While the very mention of Brexit sends tempers flaring and many stomachs churning with absolute chaos, one thing is certain: change is coming to the UK and it’s arriving soon.
Although many companies have placed immediate concern for our departure from the EU on the back burner – according to a 28 September, 2018 article in the Standard, the British Chamber of Commerce reported that two out of three businesses were wholly unprepared for the UK departure. As PM May and Parliament continue to battle through the official details and tensions rise in Northern Ireland, a collective wave of panic has crested above the United Kingdom.
There is one thing to do now in this tsunami of uncertainty while the government hammers out the details: relentless reinvention.
Now is the time for a relentless focus on innovation. This is the time to discover where opportunities lie within the discomfort. This is not meant to diminish real concerns around lorries, tariffs, expats, recruitment and economic expansion. Far from it. But now is the time to step outside what we know and save our collective skins by getting comfortable with the discomfort and drive forward into a whole new expanse of pioneering thinking and problem solving.
It’s been said that you never quite know the location of a weak spot until something is broken. Now is the time to take a look at everything – EVERYTHING – in your business to discover where you can retool, repurpose, or scrap entirely and start anew. While we cannot anticipate everything, times of disruption call for intense focus on where the next opportunity lies, not necessarily just how to make it through tough times.
That said, disruption does not have to mean disruption. It could mean embracing a whole new means of doing business.
W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, authors of Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant (Harvard Business Review Press; January 20, 2015) and Blue Ocean Shift: Beyond Competing – Proven Steps to Inspire Confidence and Seize New Growth (Hachette Books; September 26, 2017), are darlings of business leadership based on their “Blue Ocean concept”: since the field of business is quite literally overcrowded with corporations competing for the same clients in the same waters using the same means, the resulting fierce competition leaves the water red with bloodied in battle. The authors encourage a new concept: go to another ocean, one where there is little competition. In other words, enter a new market. Innovate. Go where the water is open.
The authors recently released an MIT article which explains their concept of non-disruptive creation, which, in their words “offers a new way of thinking about what’s possible.” The article explains how we often conflate the words “disruption” and “innovation” these days, that something has to be destroyed in order for something new to be created. When it comes to a relentless commitment to reinvention during these uncertain times of Brexit, this is critical to remember: we don’t have to think of everything that’s changing as a destruction or a possible dismantling; this can be a time of creation instead of destruction. We must merely focus on creativity and agility.
Businesses first have a relentless reinvention opportunity when it comes to their purpose. Think about why you do what you do and how that could be retooled. Is why you got into business still the reason you should be in business? Why do you serve your customers? Does this need to be reshaped? When performing cultural readiness assessments, it’s always important to start with why you want to do something. This impacts everything you do, and it should never be so sacred that it can’t withstand some inquiry.
The next item of business when considering a new stance of relentless reinvention is to then take a look at your processes. How do you do what you do? Brexit is going to impact supply chains on an extraordinary scale, so think about different ways to distribute. Could you consider outsourcing production and distribution within the EU so customs are not so much of a problem? Is there a means of preparing declaration paperwork in advance or electronically? Is this an opportunity for AI and robotics to come into play as the Brexit process becomes more clear? Can the production of goods and services be somehow tightened or assets redeployed? Based on predictions, is there a way to get ahead of the change? Do you have the organizational agility to shift your processes to be more flexible to a possible drop in Sterling or tariffs? Better to be flexible ahead of when it’s necessary.
Be sure to always apply this concept of relentless reinvention to your people. There has never been a time where we should look at our human capital with more creativity. Could individuals be retrained, upskilled, or redeployed? Is the organization created around flexible work teams more so than rigid top-down org chart structures? If so, rethink these antiquated means of management: by the time the decision is made up the ladder, the bottom has most likely fallen away. Spreading autonomy, trusting decision making across the organization, flattening your structure, and structuring work teams that are gathered and disbanded around initiatives vs. old organizational silos might be your saving grace during this time. Is this the time to contract the company vs. plans for expansion? Have you thought through your expat population and their concerns? How can you grow your bench of talent from within through on-demand education and stretch opportunities? There are plenty of ways to think of human resources as more of a fluid asset than rigid boxes on a chart. It might just be the change that creates capacity you never even knew you had.
As the calendar ticks down to the time period between 29 March, 2019, to 31 December, 2020 (or possibly later), businesses must consider what needs to be in place for new post-Brexit rules between the UK and the EU. Relentless reinvention will not only ease the transition during the time of free movement but could allow UK businesses to emerge victorious. But it is with a mindset of creativity and business innovation that we must approach these times of uncertainty.
Rest assured, the business who focus on new paradigms and drive for new markets and strategies will weather the Brexit storm. What’s to become of those who cling to the ways of the past? No one can rightly say, but their survival is tenuous at best. Relentless reinvention is our pathway through Brexit and beyond. Embrace the change to savor the spoils of the future.