A lesson from Brexit

At the time of writing (and, in all probability, at the time of reading), there is no clear indication of what will happen with Brexit and no sign of any clarity on the horizon.

This is deeply frustrating – to say the least – for anyone running a business, but there is one way in which business leaders can extract a crumb of benefit from the situation: consider how we reached this point and about what can be done better to avoid it – and then apply the lesson to your own business.

The current deadlock results from the fact that MPs’ opinion on the best outcome differ widely and no one solution commands majority of support. At the eleventh hour, Theresa May is having to try to persuade most MPs to abandon their ideal scenario and rally behind something they dislike (or even oppose) and then going to have to re-open negotiations with the EU in one way or another to change the currently agreed deal.

When Theresa May became Prime Minister, she perceived what sort of Brexit would meet the demands of those who voted for it and would be likely to pacify the vociferous proponents of the victorious “Vote Leave” campaign. She then set about putting together a negotiating position to achieve what she could, given the EU’s insistence on addressing its three key issues (the Northern Ireland border, the status of EU nationals and the “divorce” bill).

While this might seem reasonable – clearly it did to Mrs May and her advisers – it misses a crucial point: the situation with which she’s currently faced, where MPs are split across a range of preferred outcomes and that probably existed two-and-a-half years ago when she took power.

Before triggering Article 50, a process should have been set up by opening up debate across all parties and making it clear that Article 50 would be invoked only once parliament had coalesced around a negotiating stance. These would have provided reasonable assurance that, following the negotiations with the EU, there was a highly likely chance of the deal being passed by parliament.

Mrs May thought she was faced with a decision about what sort of Brexit to pursue; in fact the decision should have been about how she could create a consensus in the Commons. And this is where the lesson comes in: in trying to get to an end result i.e. solve what she thought was the problem of what to do, she missed the bigger picture of how this would need to be achieved.

This kind of thinking can occur in business too. We are often faced with decisions about what products or services to offer, how much to charge and so on. The Brexit lesson is this: no matter what seems like an attractive goal, it is the capabilities of your business and the realities of the environment in which it operates that will dictate whether you can actually achieve it. Before you decide on what to do, think through how you can deliver.

In fairness, it isn’t always easy to see the bigger picture when you’re immersed in the complexities of running the business. So, if you find yourself in a situation where you’re not sure you’re asking the right question and could use an independent viewpoint – well, we’re always here to help.

Blog written by Giles Scott

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