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On the 29thMarch 2019, the UK will leave the European Union and, assuming there is an agreed deal, a two-year Brexit transition phase will begin.

Probably.

How ready is your business for the change?

We don’t know yet what the legal, commercial and technical implications are yet, but have you considered whether you’re in the best shape to deal with whatever Brexit does look like?

Whether you believe that Brexit will be good or bad for the economy as a whole, one thing’s for sure: there will be winners and losers, and the winners will be those that can adapt quickly and efficiently to the changing business conditions.

I propose the following steps as “no-regrets” moves that, even in the unlikely event that Brexit doesn’t happen, will leave your business better equipped to deal with change.

1.    Get absolutely clear on your purpose, vision and mission.

However uncertain the outlook is, people will take confidence and motivation from a clear purpose and vision. They will provide you with an anchor point to what you are and are not going to respond to and make sure that your mission – the objectives and approach that may be impacted by Brexit – stays focused on what’s most important to your business.

If you are equally clear on your mission or strategy, you will be better equipped to assess what changes you’ll need to make to adjust to a post-Brexit world.

2.    Treat Brexit as an opportunity to for radical review

If we’re honest, we all shy away from difficult decisions sometimes.  We stick with the status quo, when we really should change something, but maybe there are more pressing issues to deal with. Sometimes it’s just easier to stick with convention.

Yes, elements of Brexit will – at the very least – mean making minor changes to systems and processes, but why not put everything under the microscope? If you’re going to review your strategy, don’t just take an incremental view.

Look for opportunity from Brexit: not just for new business, but to improve the business you have.

3.    Crack on with the important stuff

It does feel like everyone’s playing a waiting game. There’s certainly agreement that investment has stagnated and the impact of that, and the decreasing value of the pound, has cost the economy upwards of £24bn or £450m per week and rising.

It’s easy to take the safety first-approach and keep the business ticking over rather than moving forward. But what damage is that doing to your business in the long-run? Are you taking a dispassionate view of risk, or are you just avoiding it? Where there is risk there is reward, after all.

4.    Consolidate your change plans

When it come to the change itself, some companies are great at change and deliver the benefits every time. This is described as Change Capability. A core element of Change Capability is having an integrated, enterprise-wide Change Plan.

Now is the time to be ruthless in ensuring that all of your projects are aligned to the mission. Low-impact or ‘pet’ projects will be a drain on your resources when it comes to gearing up for Brexit. Now is the time to clear the decks.

5.    Analyse multiple scenarios and contingency plans

Not all businesses are going to be able to invest in preparing for multiple scenarios, but you can at least explore the possibilities and understand their implications.

According to a CBI Survey earlier this year, more than half of business have analysed scenarios, and their potential impact on their business, so if that’s you – great If not, doing so will put you in a position to move faster when things become clearer, and you’ll be in a position to reduce uncertainty in the meantime.

6.    Ramp up collaboration

Brexit is going to create cross-functional and, indeed, cross-border problems for businesses to solve. Start breaking down those silos now, get people working together and involve them in creating solutions. In fact, scenario planning is the perfect opportunity! Don’t limit it to a few ‘experts’.

Consider, too, the different stakeholders that you might have to collaborate with to ensure that your business can adapt or thrive in the post Brexit environment. What kind of a relationship have you had with your supply chain? Unions? Regulators? Are they typically collaborative relationships?

What would happen if you asked different stakeholder groups to help you solve a problem right now? How would they respond?

7.    Communicate widely and frequently

We all know that communication is important during change. Do we do it? Not enough, according to leading change expert John Kotter: “Most companies under communicate their visions for change by at least a factor of 10.”

Make sure that you are “overcommunicating” your vision. Emails aren’t going to do it. Get the message out there by multiple channels and media. Build on scenario planning, ensure that the knowledge gained is collated and key points are also communicated widely, so that your workforce becomes more familiar with what Brexit could mean for your business, knows that you are planning for different possibilities, and have confidence in you to get through any turbulence. A lack of communication, on the other hand, increases uncertainty.

8.    Develop a right here, right now focus

We’ve talked a lot about planning. Until the reality of Brexit becomes clearer, though, it is equally important to stay in the here and now. You have a business to run. It can be easy to get caught up with scenario planning, in the question of what will happen in the future and lose focus on what needs to be done today.

Therefore, make sure you’re asking yourself “what do we know today, and what does that mean for us right now?” as well as thinking about the future. Dedicate separate time in leadership meetings to both the here and now challenges and the future challenges of Brexit. Be clear and disciplined about it to ensure focus.

9.    Get your processes into shape

It might seem counterintuitive, if you’re going to go into an as-yet-undefined transformation, to work on your processes. However, as McKinsey advise, agility and stability are complimentary organisational qualities. If you have clearly owned, well-documented and governed business and data management processes, then you are in a much better position to define the changes required, understand their implications, and make the change stick.

Similarly, your ability to implement change will improve significantly with the use of a common set of methods around project and programme management, and change management. They speed up implementation and avoid confusion and duplications of effort, creating a common language.

10.  Get mentally prepared for a hard road ahead

The implications of Brexit could be really tough on many businesses. There are many metaphors for transformation, including the Hero’s Journey, which is a common structure from mythology in which a hero goes on an adventure, and must face up to challenges and ordeals in order to return victorious – and transformed.

It is important to anticipate, recognise and face up to these challenges.

People will be anxious about the impact of Brexit on their jobs. It is important to acknowledge the uncertainty but emphasise the steps that you are taking, and you need them to take with you, to get the best possible outcome.

11.  Put well-being on the agenda

Recognising and dealing with anxiety and stress means providing support. Not just ticking boxes, but showing people that you really care about them and putting effective support systems in place. This will help to build resilience.

Focus on developing ‘protective resilience’. This means equipping people to face up to potentially stressful situations with confidence, knowing that they have social and emotional support (from managers, colleagues, friends and family) and the skills to handle the pressure. It also means helping people to take preventative measures – eating well, getting enough sleep, exercising, and managing their work-life balance.

12.  Fix your people issues

If it isn’t already obvious: It is your people that will get you through what could be a very challenging period for your business.

It is essential that you have their emotional commitment. How well are you doing now? I’m not talking about your engagement score here. Do you understand your people? Do you show that you care? Do they trust your intentions? Do they have confidence in you to lead them through difficult times, to get the job done?

Take the opportunity now to start fixing the issues that impact upon how your employees feel about working for you, and start building the employee experience.

13.  Be prepared to reconcile differences

Let’s be honest: Brexit has divided society down the middle. It is an extremely emotive issue. When things do get tough, it’s going to be important to try and create an environment in which people are able to maintain relationships and avoid recriminations.

Let’s hope it doesn’t happen. But when jobs and livelihoods are at risk, if you’re not actively working on the relationships and building a positive sense of community at work, then it’s more likely that the finger pointing will begin, and people will fall out. All that will do is detract from your collective ability to adapt.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, I believe that by working through the first 12 steps in this article, you’ll be putting your organisation in a good position to prosper, and perhaps to avoid blame and recrimination.

If, Brexit doesn’t have a major impact on your business, then it is my view that none of the above will have been wasted. Take the word “Brexit” out of the article and it becomes a number of steps to take to help you become better equipped to deal with a faster-changing and uncertain world.

Comments are very welcome. I’d love to see this as the opening up of a new debate, and therefore please ask that you stay away from the politics of Brexit, which can only really hold us back from finding solutions to the challenges that it presents.

If you’d like to get more involved still, by collaborating in some way, let me know.

 

Many thanks to Mike Whittaker for providing the stimulus and many of the ideas behind this article, and for Alan Heap for adding to the debate.

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