Risk & Economy » Brexit » Surviving Brexit: How to lead during uncertain times

Surviving Brexit: How to lead during uncertain times

Dr Ben Laker and Rita Trehan of Henley Business School, part of the University of Reading, identify key areas where corporate leaders need to prepare for Brexit.

Negotiations between the UK and European Union (EU) continue to stall; political in-fighting gives way to splintering and splits. Critically, and perhaps somewhat overlooked are businesses pleas for certainty. They continue to fall on deaf ears. It’s therefore why leaders should remain focused on how to navigate during this time of flux. At times like this it’s important to keep in mind that British businesses have withstood shocks before and emerged stronger.

The biggest risk to business failure will be the result of businesses failing to plan for what is a new global future which we know whatever the outcome will look very different to the one we are in today.

Company survival lies in being agile, innovative and flexible with having plans in place that enable the management of strategic risks and uncertainty. Those at the top must replace uncertainty with a clear vision and clarity on the path forward. Leaders must adopt a measured and calm approach acting as judiciously as possible given their knowledge of their business, the variables under their control, the information available to them, and then armed with this knowledge decisions must be taken.

Preparation is not optional

Leaders must engage their leadership team in re-evaluating long-term strategic objectives and ambitions amid the rapidly changing landscape. Scenario planning requires the ability to develop risk mitigation strategies as well as the ability to think about possible ways a business can reinvent itself. The objective is to ensure the business is nimble enough to adapt and act at the opportune moment.

The best leaders keep their business vision in sight at all times, with the knowledge that while the means of achieving the goals may change as a result of new constraints or barriers, they have the ability to flex, simply because they have made the upfront investment in planning how to future proof their businesses.

Confidence is critical

Uncertainty breeds nervousness and anxiety and mistrust. Whether it’s with investors, suppliers, customers or employees, there is no stakeholder who is not affected by Brexit and who isn’t concerned about its impact on them. It is at times like this where exceptional leaders stand out. These leaders understand the importance of inclusiveness, of transparency, and are comfortable being able to share what they can answer and what they know and what they do not.

They understand the importance of active engagement and those that can demonstrate consistency in the approach they are taking to managing their business through the Brexit fog, will not gain the respect of their stakeholders, they will have secured their trust.

Guide with conviction

With Brexit fatigue affecting most of the country, leaders must demonstrate resilience and confident leadership. Providing clarity and direction of business-critical priorities gives people the opportunity to align around a common purpose. The ability to inspire and energise is vital to ensuring that people can see a way forward.

Safeguard your financial assets

Financial management seems obvious, after all it is what companies do all the time isn’t it? The fact of the matter is that with all the possible outcomes of Brexit, executive leadership must guard the financial health of the company closely. Detailed projections and forecasts inclusive of available cash-flow is important in understanding the impact of what is needed to Brexit proof the business and what impact this may have on planned strategic investments.

Hard decisions and choices are going to have to be made even after there is a final outcome on Brexit, after all Brexit is not an event, it is a process and companies must manage their two most important assets, people and finance carefully if they are to thrive in the new future that will be created post-Brexit.

 Protect your people asset

With concerns about freedom of movement of talent and large international corporations making plans to move their businesses outside the UK, leader’s need to stay attuned to managing their workforces.  Companies who rely very heavily on EU workers, especially for filling the lower paid jobs, are the most at risk if there is no free movement of people. Culturally, and as a society, the idea that it’s acceptable to build a business on the back of cheap imported EU labour, is something we are moving away from and companies have been already been thinking of how to rethink their organisational models.

But it still true most large corporations, especially those located in London, depend on attracting the brightest and best European talent, many of them highly motivated young people, who all want to come to the UK to work. These EU workers are often highly qualified, extremely well educated and speak multiple languages.

Ideally, companies want to retain these exceptional staff, but this may not happen, so what can companies do to mitigate the risk? From scaling up their apprenticeship programmes; this is a smart move, to targeting individuals seeking to re-enter the workforce, equally smart, to accelerating ways to use technology that can automate certain tasks, leaders need to be open to exploring what is feasible

Seek perspectives

Confronted with the constant complexities and challenges that come with Brexit at the current time, it is not uncommon for leaders to become insular. However, at times such as this, reaching out and accessing diverse and ranging viewpoints can provide a much needed different and fresh perspective on how to navigate these unchartered waters

Develop your global footprint

Post-Brexit, in 10 years’ time, the growth market for UK businesses is unlikely to be the EU – the truth it has been a declining market for the UK for years. Even if you take the fragile state of many EU economies out of the equation and ignore the potential that some countries may go back into crisis, the growth is not within the Eurozone.

This means that post-Brexit, our companies will need many more non-EU workers with the language skills and cultural backgrounds to contribute to business expansion outside Europe. The government knows this, and will no doubt relax the cap on the number of non-

EU workers who can come to the UK; skilled workers not just from the Asia-Pacific region, but from both North and South America too. Expanding business horizons to explore new markets offers many opportunities that leaders with a willingness to embrace Brexit uncertainty as an opportunity to break into new markets and build the expertise needed to be successful in these markets, potentially have an edge that adopt a wait and see what happens strategy.

It is clear that Brexit while occupying the hours and attention of so many for what appears to have been so long, has also provided insight into how leadership needs to embrace what is becoming a common reality; which is that leaders need to hone a new set of capabilities to have the ability to lead, navigate and execute business strategy in a world that is unpredictable, challenging and full of complexities. Those that understand this and embrace these new capabilities will undoubtedly be around to share their stories, while the other’s …well sadly they will be left standing out in the cold.

Comments are closed.