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.”
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