Effective governance and communication insights to support your organisation through Brexit


By Kate Keaney

23 Jan 2019

As the noise around Brexit reaches fever pitch, the nation is getting to the point of despair, as confusion reigns and nothing appears to be moving forwards. In our second article of the Brexit series we look at the role of governance and decision makingorganisational agility and communications as useful strategies to deploy now to help you navigate your way through this storm, whilst maintaining a strategic focus.

Rostyslav Savchyn 1199255 Unsplash

1. Governance

Let’s start with governance. The purpose of corporate governance is to ensure that an organisation is working together to deliver its’ strategic goals, while ensuring compliance with internal and external controls and requirements.

Corporate governance is key to creating agility in an organisation, it enables it to respond rapidly to change without losing strategic focus. In order to navigate such extraordinary and complex events as Brexit, this becomes vital. We recommend that organisations form a dedicated governance body to explore and understand the impact of future state scenarios on their organisation, determining options of response, which ensure continued operational and profitable performance.

Following the appointment of a leader who holds overall accountability for planning, decision making and preparations, we recommend a steering group is established which-like all governance groups, incorporates representation from all business areas. The makeup of a governance committee is crucial to its success and effectiveness.

In reality, Brexit is likely to impact most functions with changes in strategic response having the potential to impact legal, operational, technical, commercial and people aspects of an organisation.  In a balanced governance group there is strong cross functional representation, which ensures decision making is not skewed.

The ideal number of representatives from each area tends to be predicated on the size of the organisation, and importantly they need to be empowered to make decisions and effect change.

Once participation and attendees have been scoped, we recommend they are reviewed on a regular basis in-line with the developments and implications of Brexit. It is vital that the steering committee continually have the right knowledge and skills amongst the group and that they keep the board and non-exec directors briefed on implications and plans.

Connor recently ran a survey to better understand whether organisations had appointed an individual or group to be accountable for governance and planning. Our results showed that concerningly, two months before we are due to leave the EU, just 25% of respondents have done so.  Now is the time act!

What does this mean for HR Leaders?

  • HR representative(s) on Brexit governance committees focus on keeping up-to-date with all developments and determining the people impacts of them, evaluating specifically how they will impact their organisation, their suppliers and thinking through contingency implications, options and plans.
  • Make sure it is clear within the HR team where accountability lies for monitoring and planning the impacts of different scenarios of Brexit. It may be that sub-working groups within the HR function need to be formed, reporting to the HR lead.

2. Plan to be agile

Enabling your organisations flexibility is a very worthwhile investment that you can start now.  

Agility as an effective methodology for teams has been around for a while, and more and more it’s being embraced as an overarching business strategy for organisations to succeed in this fast-paced changing world.

However, how do organisation become truly agile and what does it all mean?

Agile isn’t just a methodology to be implemented within an existing management framework, it’s a mindset that begins with a different view of organisational goals. It can be a revolutionary and sometimes emotional challenge of the ‘management status quo’ because it requires prioritisation of the customer not shareholders.

When driving out agility, leaders embrace change and see both the positive and negative impacts of uncertainty. As well as leading from the front, the whole team needs to be ok with dealing with uncertainty. It is essential that teams are empowered locally and that members operate in alignment and collaboration with clear accountability, expertise, communication and within a supporting culture which enables them to decide.

Ecosystems need to be to set-up in a way that provides all involved with the resources, information and tools to be able to take these decisive actions. As part of this, data analytics are important to establish quick insights.

Organisations who are agile strive to prioritise strategic decisions and leaders establish a culture of critical decision making at speed. Quick, efficient, and continuous decision making is critical, and to do this focus is given to high probability outcomes now, as opposed to waiting for 100 percent certainty later. They are clear about the types of decisions they are making and who should be involved in those decisions.

With so many unknowns on the horizon start preparing now. Identify things that could block progress in decision making, make sure you have data and insights that you need to inform the situation, and address your organisational complexities so that swift action can be taken when specific details of Brexit are known. Focus on your teams, think about preparing them to be agile, aligned and highly accountable. Resilience and emotional intelligence training is a good investment for people and teams who will be driving out change.

What does this mean for HR Leaders?

  • Evaluate your organisation for complexity – design clear, flat structures which enables the organisation to operate as part of a fluid network, not bureaucracy.
  • Focus obsessively on delivering value to external customers, setting aside anything that doesn’t contribute to that goal.
  • All processes should be simplified as much as they can and look at ways in which feedback can be more continuous and ‘live’.
  • Think about your teams and what investment can be made now to enable them to become more agile in their thinking and behaviours.

Flogas, an energy provider with solutions for off grid customers and large commercial customers, invested in the behavioural agility of their top 48 leaders in a programme with Connor. Flogas had a challenging growth plan. They wanted to use the knowledge of their people but also innovate and modernise. As a result of the Connor programme, Flogas saw a 20% increase in change initiatives, which delivered cost savings of £1.2m and an ROI of 18x.

"I have worked in HR for over twenty years and this was the only time I was able to categorically show a return on investment for a development programme. The difference in behaviour in our leadership team is astonishing and the quality of their output has improved."HR director, Flogas

3. Communicate to succeed

And finally, uncertainty breeds fear and we know that this paralyses performance. Brexit is constantly front of mind for most of us because of its sheer societal and economic impact, the extensive coverage in the news, the spectrum of perspectives it’s causing and because it feels like such a personal decision for most. So, what does this mean for organisations? It means a focus on alleviating fear through regular all employee communication. This is vitally important in engendering a culture of trust and positivity during these challenging times.

To facilitate innovative ideas and problem solving, employees must feel engaged and part of the decision-making process. This is essential to alleviate fear within the organisation. If you haven’t already done so look at ways you can set up employee forums for open discussion, giving people the opportunity to have open and honest dialogue on issues that emerge around Brexit. Furthermore, we all know that communication suffers along the ‘Chinese Whispers’ principle; the more people there are in a chain, the more unfocused the message gets so making use of steering groups to deliver messages to people in a direct way is a good approach.

It is also important that leaders are visible and accessible even when they don’t know all of the answers. Recognising that no-one knows all the answers is much more powerful than simply avoiding questions. A communication vacuum will only feed uncertainty and the negative behaviours associated with it.

In a recent poll by Connor of over 1,500 people, nearly 50% of respondents said that their organisation was not communicating any messages about Brexit thinking, impacts or planning.

This perhaps is not surprising, given our survey also showed that 75% of organisations haven’t got a person or group in place to develop plans to mitigate Brexit, therefore it naturally follows that plans are not being communicated.

What does this mean for HR Leaders?

  • Determine what can be communicated, who is on point for communications and get them started even if the news is no news. Be open and straightforward with your people to build a sense of openness and trust
  • Set up employee forums and get the dialogue started, get a broad range of ideas flowing and include thinking from various parts of your organisation, don’t leave it all up to a small group of people

Summing up

Whilst uncertainty still prevails around Brexit, we have outlined how essential it is for organisations to start reviewing and putting plans in place addressing governance, organisation agility and communication. These 3 preparation strategies are vital to help you avoid serious disruption to performance.

We are on hand to help any organisation that needs support in thinking about and planning Brexit impact mitigation. Take a look at our Brexit Guide to find out more about what we can offer you.

We would love to offer a free introductory conversation to start your organisations thinking on this. To take advantage of this, contact me at Kate@connor.co.uk or on 01491 414 010.

In the next article in our series, we will look at operating model and organisational design. This aspect of organisational performance is set to be one of the biggest and most common impacts of Brexit.

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