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As the only professional body dedicated to internal communication in the UK, we exist to help organisations and people succeed through promoting internal communication of the highest standard.

Leading an organisation through a change you didn’t want to happen is tough – but it can be done.

Many business leaders were on the Remain side of the Brexit debate and now have the task of steering their company through a change they campaigned against.
 

Leadership coach Sheila Hirst (pictured) says the first thing is to acknowledge the change and then deal with it.
 
“For leaders, particularly in organisations where they were openly on the Remain side, it will be difficult for them to handle their comms now that things have changed,” she explains.
 
“The best example to use is the new prime minister Theresa May. She’s said ‘I didn’t vote for it but we have to make the best of it.’
 
“It’s a classic management issue. When any organisation makes an unpopular decision, you have to make that work inside the organisation and, if it goes against your values and beliefs, you are faced with having to do an on-the-spot turnaround.”
 
That said, Sheila says many politicians have not covered themselves in glory since the Brexit vote on June 23.
 
“The whole political scenario has been a masterclass in how to reduce trust,” she says. “We’ve seen people like Boris Johnson changing his mind left, right and centre and it’s no wonder the establishment has taken a battering.
 
“The big task for UK companies is how do you get employees to trust the people that are responsible for leading their organisation?
 
“I’d be telling leaders to have dialogue. Now is the opportunity to talk openly and honestly to the people they’re leading. Tell them this might not have been my , or your, choice but we have to make the best of it. And we’ll need your help to make it work.”
 
Dealing with Brexit is a classic transition model for managers.
 
“We’re now thrown into a transitional stage and to move on we have to let go of the past.   It’s chaotic but it can also be creative,” says Sheila, a director at communication and change consultants Omilia Hirst. “It’s an opportunity for a leader to create a clear vision of what the organisation – whether it’s commercial or government or whatever – is going to stand for in the future, what they want for it.
 
“It’s a fantastic opportunity to talk to people and say ‘How are we going to do this?’ or ‘What opportunities have we got here?’
 
“Rather than saying it’s perfect, everything’s fine, acknowledge that it may not be ideal right now – but then look forward.
 
“I’d look to set up opportunities, places where people can share their views.
 
“After the vote, most people were incapable of doing any work for a few days, they were in shock and just wanted to talk about what on earth had happened. We’re coming out of that now and it’s not a time to revisit old wounds, it’s about being forward focused.
 
“We realise it’s a shock, but leaders move on, leaders look to the future.”
 
It’s the job of leaders to bring employees together, particularly in a divided workforce.
 
“It’s a difficult one if there’s a big divide and it’s still raw,” she says. “If it is, it has to be voiced and it might well be that you manage or facilitate debate, some way of discussing what people really feel.
 
“Before they can move on, people must be given the chance to voice what they feel – but it has to be managed or it could turn into a slanging match. I’d encourage people to talk in small groups or teams. As a manager, I’d hold sessions for people to air their views and then make it clear that it’s time to end that discussion.
 
“However we’re a few weeks further on now and many people may well be ready to look to the future.
 
“It’s time to reiterate the goals and aims of the organisation. They’re still the same but how we get there might be different.”
 
One word of warning from Sheila is not to just say everything’s fine and ignore what has happened. 
 
“There is a need to acknowledge that things have changed and they may not where most business people wanted to be,” she stresses.
 
“Having said that, we are where we are and we have a choice to keep picking away at the argument or to use the energy to move forward.”
 
 
Sheila Hirst will host an IoIC coaching masterclass on Wednesday October 5 – more details here

 
 
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