Brexit strategy: 5 first steps for Irish businesses preparing for Brexit

16 Jun 2017

Anne Lanigan, manager, Brexit unit, Enterprise Ireland. Image: Enterprise Ireland

Anne Lanigan, Enterprise Ireland’s Brexit lead, kicks off a series on how Irish businesses can prepare for Brexit with a focus on strategy.

Enterprise Ireland is the Government agency responsible for the development and growth of Irish businesses in world markets. It uses a structured approach to support companies in expanding reach and achieving scale.

This approach is built around six business pillars: strategy, operations, innovation, sales and marketing, finance, and people and management. These pillars are interconnected and impact on each other. In order to effect change in one pillar, it is often necessary to develop capability in one or more of the other pillars.

‘I sometimes compare running a business to driving a car: the vision is where you want to get to, the strategy is the route you’ll take to get there, and the operational plan is how you mechanically drive the car’

Future Human

Inspirefest 2017

To help Irish companies plan and prepare for Brexit, Enterprise Ireland has developed the Brexit SME Scorecard, a free planning tool for Irish exporters to the UK, which assesses their business readiness across these six pillars.

Strategy, which sits in the centre of the six pillars, is at the heart of every successful business. It is the mid- to long-term, high-level plan of action designed to achieve sustainable, profitable company growth. It is crucial to the development of all aspects of the business, and all functions should align to it. Strategy is not an operational plan but it should drive the operational plan.

Enterprise Ireland's six pillars: strategy, operations, innovation, sales and marketing, finance, and people and management

Image: Enterprise Ireland

I sometimes compare running a business to driving a car: the vision is where you want to get to, the strategy is the route you’ll take to get there, and the operational plan is how you mechanically drive the car (feet on the pedals, hands changing gear, turning the steering wheel, etc). As you drive along, you need to remain focused on where you are going and how you are going to get there, while adjusting to the changing external environment as you go. In the same way, it’s important in a business to remain focused on your vision and your strategy, and be prepared to review your strategy on an ongoing basis.

1. Identify the opportunity

The first stage in developing a strategy is to research and identify the opportunity. This should be based on a valid assessment of the competitive strength of the company in relation to a target market. This requires comprehensive research and external input. It should provide clarity on which products or services will deliver growth in what markets by understanding the challenges of the external environment, your own capabilities and the appeal of your offering, ie your differentiators.

2. Form a high-level plan

This should contribute to a high-level plan to outline how you are going to deliver on the opportunity, providing clarity on how you plan to achieve growth and how you can best compete in the marketplace. It should look at potential risks and opportunities for the business and how they will be addressed.

It is this high-level plan that translates into an operational plan with clear roles and responsibilities, targets and milestones for every member of the management team.

3. Share and share alike

Strategy must be owned by the senior management team (somebody still needs to be in the driving seat) and this should be its clear focus. However, for a strategy to be effective it needs to be shared, ie documented and communicated regularly to all staff to create context and ensure alignment.

Everyone in the business should be able to articulate the same strategy – where you are going, why, how you will get there and what’s in it for them – in order to enthusiastically and effectively implement the operational plan.

4. Keep your eyes on the road

It’s important to constantly focus on and follow the strategy by using your eyes and ears to ensure you are staying on course and avoiding unnecessary distractions. Returning to the car analogy, you’re heading for a car crash if you use your eyes to watch your feet on the pedals instead of the road in front of you!

Your operational plan needs to be correctly aligned to your strategy but the eyes of senior management, however large or small a team, need to be on the horizon and your strategy.

5. Review regularly

Of course, it’s inevitable that strategy will be impacted by changes in the internal and external environment. There is a need to monitor what’s happening in the environment and take the necessary action to address new risks and capitalise on new opportunities in a strategic rather than impulsive way.

It’s important to take time out with senior management and board members to review strategy regularly, to test underlying assumptions, and review the internal and external environment, adjusting your strategy to give you maximum opportunity in delivering on your vision.

Next steps

Putting strategy at the heart of your business by researching the opportunity, developing a high-level plan to deliver on it, and relentlessly sharing, following and reviewing the plan is key to delivering sustainable, profitable company growth – taking you over the horizon on to the next challenge!

By Anne Lanigan

Anne Lanigan is head of Enterprise Ireland’s Brexit unit. In a previous role, she was a key architect of its current diagnostic-based client engagement model. 

For a robust discussion, information and practical advice for those preparing for Brexit, join members of the Enterprise Ireland Brexit and global teams at the next Brexit Roadshow in The Helix, Dublin on 28 June 2017. Register here.