Written by Dan George
I often wonder if we should prepare kids for the reality that much of adult life consists of making it up as you go along. When I was young it seemed like my parents were overflowing fonts of wisdom, equipped with the answers to every question. Now I realise that we’re all winging it, all the time – even our big public figures (something that’s either reassuring or terrifying, depending on your outlook).
Perhaps the surest way to identify when someone hasn’t decided their next move is through vague language. Take the Government’s line that ‘Brexit means Brexit’. At the beginning of the summer this served to reassure the public by offering a sense of certainty and commitment, while remaining a relatively blank canvas onto which people could paint their own hopes and fears.
But now that people are starting to note the lack of an OED definition for Brexit, the PM is altering the language. The message is clear: this lady is for turning. But in pursuit of a deal, she’s yet to show her hand – or take anything off the table.
Whatever shape that deal takes, firms will need to be ready to succeed in the new environment. And, as ever, communication is key to creating confidence, that most crucial commodity in business.
But while politicians are often great role models for communicators, in this case it’s best not to emulate them. While Mrs May keeps her cards close to her chest as in a hand of high-stakes poker, the name of the business game is forthrightness.
Companies need to get on the front foot. Now. Before Theresa turns. Recent economic figures show consumers adopting a ‘wait and see’ mentality before deciding what Brexit means for the cash in their pockets. Businesses should treat this as a window of opportunity to come out swinging by telling customers, investors and partners what they have to offer and how they will work to offer more in the wake of Brexit.
Because before long, the pace of change will pick up and people will no longer have time to listen. Or even worse, firms will find that their competitors at home and overseas have started speaking out, while they’ve been sitting around talking to themselves.
So I’ll labour the point. Companies need to start asking their stakeholders to trust them – and showing them why they should – immediately. Because if there’s one rule that applies in a world where the status quo is shot and everyone wants the same thing, it’s that when it comes to cash and custom – as generations of parents have said to their children – if you don’t ask, you don’t get.