Let’s talk Brexit. With Article 50 now triggered, and the United Kingdom on its way out of the European Union, there’s only one thing everyone agrees on about what will happen in the next two years: There will be uncertainty.
Even the time frame for this uncertainty has a question mark hanging over it. While two years is the deadline for leaving the EU now that we’ve triggered Article 50, the EU have already rejected Theresa May’s initial plan. May wanted to negotiate the withdrawal from the EU and how the relationship would work in the future, at the same time, however EU leaders have already been dismissive of this.
Angela Merkel said: “The negotiations must first clarify how we will disentangle our interlinked relationship, and only when this is dealt with can we, hopefully soon after, begin talking about our future relationship.”
And this is not the only concern: The two year deadline is not set in stone as the EU member states can agree to extend it. However, every one of the 28 states must agree and the UK cannot take part in EU internal discussions about its departure so cannot influence any necessary extension.
So, with an unknown period of uncertainty ahead, what are businesses to do?
Adjusting to any change can be a challenge, and preparing for an unknown change can seem impossible. Will there be a good deal, a bad deal, or no deal at all? How do we prepare our processes to survive in an unknown economic climate, with deals and decisions even those involved disagree on?
One answer is to increase our efficiency.
Whatever economic climate awaits the other side of Brexit negotiations, an efficient process has a much greater chance of succeeding than one relying on crutches to hold up out-of-date, dusty procedures – crutches that may be snatched away at any moment. An efficient process has the lowest input necessary to create the maximum output. It consequently costs less, is simpler to adjust and is therefore more agile – and agility is imperative when faced with unknown changes.
As Darwin once said, it is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change.
Some large organisations made adjustments, or began planning, prior to the referendum in preparation for the potential risks of Brexit. Preparation for the ‘expected’ short-term knocks to the pound mean that the British public has seen little impact from Brexit so far (save for a slightly more costly exchange rate and a small rise in inflation).
These temporary adjustments, known as ‘quick fixes’ in Business Improvement terms, are essential to maintain agility and profitability in times of sudden change or shock. But organisations must look for permanent solutions: Quick fixes should only be used to prevent the immediate danger, affording time to improve your process until it is efficient and effective enough to make it through all possible changes. They are not a resolution in themselves.
But where to begin?
Figuring out how and where to start changing your process to increase efficiency isn’t easy. It requires you to step back and take a long, honest look at your processes. Doing this during such a tumultuous time could seem terrifying, but this is exactly what Business Improvement methods such as Lean Six Sigma were designed to do. They provide a structured, but flexible, approach that allows you to make carefully measured changes while ensuring your process continues with little to no impact on your customer.
With tried and tested techniques and a change to culture that puts employees and customers first, Lean Six Sigma and Business Improvement can begin to provide some certainty in an uncertain time.
Becoming more adaptable
Big companies that have used Lean, Six Sigma and other Business Improvement approaches have survived market crashes and periods of uncertainty in the past by bucking the trend and going against what seems ‘safe’. While many businesses dramatically cut workforces, close branches and withdraw certain products and services – organisations with a Business Improvement mindset do not. They know that laying off staff and closing branches can really hurt employee morale and productivity. Combined with a reduction in products and services, this can cause a double whammy of poorer customer service, at a time when you really, really need to hold on to loyal customers.
Keeping staff on, looking for internal efficiencies and improving processes so that the business becomes more streamlined – rather than hacking it down to the bare bones – also ensures that the organisation is well placed to bounce back once the uncertainty has lifted. And, it avoids the costly process of recruitment.
Preparing your organisation now by making it as efficient as possible will also be beneficial to employee morale; this worrying time for companies is just as scary for workers, at all levels, as economic downturns and mass redundancies often go hand in hand. Being proactive in the face of this uncertainty will create a positive climate that encourages everyone to work together.
We’ll definitely be hearing the word uncertainty bandied around for the next few months and years, but businesses could look upon this as an opportunity to improve rather than a reason to be fearful. Let Brexit uncertainty by the catalyst you need to make your business the best it can be.