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Brexit and Change Management

By Martin Brenig-Jones, Managing Director, Catalyst Consulting (

August 11 2016 - In the immediate aftermath of the UK vote to leave the EU it can be difficult to know exactly where we stand. Indeed, when most politicians clearly had not expected or planned how to move forward in the event of the Leave campaign winning, the average business person or member of an organisation can be forgiven for feeling less than sanguine about the changes that might lie ahead.

Whether the longer term impacts of Brexit are likely to be positive or negative depends upon your point of view and, to a degree, upon how far into the future you're casting your predictions. What is beyond any doubt is the fact than many businesses and organisations throughout the UK, indeed probably the majority, are going to have to deal with changes of one kind or another. The certainty of change coming down the line makes this the perfect time to take a look at the challenges inherent in introducing any change within an organisation, and the management techniques required to ensure that this change is not only introduced with the minimum of disruption but is also embedded in a manner which marks a cultural shift for the organisation as a whole.

The fact that Brexit means that most organisations are going to have to change is actually slightly beside the point; well-run organisations should exist in a state of constant self-evaluation, utilising change as a tool via which to drive standards ever higher and create greater value for the end user of any product or service. All too often, change is enacted as a reaction to a set of adverse circumstances and, as such, tends to remain in place only until the emergency at hand has passed. This is change as fire-fighting and is of an entirely different stripe to the kind of value driven, ongoing change which the best managers seek to create. In simple terms, the very act of closely monitoring existing structures in order to engage in constant change and refinement should become second nature, making change the default setting.

The key to creating change which benefits the whole of an organisation and which continues to pay off over the long term lies in ensuring that the people charged with delivering that change are a part of the process from the very beginning. Change which is handed down as management edict tends to be resented and resisted by those further down the chain, whereas change which emerges via open and honest communication with the wider workforce will boast both greater ownership and the kind of day to day insight which only the input of those at the coalface is likely to deliver.

The 2015 report 'Landing transformational change: Closing the gap between theory and practice', published by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), in partnership with the University of Bath School of Management, is extremely useful in that it not only sets out the principles of successful change management, but also looks at practical examples of how various bodies - including BBC Worldwide, HMRC and Zurich UK - set about utilising those principles in order to successfully embed change.

Some of the techniques recommended by the report when considering the necessity to create and spread an understating of the need for change and a commitment to delivering it will be familiar to anyone who has given the subject any serious thought. They include a commitment to effective two way communication between management and staff, via ongoing channels of interaction and focussed mass engagements, an adherence to new patterns of behaviour which has to start - and must be seen to start - at the very top, and a willingness to spread new behaviours through every level of an organisation.

Another vital part of successful change captured by the case studies included in the report is a willingness to actually experience the change which you are asking others to be able to deliver. At Zurich UK and HMRC senior leaders took calls in the call centres, whilst those at BBC Worldwide were encouraged to hot-desk in the manner of their staff. Only by truly understanding the impact of change upon those bearing the full brunt of it will managers be able to be genuinely persuasive regarding the positive impact of that change, at the same time as empathising with those staff members who find it more difficult to embrace change.

The final piece of advice found to have a massive positive impact in practice, as well as being theoretically appealing, is to establish a coherent vision of what the change you are undertaking is intended to achieve and what the vision of the organisation in the future should be. By having a clear and concise blueprint to refer back to, all of those invested in change will be able - via the open communication already established - to point out when things are going wrong, and when the agreed course of action is perhaps being strayed from. What organisations like BBC Worldwide and HMRC seem to have realised, and what others would be wise to grasp as the ripples from Brexit continue to spread ever wider, is that effective change has to be created, not simply announced, and that the most important role in creating that change needs to be played by those who will deliver that change whilst dealing with its ongoing ramifications.



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