For the first time in my adult life (I’m 56), nobody knows what’s going on. The word Brexit hadn’t been coined five years ago, yet it’s now so firmly embedded that the mere thought of it makes us ache – either from anxiety, longing or sheer fatigue. But however tempting it might feel, especially when we have no control over the outcome, the one thing business can’t do is bury its corporate head in the sand.
So how do we prepare for the unknowable? Where do we turn for insights? Can we learn anything useful from a Brexit speaker?
There are so many ironies associated with Brexit that it can’t be long before they’re turned into a bestseller. One of the most glaring is the crying need for experts. When he returns to the speaker circuit I’ve no doubt Michael Gove will agree.
We need to pay attention to experts on how the EU works, the hurdles facing negotiators in each of 58 sectors, and the range of potential economic consequences. Whether we end up with seismic change or alignment so close that most won’t notice any difference, whether Brexit 1.0 leads to Brexit 2.0 (as some on the right are plotting), every organisation must prepare for the effects on its workforce, customers, suppliers and investors.
Of course we shouldn’t just listen to Remainers. Even if you privately regard Brexit as a reckless faith-based gamble, speakers who believe in it deserve a hearing because it’s likely to happen, and they might hold the key to making a success of it. Leave zealots like Rees-Mogg and Farage to the radio phone-ins; Gisela Stuart, Roger Bootle and Digby Jones are among many offering a measured and well-informed pro-Brexit perspective.
Better still, assemble a broad-based panel of Brexit speakers for your next conference (and book a journalist schooled in fact-checking to chair the discussion).
Aside from Brexit specialists, we must also turn to speakers with the tools to manage change. Leaving the EU without a deal could herald the biggest change programme in the modern history of any organisation, whether or not it trades with Europe. Everything from recruitment to regulation would be impacted. Even a variation of the Chequers agreement could lead to significant upheaval throughout and after the transition period.
Though the two big parties are not yet willing or able to admit it in public, we might yet get a ‘People’s Vote’ or ‘Ratification Referendum.’ The chances increase if negotiations collapse or if Barnier forces a coach and horses through May’s red lines, but the process is lengthy and it would face sustained opposition.
Whatever happens there will be consequences – but Brexit speakers and others will be on hand to identify the risks and help management teams navigate a way around them. It is not the time to shrug one’s shoulders and plead a Rumsfeld ‘unknown unknowns’ defence. We are all better off listening to William Hague…
“Organisations that make themselves resilient to unexpected events are more likely to be successful than those that rely on accurately predicting what will happen next. The sad truth is that those who think they know exactly what’s going to happen probably don’t understand what is happening.”
To book any of the aforementioned Brexit speakers, please contact JLA here.