On Thursday, the UK voted to leave the EU, triggering the start of a domino effect, the consequences of which will be felt for years. The value of sterling plummeted, although it rallied again. Our economy is in a potentially perilous situation, with food prices likely to increase and the housing market set to decline as buyers adopt a ‘wait and see’ approach.
On Friday our Prime Minister resigned leaving a political leadership vacuum. There will be an almighty, and almost certainly bloody and acrimonious fight between the two divided halves of the Conservative party over the election of their new leader. As I write this article, the Labour party is in the throes of an entirely predictable leadership coup following Dame Margaret Hodge and Ann Coffey’s motion of no confidence in Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, and after Hilary Benn was sacked and a slew of shadow cabinet resignations. There are, what may seem at first glance, wild claims in the media that either the Conservative and/ or Labour parties may split. Given the deep divisions between the opposing wings of both the Conservative and Labour parties, this outcome is not as inconceivable as it might initially sound. There will almost certainly be a general election in the next few months.
Meanwhile Nicola Sturgeon has set the wheels in motion to prepare for a second referendum on Scottish independence whilst also looking at whether the Scottish Parliament could veto UK withdrawal from the EU. The question of an Irish border poll is in play. And then there’s the possibility of a wider domino effect destabilising the rest of Europe at a time when populist parties are already exploiting public concern about the refugee crisis and discontent in the eurozone.
Then there’s our reputation on the international stage to consider. It all looked so good after the recent ‘Queen At 90’ celebrations. But now, if the bewildered reaction of my friends overseas is anything to go by, our country looks like a basket case. Perhaps across the pond, this will serve as a wake-up call about what will happen if Donald Trump is elected President of the United States.
A tsunami of events and the negotiations on Brexit are yet to start. We are in uncharted, unpredictable and potentially volatile waters. And what we desperately need is credible, astute, inspiring leadership.
Amidst this chaos, I was heartened to hear the Irish Prime Minister, Enda Kenny, say: “I want to assure the Irish public that we have prepared to the greatest extent possible for this eventuality. The Irish government has a contingency plan following the UK vote.” I’ll explain why having a contingency plan is so important – and the key to business success post Brexit – later in this article.
As business leaders, we are faced by forces we cannot control. Whilst we can predict some of the events that will unfold post Brexit, there will be too many twists and turns in the road ahead for us to do so with any degree of certainty. However we do not have to allow this chaos, or indeed any other external factors to determine whether our business succeeds or not.
Let me explain what I mean through a story.
In October 1911, two teams of adventurers set out on their quest to be the first people in modern history to reach the South Pole. For one team, it would be a race to victory and a safe return home. For members of the second team, it would be a crushing defeat, reaching the Pole some 34 days after their rivals had planted their flags, followed by a race for their lives as winter advanced. All five members of that second Pole team perished, freezing to death in the glacial conditions, just 10 miles short of the supply depot.
Because of their comparable experience, the race seemed like a perfect match up between the expedition leaders, Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott. They both started their quest under similar conditions – an uncertain and unforgiving environment and no modern communications. But what separated the two men were their widely different behaviours – both before and during the expedition – and not their circumstances. Amundsen prepared meticulously for the race. He spent years, building a foundation for this quest, even apprenticing with Eskimos. He prepared with great intensity so that when arctic conditions turned against him, he was ready and able to strike back. He designed the entire journey to reduce the potential impact of chance events. He presumed that bad events would happen, and developed contingency plans to take account of the bad events that could affect the trip. To quote Amundsen:
“Victory awaits him who has everything in order – luck people call it. Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time; this is called bad luck.” Roald Amundsen, The South Pole
In marked contrast, Scott’s preparations were woefully inadequate, and that is why the two leaders achieved such drastically different outcomes.
So what’s this got to do with business post Brexit?
Well, Amundsen displayed the exact same behaviours as the business leaders renowned management consultant and author, Jim Collins, describes in his book Great By Choice. In this book, Collins addresses the question: why do some companies thrive in uncertainty, even chaos, and others do not? When hit by tumultuous events that we can neither predict nor control, what distinguishes those who perform exceptionally well from those who under-perform or go under?
Collins concluded that:
- They are motivated by a passion and ambition for a cause or company that is larger than themself. Their ego is channelled into their companies, not self-aggrandisement. Think Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines as opposed to Donald Trump!
- They display exceptional levels of discipline – with values, with long-term goals, with performance standards, with methods – and have the will to do whatever it takes, no matter how hard this is. They set a clear performance benchmark to drive consistent progress e.g. 20% net income growth every year. And this benchmark is not treated as desirable; it’s non negotiable, ‘the law,’ ingrained into every aspect of the company’s culture.
- When faced with uncertainty, they look primarily to empirical evidence rather than to the views of other people and conventional wisdom. They make bold, creative moves from that sound empirical base, having verified from their own observations and experience what the likely consequences might be.
- They stay highly attuned to threats and changes in their environment, especially when things are going well. They assume that conditions will turn against them, developing contingency plans and maintaining large margins for safety.
From my 8 years’ experience as a former CEO, I know these finding to be true. It may currently be unfashionable to have a written business plan but I regard my mine as sacrosanct. It contains the details of my SWOT and PESTLE analysis, my risk management strategy and contingency plan. These are the principles I encourage my business coaching clients to adopt. Sometimes they kick their heels screaming. But I promise them that they’ll thank me in the end.
In these uncertain times post Brexit, I encourage you to review your business plans, look at the prevailing climate in your industry, assess the risks and put together your contingency plans.
My message to you is: be an Amundsen, not a Scott!
Join The Conversation
Questions: What preparations have you made to safeguard your business in the aftermath of Brexit? How do you think your industry will be affected? I’d love to hear your views. Please leave these in the comments box below.
Explore These Additional Resources
- Great By Choice by Jim Collins
- Business Strategy Made Simple
- Business Lessons From Jim Collins’ Good To Great
- Three Ways To Differentiate Your Brand From The Competition
A former CEO, I took a leap of faith when I left my 25 year corporate career to set up my London based business coaching and consultancy practice. Because of my practical experience in the trenches, hard work and warm, no fluff and down to earth approach, I’ve built a global reputation, and am delighted to have a client list in the UK, US, Canada and Australia. This experience is backed up with leadership and management training at Cranfield School of Management, the UK’s leading business school.
The people I work with are Business Champions. They range from start-ups to established companies. But what they all have in common is they’re small and mighty business owners working hard to stand out from the crowd, to punch above their weight and to create companies founded on excellence. If you’re a Business Champion, I’d love to connect with you. You’ll find me, and other like-minded Business Champions, in my FREE Facebook group.
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