Is Brexit Really One Month Away?

Britain's Supreme Court just weighed in. What leaders need to do now, whatever the United Kingdom winds up doing on October 31.

With just weeks to go before the country's scheduled Brexit 'leave date' of October 31, even the British government has the jitters about the potential for economic chaos.

Cabinet ministers recently revealed part of the disaster plan if the UK exits the EU without a trade deal. The report, named Yellowhammer, warns about supply disruptions in medicine and food, as well as long border delays for commercial trucks. There's also the potential for civil unrest. That not-so-rosy outlook came out even before Tuesday's ruling by Britain’s Supreme Court that Prime Minister Boris Johnson broke the law when he decided to suspend Parliament for five weeks in the run-up to the Oct. 31 deadline. 

To be sure, the government describes Yellowhammer as a “worst case” possibility. However, experts say the report highlights how business might become messy for UK businesses. “"It isn’t just about what is needed to keep your company going, it's about corporate responsibility, which means looking after your customers and employees,” says Sözen Leimon, Korn Ferry’s head of organizational strategy for EMEA.

Leaders may be asking if their organizations have prepared enough and what more must get done in the next few weeks. Most smart leaders will have reviewed their company's mission-critical functions, says Matt Crosby, a Korn Ferry senior client partner and market leader for consumer companies. Specifically, they have studied where they get the supplies they need to produce and sell their essential products. Those leaders then reviewed what could go wrong and what changes might be needed if things do go wrong. "You'd look quite hard at where you'd shift things," he says.

Supply chain planning can be particularly tricky, Crosby says, in the fast-moving consumer products area, which includes drinks, packaged foods, and toiletries. That's because it gets to the heart of the Brexit worries – where to get much-needed supplies. Crosby says one private-label sandwich maker he works with modeled out its supply chains for various scenarios. But not everyone has looked at everything, especially when it comes to food items. "No one has talked about the impact on Spanish orange grower," he says. "This stuff is perishable." That matters because 50% of the food the country eats is imported and has a short shelf life. 

Both the leaders who have done major contingency planning and those that don’t have something in common: neither group knows what to expect. Nothing like this has ever happened. "It might be a very difficult situation, but the disaster planning can only go to a certain point," says Crosby.

If any last-minute Brexit preparations do need making, then leaders need to tread a fine line. On the one hand, bold action may necessary, ad the boss may require everyone to work long hours and move fast. One the other, the boss should remain outwardly calm, says Peter Duffy, a Korn Ferry senior client partner specializing in the global industrial market. That's because in the event of a no-deal Brexit workers may already be alarmed, not least by Britain's rambunctious tabloid newspapers. "To try and broadcast to a large group of people will spread more panic," he says.

Instead, gather together a small and trusted team to help execute any urgent plans, Duffy says. A small group of people will be better able to work quickly and efficiently, which could be vital, given short deadlines. Likewise, few members in a team mean that the broader message sent to the organization can be better managed. "Clearly, they should be people who believe in your course of action; they should be concise and precise," says Duffy.