UK businesses are still coming to terms with the EU Referendum result. There’s now a huge uncertainty about what Brexit will mean both in the short and the long term. More to the point this uncertainty is going to continue for the foreseeable future. Not only is there uncertainty about how the UK economy will perform in the pre-Brexit phase where we are now and will be until we sever our ties with the EU, but there is absolutely no certainty about what will happen once we are out of the EU.
This uncertainty is compounded by the fact that neither the UK government’s financial and economic response to the Referendum result nor the outcome of the UK/EU negotiations is clear to see. Everyone, including the Prime Minister is in totally uncharted territory.
For UK businesses this is not a time to wait and see what happens. It is certainly not a time to retrench. So how should UK businesses prepare for the future? What should be their strategy, in particular their digital strategy?
Our view is that if you are going to prosper, and not just survive in the future, you have to be more agile, more able to respond to changing markets. Therefore you have to become more efficient. So a key imperative for UK businesses is going to be greater efficiency in everything that they do. In a period of rapid change when there are fundamental pressures on costs, companies’ success will depend on how quickly they can evolve and innovate. Those companies that have more digitally enabled ways of working will be able to innovate faster than their competitors. We see digitally enabled in the use of digital tools such as collaborative workspaces to help teams work more collaboratively, speedily and with greater transparency.
Now more than ever UK businesses need to think how they can be more efficient in their innovation, which means asking how their teams can work effectively so that greater innovation can take place. Creating a digital forum where team members can share ideas is one way to do this. Another is moving away from hierarchical silo-based management structures to flatter, talent-based structures, so that innovation is focused around customers and markets rather than professional or technical silos. One proven means of breaking down these interdepartmental silos is through the ‘work out loud’ approach to transparency. By adopting a cultural shift of being open and transparent by default, and conducting working communication through collaborative software that is open for colleagues from across the business to observe and even to contribute to.
Retaining and recruiting top talent is going to be absolutely vital to UK businesses both pre-Brexit – where we are now, and post-Brexit - where we are going to be. Without top talent, companies will find it very hard to drive efficiency. Already in the UK there is an alarming talent cliff looming ahead, particularly in the energy sector, where technical and engineering staff that have a wealth of knowledge in their heads are about to retire, and the ranks of younger talent waiting in the wings eager to replace them simply are not there. Once they leave that knowledge will go with them. When you can recruit easily from anywhere in Europe the freedom and ability to do this can help you to fill the knowledge gap in your business, but if your talent pool is suddenly restricted that will impact upon your ability to grow, as well as requiring you to absorb the costs of administering work permits. That may mean a rapid learning curve in recruiting distributed talent, those who may wish to work part or all of the time from their own country, for a range of reasons. Digitally enabled businesses that are well versed in running virtual teams and distributed workforces are well placed, the laggards are not.
This has obvious implications for management recruitment. UK businesses will need to have managers who are comfortable managing cross-cultural teams, across different time zones and countries facilitated by digital communications. So a different kind of skillset and a new competency is going to be required from a lot of management positions. As companies upskill their teams and leaders this will enable them to become more efficient.
Recruiting young, especially digital, talent will be a cardinal need for UK businesses. Younger people, especially millennials, who have grown up with iPads in their hands, have a can-do mentality: their attitude is that everything can be solved if you know the right code or protocol. They are also more outward-looking, more open and often more socially-aware, and they look for jobs that are exciting and creative in their purpose.
Attracting this sort of talent requires a more consumer oriented approach in the way that recruiters and HR leaders market, and a deeper understanding of the dynamic world of recruitment marketing.
As the talent war becomes more intense - as it will - businesses will have to change their mindset about recruitment. Essentially what this means is thinking long-term about their recruitment needs, recognizing that they have to build a talent base of potential recruits, and digital channels are a great place to start engaging with them, so that when the business does need to hire people its brand is already known and attractive to those talented people it has to have. A business has to be digitally in tune with its future people if it is to survive. When your environment looks so uncertain it’s crucially important to be able to attract the best millennium talent.
Internationally UK companies have tended to rank exceptionally high on innovation but low on productivity. For example, a 2014 OECD report showing international comparisons of productivity for the G7 put the UK “20 percentage points behind the average for G7 countries.” In the post-Brexit world this has to change.
Businesses are going to need a new operational mindset and work with new paradigms of efficiency. When companies remove all the barriers to communication and operational activity teams are much more productive which leads to higher standards of efficiency. This is where digital tools have a big part to play. Using tools such as shared documentation and cloud-based systems creates more transparency in the way that teams work on projects.
Talent needs to be trusted and empowered to push projects forward and accelerate them. Transparency will make employees more accountable with the right motivation and reward, and that will make the process of project management more agile, and the whole business will become more efficient.
The challenge for UK businesses now is to maximise their assets – intellectual, reputational, people and proprietary - by being far more agile and super efficient. In many cases this will require the digital transformation of the business. It will also mean having new standards of digital competence for everyone especially team leaders and managers. Without these changes all the efficiencies that are sought and needed in innovation, recruitment and operations will not happen. When everything is uncertain only the agile and efficient in the development and deployment of resources will survive.