What HR leaders can learn from Brexit and how to lead in a changing world


There are myriad implications on HR caused by Brexit but there are also various aspects we can learn from too.

When I first started in business my genuine view of HR was as an after-thought. I reckoned that commercial growth was way more important than stuff to do with people. Over time I realised this positioning was not only naïve but also false. My awareness of how critically important people and culture is has made me even more surprised by activities where people and culture are sidelined. In the slightly surreal and confusing context of Brexit, we can see evidence of people management that ranges from voting obligations to outright resignations. However, if we see the ‘people and culture’ as the public, we see even more evidence of a leadership and management style that is questionable in a number of ways.

The learnings to be had, in my opinion, are in the areas of understanding, communication and intent.

From an understanding perspective, effective HR leaders will already know that the insight of what people believe in and what they aspire towards, is vital in enabling a culture of positivity and productivity. Brexit has shown us that this element, when sub-optimally executed, results in a confused and detached people (be they politicians or members of the public).

From a communication perspective, effective HR leaders will already know that the clarity and resonance of communication is vital in enabling teams to understand the direction and vision. But also, taking communication as a multi-way concept, enabling people to feel heard. Having one vote in the public is a blunt instrument of course, but the opportunities to have a deeper insight into feelings is something that Brexit has fallen short of.

From an intention perspective, effective HR leaders will already know that the clarity of company or party intent is a vital of raising the levels of transparency throughout stakeholders. Brexit has shown us that when there is misunderstood or unknown intention, the fall-out is measurable and could have been pre-empted if only the leaders of the process were clear about not only their intentions but also their ways of executing that intent.

In summary, leading in a changing world is all about creating an enabling culture of people who believe in the mission and vision of the wider collective. Brexit can show HR leaders how things can be ineffective if the components discussed here aren’t properly fulfilled. On a positive note, this means we, as leaders, can make fewer bad choices and double-down on our people focus.

Jonathan MacDonald is author of  Powered by Change (Nicholas Brealey Publishing) and winner the embracing change category of Business Book of the Year 2019. Entries for The Business Book Awards 2020 open in June. Find out more at businessbookawards.co.uk

Jonathan-MacDonald-Hublot-Image-by-Dan-Taylor-dan@heisenbergmedia.com-5About the author

Jonathan MacDonald is a private advisor, keynote speaker and award-winning Sunday Times bestselling author. His core purpose is expanding the way people think.

His career has been varied and has included being one of the few people that companies including Google, Apple, P&G, Unilever, Nestlé, Microsoft and IKEA trust to challenge their thinking and provide new perspectives and avenues of thought, particularly on the topics of disruptive innovation, future trends and how to use change to fuel outstanding business and personal success.

Jonathan has been creating and advising businesses for almost three decades and his various accomplishments include Ministry of Sound’s digital strategy, launching a Sky TV channel and becoming the youngest ever Chairman of the British Music Industries Association. He remains one of the world’s most highly rated speakers, a contributor to Forbes and the author of several books, most recently “Powered By Change“, the Sunday Times Bestseller and winner of the 2019 Business Book Award in the Embracing Change category.

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