Kate Keaney, CEO at Connor.co.uk, the People and Organisational Change experts, discusses how experienced leaders, line managers and HR professionals can ensure they areprepared to deal with an uncertain future.
As the time for the UK to leave Europe draws ever closer, almost daily changes in political status mean that little can be predicted about Brexit. Companies are no clearer on whether a deal will even be agreed before we are due to exit on the 29th March 2019 – or indeed if we are going to be exiting on that date.
For businesses and organisations operating in the UK, an already volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) environment is being pushed to the extreme.
Many larger businesses and organisations in the UK have been creating and implementing high-level Brexit plans over the past two years. However, having spoken to many leaders across multiple sectors, I see that the constant uncertainty of Brexit means leaders can feel like they’re in limbo when it comes to determining the real, practical and pragmatic challenges ahead of them, from a people and organisation perspective.
At Connor, we talk about three ‘states’ that companies fall into at this stage of their planning, diagnosis and strategy journey:
1. Consciously planned: they have developed contingency plans based on a number of different possible end scenarios and associated solutions for each
2. Consciously unplanned: they are aware that they need to start diagnosing and planning but haven’t yet started, or don’t know where to start
3. Unaware: they don’t think Brexit will impact them at all
The reality is whatever the outcome, and whichever sector you operate in, EVERY organisation will be impacted by Brexit – either directly or indirectly. The question for leaders in those organisations is: do you want to be proactively planned or reactively unplanned?
If an organisation is unprepared for the changes Brexit will bring, it also begs the question – is that organisation prepared for any level of change at all? If not, then preparing for Brexit becomes doubly useful as it makes the organisation agile enough to deal with any change in the future.
So, what can organisations do to make themselves ‘Brexfit’?
Governance, decision making and communication
In a recent poll by Connor of over 1,500 people, nearly 50 per cent of respondents said that their organisation was not communicating any messages about Brexit thinking, impacts or planning. This perhaps is not surprising: given that our survey also showed that 75 per cent of organisations haven’t got a person or group in place to develop plans to mitigate Brexit impacts, then it follows that plans are not being communicated.
Nonetheless, communicating approaches to looming periods of uncertainty clearly and effectively is a key strategy for maintaining productivity, morale and engagement.
The first step to clear communication is often governance – and when it comes to governance, most organisations, it seems, are way behind. In the research we carried out, three quarters of respondents said their organisations have no person or group with responsibility for mitigating the risks of Brexit for their organisations. This is a missed opportunity. An effective governance body focusing on Brexit will enable an organisation to adapt to the changes Brexit brings without losing pace or focus.
We recommend that organisations form a dedicated governance body to explore and understand the impact of future scenarios on their organisation, and determine responses which ensure continued operational and profitable performance.
Once plans have been identified, those responsible need to consider and plan the human capital resource impacts. In reality, Brexit is likely to impact most functions with changes in strategic response having the potential to impact legal, operational, technical, commercial and people aspects of an organisation. In a balanced governance group there is strong cross functional representation, which ensures decision making is not skewed.
Operating model and organisational design
Agility as an effective methodology for teams has been around for a while, and more and more it’s being embraced as an overarching business strategy for organisations to succeed in this fast-paced, ever-changing world.
Organisations are best set up for success when they consciously and intentionally design structures and build on clear operating principles and agile methodologies. Organisations need to evaluate their current operating model and organisational design, determining the areas most likely to be impacted by Brexit, and therefore that may require change.
In our experience, uncertainty is a great time to focus on your teams, think about preparing them to be agile, aligned and highly accountable. Resilience and emotional intelligence training is a good investment for people and teams who will be driving out change.
Understanding the people implications of organisational restructures in response to Brexit
It may be necessary to change legal and operational structures to mitigate Brexit risks. This can include moving to different legal jurisdictions, moving centres of operations, consolidation, site closures and so forth.
These major changes have a real and immediate effect on people’s contracts, their engagement, the future certainty of their employment and their working locations. These also have significant requirements for high-performance leadership capability and agility across the broader organisation.
Effecting change successfully requires commitment to engaging, consulting and supporting employees alongside strict compliance with legal requirements.
Crucially, proper consideration and planning needs to be given to available capacity to implement these Brexit driven changes and the ripple effect the changes may have across the wider organisation.
Organisations need to consider if they should bring in additional support in the short term to support the timely, successful implementation of these activities. With the success of strategy in the execution, having the right capacity can mean the difference between success and failure.
For organisations with a critical dependency on European labour, Brexit represents significant risk to their operations and their ability to produce and/or deliver products and services. Considerations of the impact on visa requirements and immigration are critical and organisations may need to adapt their talent attraction and engagement strategies.
With so many unknowns on the horizon, now is the time to start to identify things that could block progress in decision making. Make sure you have data and insights that you need to inform the situation, and address your organisational complexities so that swift action can be taken when specific details of Brexit are known.
Find out how a free Brexfit consultation from Connor can help you further with your planning.
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