Brexit strategy: Building the right leadership, management and people capability to scale

7 Aug 2017

Image: janews/Shutterstock

Brexit uncertainty is an opportunity to re-evaluate your organisation’s structure. Enterprise Ireland’s Karen Hernandez outlines the three pillars around which to build a stable people and management strategy that can scale.

Increased competitive pressures brought about by Brexit and uncertain economic conditions have changed the parameters of success for SMEs, leading many to revise their business strategy, their organisational structure and business models.

In the current economic environment of increasing uncertainty, companies must be sufficiently flexible to be able to respond rapidly to changes within their external environment. To do so, companies must learn how to build, lead and leverage their people resources effectively.

Being able to effectively lead, manage and engage employees has now become a strategic imperative for CEOs and management teams as they drive their company’s growth agenda.

However, recent research from leading UK leadership institute Roffey Park (The Management Agenda, 2017) indicates that many businesses feel unprepared for the changing world of work; be it the potential impact of Brexit, working with a more diverse workforce, or managing and developing talent to ‘anytime, anywhere’ ways of working.

Karen Hernandez, Enterprise Ireland

Karen Hernandez. Image: Enterprise Ireland

‘Even those companies that do have a Brexit strategy often fail to communicate it to managers and employees, leaving them in the dark as to where their roles fit’

Enterprise Ireland is working with SMEs across our client base to support them to put in place the appropriate HR, management and people practices, supporting them to scale successfully. Our client business diagnostic helps companies understand where management and people gaps exist, which could potentially inhibit company growth.

Where management and people challenges are identified, our management and people functional lead team work one-to-one with companies to explore them in detail, scope out potential actions areas and signpost companies to appropriate solutions.

Our SME-customised approach helps CEOs and senior management teams understand their people and management needs under three key areas, supporting them to address key challenges to growth.

1. Clarity of direction

Many companies are unclear as to where they’re going and what they need to achieve, particularly in light of Brexit. Even those that do have a strategy often fail to communicate it to managers and employees, leaving them in the dark as to where their roles fit.

As companies grow, there’s often a mix of employee personalities and behaviours, and it’s difficult for senior teams to understand how to build an appropriate company culture to drive growth.

Questions companies should consider:

  • Does my company have a strategy or roadmap for growth and, if so, how well do my managers and staff understand it?
  • Are manager and employee roles and deliverables aligned to our strategy?
  • What are the core values that define our culture? Are managers and employees aware of them? Do our senior managers role model our core behaviours?

2. Capability

As companies scale, the capabilities and skills of both managers and employees need to develop and adapt to deliver new roles and responsibilities. Fresh and relevant insight needs to be sought. This can be achieved either through bringing non-executive directors on board or through recruiting external management and functional expertise.

Existing employees need training and development opportunities to ensure they can grow within the company and are confident to deliver on new challenges.

Questions companies should consider:

  • Do we have the necessary leadership, strategic and functional skills within our company to drive growth? If not, do we develop from within or recruit externally?
  • Does our senior management team have the required capability mix to deliver on our growth objectives? Do we require external advisory support from a board member or mentor?
  • Do we need to build capability at a supervisory or middle-management level to support delivery of operational activities, allowing senior management to focus on driving strategic growth?
  • Are we aware of the broader skills needs across the company and how we can address these through training or other activities?

3. Coordination

Organisational structures may need to adapt to deliver on new opportunities or to manage an increasing number of employees. With an increase in company size, the ways in which companies recruit, manage and develop staff need to become more robust and clear.

Questions companies should consider:

  • Is our organisational structure appropriate for our current stage of growth? What new functions or roles will we need to develop to support our growth plans?
  • How robust are our recruitment practices? Do our role specifications address both functional and behavioural competencies?
  • Do we have a process in place to manage employee performance effectively?
  • How engaged are our people? What practices can we put in place to drive engagement levels?
  • Do we need to build or evolve our people practices or processes to support our business as it grows?

Further resources and support

Enterprise Ireland offers a range of supports to companies to address management and people needs. These include funding towards accessing a strategic HR consultant to support a review of organisational structure and functional gaps. HR consultancy support can also be used to develop key management and people processes, including recruitment, performance development and succession planning.

Enterprise Ireland’s range of leadership and management development programmes, such as Leadership 4 Growth and Go Global 4 Growth, also support companies to build the appropriate leadership, management capability and processes to drive future growth. Funding can also be provided to enable companies recruit into a key leadership or senior management role where a strategic gap has been identified. Our Be Prepared Brexit Grant offers companies funding support to identify any people issues that might arise from Brexit and to put in place a response to address key challenges.

‘Businesses now are facing an era of unprecedented change. The most successful leaders will be the ones who embrace these changes’

The potential impacts of Brexit are currently unclear. This, coupled with other global uncertainties such as political instability, ever-increasing technological advances and changes in market demographics mean that businesses now are facing an era of unprecedented change.

The most successful leaders will be the ones who embrace these changes, leverage the opportunities that change brings and build the necessary strategies, organisational structures and people capability to address new challenges.

As George Bernard Shaw put it: “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”

By Karen Hernandez

Karen Hernandez is a senior executive at Enterprise Ireland, currently leading the agency’s centre of excellence in organisational development to support SME growth and job creation. In this role, Hernandez regularly engages one-on-one with companies to support them to put in place the appropriate structures, capability and systems to drive business growth.

Enterprise Ireland’s Brexit SME Scorecard and more resources can be accessed at