“May you live in interesting times”, says the famous curse. The pace of social, political, technological and environmental change means that we live in a VUCA world. Every sector of activity is facing disruption. And added to these global challenges comes Brexit, a battle that is far from over. What many forget is that any outcome is the beginning, not the end of the process. Years of tortuous negotiations will follow affecting the shape of the UK’s economy and its social fabric. Inevitably, there will be winners and losers.
Yet despite the passage of time since the Brexit referendum, many leadership teams are still unprepared for the challenge they face. Some are positioned for the hard business outcomes but few are ready for the management dynamics of navigating through an unprecedented period of ambiguous change and volatility. Teams will face a greater number of possible scenarios and variables. The only certainty will be uncertainty. And it’s not just business operational issues that will be affected. Customers, employees, suppliers, and the communities where they operate will all be impacted. Brand and corporate leadership means taking an active role in helping all stakeholders through the challenge.
Established structures, processes and systems may no longer be right. New behaviours and attitudes will be required. Leadership teams need support to help them feel comfortable with working through uncertainty. But traditional support can’t necessarily help. There can be no straight answers. There is no benchmark data and planning can only get you so far. In my view what is needed is an approach that combines a variety of empathetic perspectives that help you to help yourself. What’s needed are people who don’t claim to know the answers, but who can ask the right questions.
Rather than trying to solve today’s problems using only one lens, I believe that what’s required are people who work with a combination of four approaches. The Four C’s: Communications, Change, Coaching and Consultancy.
Communications: just as with any business crisis, event-driven disruption dramatically raises the information flows your business needs to succeed. People need clarity on the “new rules”, many of which are temporary and adaptive. And they need access to more decisions faster than ever. A decision means little unless it gets to those who need to implement it quickly and clearly. Communication may prove to be the most impactful driver of corporate results through Brexit: the winners will adapt, will act and will motivate the large teams they lead through a period of national and personal angst and uncertainty. And communications will not just be an internal challenge. You will need to engage and partner with all your stakeholders around a coherent narrative.
Change: many of the best laid plans may be defeated by supplier and customer limitations, and consumer behaviour may be erratic and unpredictable. Teams will need to feel comfortable being uncomfortable. They’re likely to have to work differently and at a new pace, reacting to events and creating imaginative ways to get things done. Ideas may be obsolete in days and the pace of business, already frenetic, will go from managing by the quarter to managing hours and days. Few will have the spare capacity they need, meaning they will have to reprioritize, adapt and approach the problem in a new way until a viable solution is achieved
Coaching: advisors tell you what to do, mentors tell you what they would have done, but a coach helps you find your solutions to your unique problems. To adapt when the rules of the game change dramatically and unpredictably, you need coaches who can challenge your thinking, remove obstacles and provide fresh insights. Coaches work with you and your teams planning, preparing, reviewing performance and solving problems.
Consulting: the starkest challenge will be defining solutions to urgent problems. Fresh perspective and new ideas will be the only path in a moment of crisis where the existing way of doing things simply isn’t possible or won’t work. You will need ideation, fresh systems thinking and scenario planning facilitated by proven operators who have navigated business for decades, helping you to re-plan when the plan fails.
Planning for Y2K was quantifiable. Resources were matched to need and allocated in good time. There is no playbook for Brexit. Nobody knows anything. And that makes acting even more urgent. What you need is smart, experienced, and emotionally savvy people who can help you find your own answers. As di Lampedusa said: “If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.” So it’s time for the Four C’s.