It’s just over one month ago that the people of the UK took their future into their own hands, and although many business owners are not yet sure about how the ‘Brexit’ decision is going to affect them, one thing is for sure: If you’re the manager of a multi-cultural team, you’re going to need your wits about you. EVERYTHING is going to change for you.
And if you hadn’t thought too carefully about it before, now is the time that you need to be considering your strategy, before it all falls to pieces.
When I talk about things falling to pieces I don’t mean the potential changes to laws on taxation or import/export duties. Those are practical issues that can be resolved, although you may not like the outcomes.
I’m talking about the synergies and dynamics of your multi-cultural team, and its capacity to continue to work as a team.
There will be people in your company who were in favour of the Brexit decision, and there will be those who were against it. And even if someone amongst your staff voted to leave the EU, they won’t necessarily have thought about the consequences of their choice, and how it was going to potentially impact the people that they work with, some of whom are probably their friends.
On the other side of the coin, as a Brit living in Austria, I have no clue about what is going to happen with me or my business, although of course we all hope that good sense will prevail (depending upon your definition of ‘good sense’).
Actually it doesn’t matter about the agreements that the UK reaches with its EU partners because we have already seen the number of incidences of racial abuse and crimes of hate increase during the past four weeks; hearts are ruling minds and logic.
If you are managing a multi-cultural team, you can bet that the feelings of suspicion and betrayal are already simmering underneath the surface. Some staff may feel guilty and embarrassed about the outcome, other (non-UK nationals) may believe that their colleagues can no longer be trusted.
Friendships will crumble and if you don’t make an effort to resolve any differences now, you could potentially see your company image disappear down the toilet.
And that will all happen without a single word being said, because human beings are experts in believing that they know what others are thinking. But deep down they’re simply afraid, and there is no logic to fear.
It’s up to YOU as a leader to prevent those insecurities from developing into conflict, and you need to start today, regardless of which part of ‘the continent’ you live in.
Whilst your emotional intelligence is going to play a key role in the next few months, you cannot be a shoulder to cry on or a punch bag (metaphorically speaking) for all your staff, but you can make the process less traumatic by helping them with the practical stuff.
Set the record straight as quickly as possible so that your colleagues can begin planning, because some are going to need to know whether they have to look at their options for relocating, and others will want to decide whether to make a down-payment on a new car (or house!).
Having closed down several 'operations' throughout the years, and having successfully kept the majority of staff engaged until the end, I assure you that although some colleagues are going to be fed up and demotivated regardless of your efforts, you'll be improving your chances of maintaining a constructive working climate for longer, which can only be a good thing.
1. DON’T LEAVE YOUR TEAM IN THE DARK
Don’t leave your team in the dark. Not sharing information or simply saying ‘I don’t know’ is the worst thing you can do for staff whose future is uncertain. They will take you down with them.
Boris Johnson is a good example, because regardless of what you think about him, one of the smartest things he has ever done was to address all his staff on his first day as the UK Foreign Minister.
Even if the people who made it to the meeting weren’t too impressed with what he had to say, he got their attention, and has increased his chances of winning their support in the medium to long-term thousand-fold.
Talk to your team, find out what concerns your colleagues, understand their apprehension, be honest with them. Create an environment that makes it safe for them to voice their worries, or arrange for a facilitator from outside the business to help.
2. WHAT GLUE DID YOU HAVE?
Consider what you could do to strengthen your team culture. The largest multi-cultural team in the world – the United Nations – makes it clear to employees that its organizational values take precedence over everything else, ie., nationality or race, religion, ethnicity, culture... Its mission and mandate are paramount.
OK so you may not have 40,000 (plus) employees, but you must help your staff to find some balance, and a great way to do that is to reinforce the common ground it had. What was the glue that held your team together before the British, EU referendum? It may have become unstuck, but it hasn’t completely dissolved.
3. DECIDE ON YOUR POLICIES
If your company or business hasn’t yet thought about whether/how its employment policy will change once the dust has settled, do it now. Brainstorm, do whatever it takes, but come up with some scenarios and get clear on your outcomes for each. Would you be prepared to apply for work permits and/or visas for your staff to allow them to stay? Or would you rather create a new team when the time comes?
What about members of staff that aren’t directly affected, because they will still be experiencing uncertainty. Will they have to work harder and longer? Will they be expected to take on additional duties?
Don’t keep all those decisions and discussions secret. Share the process with all your team, even if some if it is bad news, because no-one likes being kept in the dark, let alone being lied to. If any of your staff decides to jump ship ahead of time, to the extent possible and as long as they are not in breach of contract with you, let it be on their terms.
4. HOW ABOUT A TIMELINE ...
What will your timeline be as a business owner when the infamous Article 50 is triggered, and how much notice will you give staff who may have to leave? I’m not talking about the legal requirements; I’m saying that as soon as YOU know their job is for the chop THEY need to know too.
Ideally your staff will need a minimum of six months to sort out their lives, and probably longer if they have children at school.
5. WHAT TYPE OF SUPPORT COULD YOU PROVIDE?
What type of support, if any, are you going to offer your staff if they have to relocate, either from the UK back to mainland Europe, or vice versa? Will you allow them time off for their (new) job search? Provide training in basic skills such as writing a job application and preparing for an interview?
There’s a saying in many languages that goes something along the lines of ‘we always meet twice’ (and in English there’s the famous 1940s song from Vera Lynn ‘We’ll Meet Again’). You simply never know when your paths may cross again, so don’t burn your bridges by treating your staff badly (find out what their definition is of good and bad!) They will tell everyone they meet in the future how great, or how awful, you were.
CHANGE IS DIFFERENT FOR EVERYONE
Your staff will deal with the impending changes at different rates, some will remain in denial, some will remain in a state of panic, some will be downright furious that their career has been nipped in the bud through no fault of their own, and some will be already looking to the future with hopeful anticipation.
Walk your talk, and manage the expectations of those you work with to the best of your capacity. Put yourself in their shoes and treat them honestly.
If nothing else, you’ll have the reputation of being a true leader, and in 2025 when you’re looking to hook up with that international, multi-million business, imagine your delight when you find that the decision maker there is one of the people you supported during their time of insecurity and fear.