Progress in post-Brexit uncertainty

To seize opportunities, leaders must get organizations to participate fully in a new vision, Korn Ferry’s John Douglas says. First in a series

First in a series.
After Brexit: Uncertainty,Opportunity

John Douglas is a senior client partner with the firm.

When British voters stunned the world by deciding in June to leave the European Union (the so-called Brexit), they created a climate of great uncertainty: uncertainty over when Article 50 will be triggered and what the long-term implications of Brexit will be on Britain’s economy. And yet, in spite of this volatility, Korn Ferry Hay Group’s conversations with clients over the summer have increasingly been focused on the opportunities it presents.

No one knows what Brexit will bring, except that there will be winners and losers. The organizations Korn Ferry Hay Group has spoken to in recent weeks are determined not to be wrong-footed by the shaky ground they’ve come to occupy. Brexit signals an unprecedented shift, a level five on a four-point scale of the tumult and ambiguity that business leaders have learned to live with for years now. Macroeconomic trends like globalization, and frequent disruptive events like the 2008 financial crisis, have made volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity something of the norm for businesses. Initial indicators suggest that our clients are—for now at least—viewing Brexit as an evolution of this.

Now is not the time to sit back. Leaders are realizing that to make the most of the opportunities that Brexit may present, they need to examine their existing business and consider whether it is fit and can survive the challenges ahead. Many are making a wise move, focusing on their customers. They’re asking, “What do my customers really want?” and working with their organizations to understand this. They then need to consider how to deliver the solutions they develop more efficiently and effectively.

Many business leaders have also discussed with us their temptation to tighten their grip on the reins post-Brexit. They wouldn’t be alone: Our research indicates a tendency for leaders to take a “command and control” approach in tough times. It’s reassuring, however, to hear that many leaders have avoided this, understanding that this approach is a short-term measure, unlikely to yield long-term results.

Instead, leaders are pursuing a much more sustainable path, focusing on providing a vision for the organization and engaging their workforce in it. The effectiveness of this approach has been documented by our research, studying leadership qualities and competencies that led to success after the 2008 financial crisis. While far from identical, that crisis was another period of turbulence for businesses, and was similarly symptomatic of the wider challenges of volatility, uncertainty, ambiguity, and complexity.

Uncertainty is not going anywhere any time soon. But our post-Brexit conversations with clients reveal reason to be optimistic. Business leaders are putting their best foot forward heading into this time of change, and they’re asking their organizations to come with them.

Matt Crosby, a senior client partner with the firm, contributed to this report.