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Brexit and Beyond: Making Progress in Uncertain Times

Decision Making

Change is never easy, and often when we embark on change it is because we are in control of what it about to happen. Moving house, getting married, having children, a new job, are all good examples of when change happens because we choose to make those steps. When we make those active choices, we have often done some level of assessment to understand what needs to happen, how it can happen, and meander along a path that helps us do these things well.

When change is thrust upon us, though, is when things go awry and we can suddenly find ourselves discombobulated. Divorce, redundancy, the death of a loved one, unexpected illness, are all examples of when we wouldn’t choose for those things to happen. As a result we can become unsure of our actions, anxious about decisions and require support to maintain resilience.

In the wake of the Brexit vote, businesses will be concerned about what this level of change means. Suddenly we have been thrust into a situation of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (commonly referred to as VUCA). Often this level of uncertainty causes people and businesses to freeze.

What does an organisation need to do to remain resilient and proactive at a time when so much will be uncertain? The immediate aftermath of the vote to exit the European Union has shaken the financial markets and has caused immediate concern about the ongoing impact of this decision. Businesses are having to re-evaluate their operations and take a real hard look at whether or not they have the financial resilience to weather any further negative impacts.

So, what can L&D teams do at such times? Below are some suggestions.

Comms will be vital

One of the most prevalent concerns most staff will have is about the security of their jobs. If people have confidence that their jobs are secure, they’ll crack on and carry on. If they’re reading things in the media and are jumping to their own conclusions, and they’re not being given any clarity from their organisation they will create their own narrative for what happens next.

Resilience in organisations at times like this is about how well informed people are. However those messages are sent out to the organisation, they need to be clear. Even if you’re likely to be negatively affected, don’t hide the truth. Let people know so they can start to assess their own situations in meaningful ways.

Seek out expert views

There was a lot of rhetoric from the Leave campaign about not trusting the words of the experts. This was unhelpful in informing people about how to vote as our experts are often the ones who can best advise us on what to do next. Seek out expert views on likely impacts and consequences of decisions. Any business leader knows that you have to do this because it makes sound business sense. Keep doing this, and help others know how to do this too.

What sources are the experts using for their advice? What evidence is there for the solutions the experts are advising? Are the experts impartial? Do they have affiliations or connections that could bias their advice? What knowledge do the experts have that you are lacking? How can you use the expert’s advice to improve what you’re doing or strengthen what you’re doing? Have you cross-referenced and validated the advice with other experts?

But beware, even experts have trouble making accurate predictions.

Be comfortable with not knowing

There is a fallacy in many organisations that we must know all. It is almost not conceivable that we could make decisions without knowing everything. However the reality is that we cannot have all the information to help us make completely informed decisions. Often there will be information that is lacking, and we have to decide how important it is to make a decision in the absence of full information.

[clickToTweet tweet=”‘The delicious discomfort of not knowing’: how can we succeed while not knowing everything?” quote=”A colleague I know calls this ‘The delicious discomfort of not knowing’: how can we still operate and be a great organisation in the absence of not having or knowing everything?”]

If you consider when businesses first start, they don’t embark knowing everything. They figure things out as they go until they reach a certain size when they have to employ different skills and leadership to help them carve new paths.

In their book Not Knowing: The Art of Turning Uncertainty into Opportunity, authors Steven D’Souza and Diana Renner argue:

At the edge between the known and unknown there is a fertile place, full of possibility. Playing at the edge can lead us to experience fresh new learning, creativity, joy and wonder. The edge is a place where something new can emerge.

They go on to quote the Spanish writer Antonio Machado:

Traveller, there is no path, the path is made by walking.

Sometimes we’ll have to make a punt and decide on a path of action not knowing what will come next. There are ways to do this well – think about small experiments you can try before making big decisions. Small experiments offer a safe container within which we can test and assess if a decision has viability. It reduces the risk of full blown implementation, and increases the evidence base from which you can make an informed decision.

These are going to be interesting times for the UK and for UK business. There are social and community impacts to these decisions as well as business and financial impacts. No one has a clear answer for what comes next, and we will all need to navigate these unchartered waters as best we can. I hope this post is a helpful one to provide some initial guidance and thoughts on how to avoid becoming paralysed by fear and inaction.

Sukh Pabial is a Learning and Organisational Development Leader. Sukh is running some interesting forthcoming open workshops for L&D specialists, take a look here.


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