After Brexit: Uncertainty,Opportunity
Neil Paterson is a senior client partner with the firm.
Business leaders struggle regularly now with volatility, ambiguity, and complexity−whether it’s due to incessantly evolving markets, relentless global-scale economic shifts, or major political disruptions like Brexit.
But they also have learned that a cascade of crises creates risks. Korn Ferry Hay Group has conducted many conversations with clients since the UK’s June referendum on the European Union. They say they cannot ignore the challenges of uncertainty if their organizations hope to capitalize on the opportunities that Brexit will present.
So, exactly what more can leaders do?
1. Stop hankering after “normal.”
It’s reassuring to see that the majority of our clients in most sectors have accepted Brexit, and are open to the possibility that it may bring opportunities for their business. Leaders need to view Brexit as a leveler. If they were operating “normally” before the referendum, they were driving in the second lane of a highway—coasting but not really pushing their business. Brexit has returned everyone to the auto race’s starting line. But leaders looking to take this opportunity to close the gap on their competition will need to galvanize their employees.
2. Don’t be a pacesetter. Listen.
Leaders must strike a careful balance between demonstrating strength and engendering employee trust, and assuming the directive style of leadership that can quickly disengage people. There was a moment in the immediate aftermath of Brexit when leaders needed to provide employees with blinding clarity on what was expected of them and lead from the front, aka pacesetting. This moment is quickly passing, and they now need to be wary of prolonging these strong behaviors. Pacesetting does not help people feel enabled or empowered. It’s also hard to connect with pacesetting leaders, as they rarely bring others on board with their strategy or motivations.
Listening will become a critical attribute for leaders post-Brexit, and the sooner they become attuned to their organizations, the better. They will need to listen to employees to understand what their concerns are and how to support them. This will be critical in maintaining engagement.
3. Seek new ideas.
Leaders also need to listen for and to seek out new sources of support themselves. Business leaders develop their “ideas people” over time and repeatedly turn to these same individuals. But in a new age, new ideas will be needed. These may well come from untapped areas of the organization. Leaders need to keep an ear to the ground and think about how to keep ideas coming, even when some might need to be shot down.
Over past few months, we’ve become familiar with the circular phrase, “Brexit means Brexit.” But what does Brexit really mean? This is the million-dollar question no leader can answer right now. Yet what they can do is to influence what Brexit means to their organizations. Crisis management should be avoided at all costs.
If there’s one final piece of advice I’d give leaders, it’s “stay vigilant.” The road to Brexit is long, and there are many moments when uncertainty could surface, threatening the engagement of your people and potentially your business operations. Keep testing the waters, talk to your employees, and perhaps most importantly, listen to what they have to say.
Matt Crosby, a senior client partner, contributed to this report.