Equipping leaders and managers to deal with Brexit

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Employers must ensure their leadership and management teams are geared up to restore stability in the wake of Brexit

The result of the EU referendum took most by surprise, leaving many organisations unprepared for the fallout. Leaders and managers must now be ready to deal with the uncertainty and potential opportunities the buildup to Brexit is generating. Organisations need skilled leadership and management that can adapt quickly to a rapidly shifting economic and legislative landscape – and be resilient in the face of adversity.

The challenge of change

We already know that the effects of change can be bruising to the workforce and performance. Our report, Quality of Working 2016, found that even pre-Brexit 97% of 1,574 managers surveyed said that their organisation went through some form of change in the last year. Such change mostly resulted in work becoming more intense for managers, with 78% reporting that the volume of work increased and 67% saying that the pace of work increased. Unsurprisingly, our research found that this had a negative impact on the employee environment, with 59% of managers saying that morale dropped and 49% stating that psychological wellbeing suffered.

Unfortunately our research also reveals that many organisations are insufficiently prepared for what’s to come. Just one in four (28%) managers surveyed thought that change was being effectively managed by senior management. This lack of skills has a direct impact on business performance. Only 27% of managers said that their organisation’s productivity increased as a result of change, and just one in three (36%) said that financial results had improved.

Gearing up the team for managing change

In the bumpy wake of the vote for Brexit employers must ensure their leadership and management teams are geared up to restore stability. Where there’s confusion leaders and managers will be challenged to create clarity out of complexity, to communicate clearly and to engage employees at every stage of the journey. They must create a strong sense of purpose and listen to people’s concerns.

We have identified five top tips for building a senior team skilled in leading and managing change effectively:

  • Assemble a diverse, committed and trustworthy group to drive the change
  • Reinforce that this group must deliver this change over and above the ongoing ‘business as usual’
  • Balance engaging the group with opportunities and not overloading them with too much work or too many meetings
  • Keep engagement within the group alive through the right structures and providing off-site team building activities
  • Keep things simple to ensure that the group are conscious of the need to maintain flexibility, agility and adaptability in order to drive a change programme

Supporting managers to be resilient in the face of adversity

Dealing with the challenges created by Brexit is likely to take a huge toll on many leaders and managers. Employers need to be acutely aware of the personal impact of facing up to adversity. Crises can break or make a career. They can ruin relationships and working cultures or solidify them and make them stronger.

Resilience – the ability to bounce back after adversity – is critical to recovery. Employers need to ensure that when leaders and managers get knocked down they can get back up and return stronger.

While many think that the best way to learn how to deal with crises is by experiencing them firsthand, there are plenty of lessons that can be learned from the experiences of others. We surveyed 1,100 managers for our 2016 Bouncing Back report on this very issue. According to the research it’s essential that employers de-stigmatise failure and become more tolerant of risk. Risk should not be managed by avoidance, but by having a culture of shared accountability.

Time to act

Employers should be concerned about the impact of crises on their managers. Our Bouncing Back research revealed that only 55% of managers who have experienced a crisis felt they dealt with it well. Three in five (63%) said that the resulting stress impaired their ability to do their job.

However, change can also be a force for good. Employers must therefore ensure leaders and managers remain positive, have the skills to deal with transition and take advantage of new opportunities in the post-referendum economy.

Petra Wilton is director of strategy at the Chartered Management Institute (CMI)

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