The vote for the UK to leave the European Union was a momentous one that has divided the nation and created more questions than it has provided answers. As Prime Minister Theresa May has said: "Brexit means Brexit." But what Brexit means is yet to be seen.

Even if the result of the referendum was not what they'd hoped for, people are recognising the importance of coming together to ensure that this monumental change has a good outcome. And while it will be politicians who have the final say, the great business minds and wider business community of the UK have an important role to play too.

In fact, as we start out on this transformative journey, there are lessons we can learn from business transformation. There are a number of parallels between the corporate transformation process and the massive transformation that the UK now faces.

So what could Brexit mean and how do we achieve it?

Creating a vision

Successful business transformations start with a vision. Where are we now? Where do we want to be? How can we get there? The same questions apply to Brexit.

Imagine it's 2020. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we were to emerge from the other side of Brexit as a stronger and more unified county? If there were great things happening not only in the UK, but throughout the rest of the world?

Wouldn't it be fantastic if we ended up still having a strong economy, acceptable levels of inflation and good employment? If we managed to heal some of the rifts that we have within our society? If the UK remained whole and united? If we managed to restore some really good values to Britain? If we addressed some of the present injustices?

Furthermore, wouldn't it be great if we continued to build strong relationships on a global scale – whether in terms of trade, politics or culture? If we continued to have influence on the world stage, for the greater good?

These aspirations may seem lofty but they are meant to be; they are visionary. This is what transformation is really all about.

If we think about businesses, transformation is often triggered by a major force – whether expected or unexpected. For the UK, Brexit can be viewed as the catalyst for transformation. It creates a reason to re-evaluate everything that we do as a nation. Consequently, it's time to capitalise on this opportunity and start mobilising.

Implementing transformation

So when it comes to successfully achieving large-scale transformation, what lessons can we learn from the business world?

Anna Davis, the managing director and founder of Crossing Jordan® Limited, an independent change management consultancy, says: "It's important that we are intentional about wanting to achieve our vision; and that we are intentional about dealing with and identifying the things that are likely to get in the way.

"That’s always been the hard part. […] When something goes wrong it's easy to say, oh, we don't know what to do now. So we have to be deliberate when obstacles appear- how do we deal with this? What are we going to do? What is ok and what isn't ok?"

Anna explains that the same thinking applies to Brexit: "We need to instil in people that it's achievable. Do we believe we can achieve this? What are some of the things we can draw on in Britain's past? We've shown, as a country, that we are capable of overcoming difficulties. We are adaptive and responsive; and we are one of the world's leading financial centres."

But how do we go about this?

There are certain levers that need to be pulled in order to effect long-term change in the UK – for example, political, financial, social, legal and cultural. And, as a nation, we need to consider how our behaviour as a whole is going to help us or get in the way of achieving this vision. What behaviours and capabilities do we require as a country – and how do we foster these?

It's also vital that we keep people engaged – on both a national and international level. Anna compares the gravity of each decision we now make as a nation to a spider's web: "Every decision will affect many different countries and their leaders."

Whether we're talking about business transformation or Brexit, once you have in place your vision and have identified the people and capabilities required, you can then go about planning and designing your change. This process is likely to be hugely iterative as you flex and adapt to meet shifting circumstances – nevertheless, it plots a way forward.  In both cases, the role of business leaders is really important. 

Anna says: "As you're working through the planning and designing of the change, which is the real heart of it, you need to think about the consequences of your decisions, rather than finding them out later and then reacting." 

With both business transformation and Brexit, there are three important stages in the journey, in order to implement real change. From mapping out a vision, to identifying the people and capabilities required, to planning and designing the transformation, each of these phases calls for time and investment, to effect the best possible outcome. 

Anna Davis is the managing director and founder of Crossing Jordan® Limited, an independent change management consultancy. With specialist expertise in change management, organisation design and strategic capability development, she works with senior leaders across a range of industries and cultures to deliver high performance.

Crossing Jordan® Limited has designed and developed Change Dimensions® – a practical change management business tool delivered as three leading-edge intuitive Change Apps®. These apps help you manage change, on the go and on any device – change at your fingertips. 

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