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5 proactive ways adaptive organisations will respond to Brexit.

If you’re a leader whose organisation is likely to be impacted by Brexit, here are five strategies you can apply immediately.

Have you ever noticed how we sometimes erroneously believe having answers will give us ‘certainty’? In terms of Brexit…we now have our decision. Britain is leaving the European Union and whether it’s good, bad or in-between is something only time will tell. However, as is so often the case with mega change, while one question has now been answered it has created an equally unsettling suite of new questions, such as:


  • What does it mean?

  • What’s going to change?

  • What happens now?

  • When?


Whether you're a leader in Europe, Britain or elsewhere, the chances are you already have a physical sense of discomfort lurking in the pit of your stomach. In fact, right now there are literally thousands of questions firing rapidly in the minds of your customers, employees, in Boardroom discussions and in the broader community in which your organisation operates.


Within a non-adaptive organisation, the impact of a significant change like Brexit can be an overall sense of helplessness and belief that ‘it’s all out of our control’. This can lead to a position of ‘all we can do is wait and see’ which results in leaders becoming reluctant to make decisions and consequently, responsiveness slows to a snail's pace.


However, this is not what happens in an adaptive organisation. When a change like Brexit comes along, it’s leaders proactively respond and leverage the opportunity the change represents by doing the following five things. They:


  1. lead even though they don’t have the answers

  2. seek to understand the change and proactively embrace it

  3. focus obsessively on customer-value creation

  4. establish a unified approach from the beginning

  5. harness anxiety and put it to work


So let’s explore each of these in detail.

1. They lead even when they don’t have the answers

During times of turbulence and uncertainty people look to their leaders for guidance and reassurance. However, leading when you don’t have all the answers can be tough, which is why some organisations prefer to wait for more certainty before doing anything.


Within an adaptive organisation however, leaders will have been preparing in advance for the possible ‘exit’ vote and have a clear communication strategy in place, ready to go. The messages will be authentic, present a consistent view of the situation and acknowledge the uncertainty people are likely to be feeling. They will also explain what the organisation is going to do in the short-term (without making unrealistic promises), explain what their people should do now and when they can expect to hear more.


In less adaptive organisations, after the Brexit referendum, leaders will enter their workplace and carry on as though nothing has happened. They’ll have individual conversations and share very different messages about ‘what it all means’ and by the end of the week, the uncertainty and confusion will have multiplied. While the organisation might then decide to communicate something, it will now be competing against all the ‘opinions’ that have become firmly lodged in people’s minds.


2. They understand the change and proactively embrace it

An adaptive organisation takes the time to objectively appreciate the nature of the change from multiple perspectives (i.e. customer? workforce? political? social? etc) and never...ever...hits the ‘panic’ button.


Embracing the change also means resisting the urge to conclude it’s all negative. I can say from experience, the negative aspects of a change like Brexit usually stand out a mile off. And while leaders aren’t always aware of it, these first impressions stick and can unconsciously 'blinker' the approach to potential solutions going forward. When evaluating Brexit, leaders in adaptive organisations will recognise this natural human tendency and consciously focus on the opportunities first. They will also encourage people around them to do the same.


3. They focus obsessively on customer-value creation