The Post Brexit world

The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance. (Alan Watts)

A friend in Brazil and a friend in the US have each asked me this week 'How are things with you post Brexit?'

It's a difficult question as I don't know the answer. On many day to day levels things seem the same as a pre Brexit world. It's rather like having a birthday; the movement from one year to the next is usually not that remarkable.

On the other hand it is very different. Every day since June 23 there have been predictions on what the UK will be like post Brexit. Beginning with dire warnings and now laced with indicators that 'together, they hint at how the British economy is doing after Brexit'. (Not so well).

Organisation designers could be in much demand at this point. For example, the UK Government's full list of new ministerial and government appointments: July 2016, includes:

  • A totally new Department (Department for Exiting the European Union)
  • A merger of The Department for Energy & Climate Change (DECC) and Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) to form the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
  • Almost total change in the Ministers heading Departments which will inevitably have an impact on the way the Departments operate

The Government has a method of handling this type of thing through the Machinery of Government guidance which has an interesting infographic outlining the mechanics of the process. From this, I see that 120 days from start (is this referendum result day or day Theresa May became Prime Minister?) things 'could' have settled into 'business as usual'. So maybe the pre-Brexit and post-Brexit worlds will feel as similar as moving from aged thirty-three to thirty-four.

Except the indicators so far, are suggesting this is unlikely, and we don't know what that means. For organisations it suggests developing what the poet John Keats called our Negative Capability 'that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.' It means rejecting the 'tyranny of the quantifiable' and accepting that Brexit offers the possibility of different ways of doing things.

The financial services sector, for example, is being advised to 'look at all areas of their operations, both from a global operating model perspective, as well as the day to day operations. This review will need to cover issues such as IT infrastructure, regulatory and tax impacts, data protection and AML, talent and free movement of people, as well as clearing/payment and settlement processes'. This is a pretty comprehensive look-again which would likely benefit from a reflective and non-mechanistic approach to any necessary re-designs.

Three non-mechanistic approaches might help FS and other organisations re-designing post-Brexit.

  • Facilitate conversations around 'Planned Abandonment'. This approach is discussed in a conversation between Peter Senge and Peter Drucker. Drucker says that, 'on a regular schedule, every organisation should sit down and look at every product, every service and every policy and say, 'If we didn't do this already, knowing what we know now, would we still do it?'
  • Talk about welcoming and exploiting unexpected opportunities. Again this is a topic discussed in the Senge/Drucker conversation. They say that 'It's a very different mind-set to appreciate and enjoy the unexpected. You have to ask 'Is it an opportunity?'
  • Take a 'dialogic' approach to re-designing. This is a form of multi-disciplinary team, collaborative and participatory design and decision making rather than a top down 'reveal' one.

Instead of taking a well-worn, top down organisation design process could the UK Government lead by example in taking a new organisation design approach based in generative conversations, with a diversity of colleagues, that are more open ended and courageous? Maybe it already started down that path when the decision was made not to do detailed contingency planning for a Brexit vote – perhaps that does herald the possibility of 'a different dance' as suggested in the opening quote?

What's your post Brexit organisation design world like? Let me know.