Posted 20 June 2016
It's been a difficult month for the UK’s economy, which has found itself shrinking under the shadow of the Brexit referendum, with businesses taking a huge hit. The markets are overcrowded with loud voices, insisting they know the right answer, and that everyone else should follow suit. Both the Leave and Remain parties are vocal, stubborn and full of rhetoric. Now, in a near replay of the build-up to the Scottish referendum of 2014, the UK’s businesses are suffering as a direct result of the panic encircling the whole EU argument.
Nobody has the right answer
Behind the doors of the UK’s most prolific companies, bosses are struggling to keep everything afloat in the lead-up to the vote. They cite reluctance from clients, customers and suppliers as the spanner in the works. Economic and social instability have left many people unwilling to make decisions; after all, there’s far more at stake this time, and under the surface, no one really knows the right answer to the EU debate. The opportunity to get hot-headed over some topical cause has been snatched up by millions, but very few clear and factual arguments for or against being part of the EU have been communicated. The result has been mass confusion and humiliation – nobody wants to admit they don’t really know.
Financial implications of panic
While this professional and financial uncertainty has rattled on, the money has been talking. Last week, the pound fell by 1%, and the FTSE 100 slipped back below the 6,000 level again, marking the sharpest decline it’s seen in months. In a nutshell, more than £98 billion has been stripped from the values of the UK’s biggest companies – and that’s in just four days.
Even the most learned of economic and business professionals can give little accurate insight with regards to the potential outcomes of the referendum. This is why it's essential for businesses to keep calm and carry on, and take a leaf out of FDR’s book on controlling public hysteria. Though his quote has been diluted and thrown around with flippancy over the years, in suitable contexts, the words remain true. "We have nothing to fear but fear itself." This he told his public upon entering office during the U.S.’s most severe economic distress in history.
What bosses can do to keep the peace
In this precarious time, if you want your business to see 2017, it's imperative that you take control and guide it calmly and positively.
Prepare for multiple outcomes – The uncertainty of the Brexit situation could be tackled with the advice of all sensible parents, "Hope for the best and prepare for the worst." In business terms, this means having fingers in as many pies as can be baked. Avoid suspicions of the referendum outcome swaying your decision-making. Clear your mind of the current climate – accept that neither you, nor anybody else can shed any light on the future - and mathematically maximise your odds of success.
Remain flexible and responsive – Keeping calm does not mean letting your guard down. If anything, it means being more vigilant than ever, and keeping yourself well informed of current situations. If and when they arise, deal with them as immediately as possible. Share a philosophy of "sense and respond" with your colleagues, and encourage them to make quick decisions when it's required of them. While much of the UK market is panicking about what’s to come, you can lead by example and present yourself as a boss who is cool, calm and collected.
Mould yourself a reputation of trust – As long as colleagues and customers find you completely trustworthy, you will never find yourself marooned. Part of the problem stems from uncertainty of who or what to trust, so counteract that by keeping your focus fixed on the well-being of the business, its suppliers, investors and customers. If this dedication to the company is evident, dedication will be received from others.
Learn from the past – The greatest of leaders have always known how to maintain control over the masses in times of difficulty. Roosevelt famously battled many an obstacle throughout his life and career, but maintained a placid social climate and trusting relationship with the public. By projecting an authoritative yet laid-back presence with his vocal tone, drawing explicit attention to sources of unease, and using humour to soften complicated situations, he presented himself as reliable and in control of things, though he really wasn’t more so than anybody else.
Business as usual
A few weeks from now, hindsight will be crystal clear but in the inevitable confusion and panic over the state of things to come, control is the key. Whatever challenges are on the horizon, they will need to be dealt with, so don’t irritate the situation by getting worked up over possibilities which may not come to fruition. Every UK business should stick up a popular catchphrase poster on their premises to remind everyone: Keep calm and carry on. After all, what else can you do?
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