Brexit Backlash and 7 Ways Bold Decisions Fail
The United Kingdom made a bold decision to leave the European Union on Thursday, the so-called "Brexit" vote. By Tuesday, news stories were already piling up that ... maybe it wouldn't?
Now there's talk of a petition to hold a second Brexit vote since the results were so close.* Beyond that, Prime Minister David Cameron is resigning without initiating the exit from the E.U., and it's possible his successor won't either. In fact, there are many ways that Brexit, despite success as non-binding referendum, might not happen at all.
How many times have you seen that in a business? There are conversations, meetings, you think a decision has been made! ... only to find out no one's following through on it and the "decision" wasn't worth the breath behind its words?
We glorify bold business decisions, but it's easier to get behind them than follow through on them. There are many forces that work against a bold decision, and in the Brexit backlash we can see some of them in stark relief.
Here are seven things you must do to support a bold decision, that the U.K has not done thus far in Brexit.
1. Get Broad Support — Brexit Did Not
Perhaps the biggest weakness of the Leave faction in the British referendum was its narrow margin of victory: Less than 4 percent. With over 33 million voters, the margin was less than 1.5 million. That's not so close as to be illegitimate or demand a recount, but it's not enough to support continued difficult action.
All bold decisions come with a price, and that price will chip way at support; 51 percent for becomes 51 percent against very quickly.
2. Manage Expectations
I'm not going to belabor this one, since it's going to be one of the first takeaways on any list about sales or management. But I also don't want to naively breeze over the natural tension here: You build support for a bold decision by talking up the benefits and minimizing the costs and other downsides. Many votes are swayed by the emotion behind your argument and your attitude, and not the simple pros and cons. That's just the way people are, and just the way politics and business are done.
But there are limits to how far you can push that sunshine before it comes back to burn you. If you say "The money's going here," when in fact it's going there, people who notice that will be upset.
This happened in the Brexit campaigning. An important campaign point for leaving the E.U. was that a £350 million payment the U.K. makes to the E.U. could be put to the National Health Service instead. Hours after the election, Leave leader Nigel Farage backtracked on it.
That's exactly how 51 percent in favor turns into 51 percent in opposition.
3. Decisions Must Be Binding
This is another obvious one, but again, it's an issue that's epidemic in business. The Brexit referendum was non-binding, which opens the door to leadership simply ignoring it.
Now, theoretically that leadership would be voted out in the next election, assuming Brexit remains a determining issues for voters. But that's a big assumption, especially when the majority is thin. Add some pain from the bold decision — people start to think about how following that decisions means losing revenue from another area, or workforce may be reallocated in ways that are unfavorable to them, or your political leader may immediately say you were stupid for believing his campaign promise — and non-bound supporters start wriggling out of the work it takes to enact the decision.
4. Be Moving Before the Hammer Falls
All births are painful, and your bold decisions are no different. The hammer is coming down, and if you haven't taken action on the decision by the time it hits, then that pain is all your decision will be known for.
The day after the Brexit vote, markets crashed and the world economy lost $3 trillion over the weekend, with the U.K itself taking the hardest hits. There is speculation the British economy may slip into a recession from just this one vote. It's being called "The Brexit Crash."
Between the referendum and that hammer blow hitting, the U.K. had done absolutely nothing to move toward Brexit. Thus, the entire event has been defined by its economic detonation and the political fallout.
People tend to not want to move after they're hit. That's why it's important to get the organization moving on the actions that will enable the bold decision before they take that hit. You need to seize momentum before the hammer does.
That's a lot easier to do in a company than a country, so take advantage of your relative nimbleness.
5. Understand the Damage and Be Ready to Absorb It
Momentum is only one aspect of managing the pain of bold decisions. You have to know how you're going to survive that hit as well.
Investors across the world were surprised by the leave results — especially in Britain, where the financial markets are in London and Leave seemed like an unimaginable result. The Brexit Crash took everyone unaware.
If you're pushing the bold decision, you need to correctly assess what the damage might be and take steps to mitigate it. Maybe that means being willing to take on extra debt while the new plan comes together, or having a stock pile of cash, or planning more flexibility in the work force, or something I'm not even thinking of.
Don't be overconfident about the pain that will come from a bold decision, no one's as tough as they think they are.
6. Have Leadership Behind the Decision
As I mentioned, Cameron's resignation has the potential to completely derail Brexit, especially if the battle to name his successor becomes the real Brexit vote. Right now it looks like the most likely way Brexit would be avoided would be if Cameron's successor, with tacit support form his party and voters, simply said "Nah, we're not going to do that."
Leadership can do that. They can do it even more easily in a corporate setting. That's why leadership must be behind any truly bold decision, and be willing to support it through the pangs of implementation.
If you don't have the C-suite, you've got nothing.
7. Know Exactly Where to Find the Spoils
The best way to get people's minds off of the pain of a bold decision is to show them its rewards.
Right now, Brexit is looking to be all hammers and no carrots. Who tangibly benefits from following through on it? A lot of parties would answer that in a lot of different ways, but we've already talked about how Leave leader Nigel Farage has backtracked on one benefit. What else is there for voters to focus on but the financial and political damage?
It goes with the momentum discussion above: Rush to the first place you know you can find tangible rewards for the people following through on the bold decision. The sooner you can show results and prove to your supporters that this bold decision was in their best interest, then the sooner you move the conversation away from the hammer and onto what you built with it.
If you feel like you talk more about bold decisions than enact them, take a look at where Brexit is struggling and see if you're suffering backlash for the same reasons.
* Some details of the revote petition are hilarious: It was actually started before the election by a Leave supporter who expected to lose a close vote. Since the vote, 3 million Remain supporters have signed it hoping to spark the revote after Leave won. It's creator wishes they'd stop.