater distance, whereas in most of the Middle East and Latin America the ‘comfort zone’ is much closer. In order not to cause offence, it is preferable not to back away. Similarly, maintaining eye contact is seen as a positive thing in the West and avoiding it can be interpreted as evasive. However, in South Korea too much eye contact could be considered hostile or aggressive. Intermittent eye contact is acceptable in most parts of the world. A smile may be regarded as a universal gesture but in Japan it can communicate that the person is uncomfortable or sad.

Cultural awareness may be complex but companies can pay dearly if intercultural research has not been carried out. Nike Inc had to recall 38,000 basketball shoes because its swoosh design logo was considered offensive in some cultures. This example illustrates that even the largest companies can make cultural mistakes. Such errors can be costly in terms of both a company's money and its public image.

 

Jobs

There are valuable skills that make job seekers attractive to employers:

• Technical skills - which include the specialist knowledge that will help them do the job.

• Personal skills - personality, attitudes, personal work habits and style. (Can they work under pressure? Can they work as a part of a team as well as unsupervised?).

• Transferable skills- the basic skills learnt through everyday situations or previous work experience that can be usefully applied to a new position.

In the US the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) carried out a survey and asked employers what skills and abilities a new graduate would need to be prepared for an entry level job.

Seven top skills

1 interpersonal

2 teamwork

3 verbal communication

4 analytical

5 computer

6 written communication

7 leadership

The survey also found that work experience and academic qualifications were highly valued.

The findings suggest that employers want employees who can communicate effectively in speech and in writing (e.g. presentations and reports), who can interact well with colleagues or customers and who can work as part of a team.

The first steps of the selection process include filling out a job application form or sending a well-written covering letter and CV. The next hurdle is the interview. A survey noted that the five most common mistakes made during an interview were displaying little or no knowledge of the company, being unprepared to discuss career plans or goals, having limited enthusiasm, lack of eye contact and being unprepared to discuss skills or experience. Lack of preparation is a key mistake in any job interview. Most companies now have websites that include a company profile and product information which can be useful for background research.

The changing job market means that employers are increasingly choosing from an international pool of candidates. The employer may be in one country while the prospective employee is in a different country or even on a different continent. Applicants may find themselves taking part in a virtual interview via telephone, e-mail, video- or tele-conferencing. Traditional interview tips normally include advice to shake hands, maintain eye contact and dress appropriately. These cannot always be applied to telephone and e-mail interviews, where the interviewer will not know whether you are wearing your best suit or your pyjamas and will not be able to see when your gestures or facial expressions underline key information. However, the aim of the interview remains the same; to evaluate a potential employee's enthusiasm, motivation, skills and commitment.

Modern technology may allow an interview to take place in cyberspace but the basics still apply: be informed and motivated and demonstrate that you are the best person for the job.

 





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