Love it or loathe it, on June 23rd the UK voted to leave the European Union.
We saw immediate reactions across the stock markets and the pound fell considerably against the dollar.
Although there have been recoveries as the week has gone on, media reports recognise that we do not have all the relevant data yet to understand what the longer term economic impact might be.
But one thing is certain: change brings uncertainty. And uncertainty creates fear.
So how do you best manage fear in times of change? We can learn from past leaders such as Franklin D. Roosevelt. Faced with the Great Depression, Roosevelt made bold decisions and managed the fear of a nation in crisis. He responded decisively.
Obstacles and opportunities
With any change, it is likely to bring both obstacles and opportunities.
The weakening pound may mean businesses who import goods and services from abroad are already seeing prices go up. This could have implications for future supply agreements.
But for those who export, it could be cheaper to sell abroad and may lead to periods of new opportunities and growth, for those that can flexibly shift sales to new international markets.
Take time now to try and ‘Future-proof’ your business. This is like a game of ‘Snakes & Ladders’ – uncovering opportunities (‘ladders’) that you are well-placed to exploit; managing and eliminating threats (‘snakes’) that would otherwise catch you unawares.
Moving to acceptance
Obviously the referendum came as a blow to those in the Remain camp. I have had conversations with various business owners, who are displaying stages of the Grief Cycle.
First comes shock, then denial; in the form of avoidance, fear or confusion. There is frustration, anxiety, feelings of helplessness. Some feel overwhelmed and disorientated.
But it is only through acceptance that people can explore their options, create a plan and become empowered.
It will be challenging, but here are some guidelines for reaching acceptance:
1. Increase communication.
Uncertainty can create more stress than the actual outcome itself.
To help alleviate this, it is important to speak to the people around you. This includes your team, partners, suppliers and customers. This will keep everybody informed and reassured.
Also, it is important to focus on the constants in your business. This includes your core purpose and values. These are the things which don’t change, even when the environment around you does. These are the things which get you out of bed every day to deliver for people.
Remembering what you are and what your business stands for helps to pull everyone back together to create unity and strength of purpose.
2. Stay composed; remain objective.
It is only natural to react emotionally to the recent turn in events. But it will be more beneficial in the long run to take the time to objectively reappraise your plans.
Ask yourself the ‘What ifs?’ to objectively explore the impacts and opportunities for the business under different scenarios. For example, temporary versus sustained fall in the pound; continuation versus changes to trading arrangements with Europe.
3. Be Proactive.
Do not fall into the ‘blame game.’ Reactive people are affected by their physical environment and find external sources to blame.
Remember, you can choose how you respond. Be proactive. Instead of worrying about things you can’t control, focus time and energy on the things you can.
In Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People he talks about a Circle of Concern, which we have no real control over, and a Circle of Influence. Proactive people focus on the Circle of Influence – working on the things they can do something about.
Small business owners, now is the time to focus on what you do best. Now is the time to be flexible, innovative and bold.
This historic event could be the catalyst to pursue new products, reach new markets and explore new areas.
It doesn’t matter whether you were for Leave or Remain, now is the time to search out opportunities and make necessary changes.
As Winston Churchill put it, ‘To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.’