Need to Manage Change? Beware of This Harsh Brexit Lesson

It can be tough to manage change, especially if faced with the need to unravel ingrained, multi-layered behaviours, systems and ways of doing things.

And while this can be plenty complicated at a corporate level, how about ‘them Brexit apples’ (as the UK starts a process that will lead to its divorce from European Union membership)?

Ladies and Gentlemen, you’re nigh on guaranteed to witness – and should learn from – years of difficult, complex and fractious arguments that will eventually lead to huge changes in how Europe Inc. operates.

And, while there’ll likely be oodles of leadership lessons that emerge from these lengthy, painful negotiations, here’s a doozie of an opener:

If you want to institute and manage change but can’t articulate precisely what that means (painting a clear picture of ‘how you envisage things could be’)…

…You run the risk of thwarting or even derailing your plans before you get started.

Why Fudging Your Words Can Thwart Your Ability to Manage Change

While I absolutely believe that the UK’s Prime Minster, Theresa May meant well when she finally (8 months after the vote to leave the EU) released a 12 point Brexit plan in January, which was supposed to spell out what Britain wanted…

…The words she shared were fuzzy, nuanced and imprecise (presumably, because she was anxious to dance around contentious issues – avoiding trapdoors or errors once negotiations began).

But here’s the snag with this approach to negotiations:

Platitudes or fudges don’t appease when tackling thorny topics, they frustrate!

Attempts to use ‘leave all doors open’, vague or sugar coated language when describing what you want to see happen – perhaps with the notion that this might lead to softening of hearts or blows done the line – can cause others to think you’re a player of games and lacking in substance!

And worse. Absent clarity, people also tend to draw their own conclusions and, if these are based on flawed suppositions, there’s a good chance either or both of the following may happen:

  1. They will place less trust in you (since they’re unclear about your goals or motivations)
  2. You’ll have less control over the framing of your negotiations (including the starting points and priorities)

Any which way, that’s bad news!

Why Failing to Manage Uncertainty Can Lead to Crises of Epidemic Proportions

And that’s just at a political level. The consequences of uncertainty to date on what’s going to happen pre and post-Brexit are already evident and mounting from a business perspective too.

Evidence of these emerging effects can be found right, left and centre.

Here’s just a small, top line flavour of issues causing concern in the UK so far (and I’ll refrain from giving you an Irish business and economy perspective too – despite the fact that Ireland faces the prospect of more downsides from Brexit than any other EU member state):

Check these out:

  • The Financial Times warns that UK’s trade could atrophy by up to 25% in goods and services
  • Per the Irish Times ” Post-Brexit, the UK will have “third country” status in financial services terms. And, as a result, Ireland and many other EU countries have their eyes on many tens of thousands of financial services jobs currently handled within the City of London that may need to be moved to allow top financial service firms the status they need to do pan-EU business
  • Per the Guardian, Ryanair’s CEO Michael O’Leary has warned that ‘Political deadlock over Brexit could halt flights between the UK and Europe…and Britain’s aviation industry is being “walked off a cliff” by the UK government’
  • And on, and on, and on it goes…As the potential for serious and even seismic consequences for industry and after industry come more and more in focus

Is it any wonder that (per Bloomberg) more than half of Britain’s FTSE 500 CEOs are saying that Brexit is having a negative effect on their businesses?

So, what’s the point? When it comes to how you manage change…

Pay Attention to How You Frame Negotiations to Set Them Up For Success

If you’re faced with a  ‘cometh the hour’ challenge that requires you to institute change with far reaching,  radical and serious consequences, do yourself a favour:

Fight against uncertainty by communicating your vision of how things could be (and why this matters) with honesty, humility, transparency.

Start as you mean to go on, aiming for clarity on your intent from the get go. You’ll likely get a better reception for your ideas, face less digging in of heels (as people protect positions versus aspirations), and pave the way to getting things done a deal quicker too!

If you’d like to learn how to tell a better story for you or your business, contact me at I’ll be delighted to help you.


Photo credit: Frankieleon








About Eamonn O'Brien

Public speaking master, Eamonn O'Brien is the founder of The Reluctant Speakers Club.