Why Brexit Means Developing Commercial Awareness in Your Teams

Regardless of your personal political viewpoint and whether you are a "remainer" or a "leaver" when it comes to the EU, as a business leader you face the biggest challenge of your career, especially in the advent of a no-deal. Whether we remain or leave, your teams face uncertainty.

Your iceberg is melting, your landscape is changing and your teams need inspiring leadership like never before. Unlike the one or two economic crisis you will have navigated through previously, this time the route ahead is uncharted.

No one has been here before.


The best minds in the economy, trade and commerce don't have the answers on how to move forward with plans that guarantee success. The EU can not give you advice and neither can our own political system.

Your teams face huge uncertainty and right now your role as a business leader is to give them back some certainty, give them the confidence that together, as one team you will be able to take this shifting landscape and these seismic changes and maximise the opportunities they will provide.

And opportunities will arise.

You Will Never Have a Better Time to Harness Their Commitment to Change

Assuming their opinions around Brexit have changed little since the referendum, about half your employee views oppose the other half. As the impact of Brexit looms closer these positions will become more entrenched and polarised. Some of your employees will already have been impacted post-referendum. They may have had relatives who have lost their jobs through shifting jobs abroad or a reduction in working hours, personal development plans curtailed, promotions halted, salary increases frozen and so on.

Blame will begin to be assigned risking team morale and relationships. Tensions may arise threatening cooperation and the willingness to go the extra mile for colleagues.

The Brexit vote two years ago has damaged the UK economy, as a weaker pound has squeezed household incomes and uncertainty has hit investment. According to the FT, forecasters’ estimates of how much Brexit has already dragged down the economy range from around 1 per cent of gross domestic product, or £20bn a year, to 2 per cent, or £40bn a year.

When the FT prepared and an average of several forecast models it led to the conclusion that by the end of the first quarter of 2018, the economy was 1.2 per cent smaller than it would have been without the Brexit vote. By the end of 2018, 2 per cent.

That represents a £24bn hit to the economy, amounting to a “Brexit cost” of £450m a week or £870 a household per year.

There is one positive that all this brings, however.

A key factor in successfully managing change is the need for urgency, for those amidst the change to feel the burning platform, the land shifting beneath them or their iceberg melting. Then people are more inclined to take action and support the changes required. Brexit gives you that unparalleled urgency.

Now is the time for you as a leader to harness that uncertainty and the urgency and make it work for you. Now is the time when teams will come together if they see that it's only by working together that they will survive and come through the other side of whatever deal is negotiated.

Sitting back passively waiting to see what will happen is not an option. There are too many unknowns and those that prepare for the unknowns, that build stronger alliances across their businesses will be the ones that can outlast their competition.

Develop a Commercially Aware Team That Seeks Out The Opportunities

Over the past decade, there's generally been a big push by businesses to improve their customer experience. It's where we've been helping brands develop a customer-focused culture that puts the customer at the heart of everything the organisation does. 

Along the way, with limited budgets, many areas of employee development have been overlooked. One such area is 'commercial awareness'. It's a given that the customer experience still needs to be developed, the customer is still king and in the months and years ahead will become yet more demanding.

Now commercial awareness will become the most relevant topic to teach.

Let's take a look at what we mean by commercial awareness first and then we'll explore why it's so important and what you can do to develop it in your business.

Commercial awareness involves:

  • "knowing about the current deals, transactions and issues in the business world."
  • "staying up-to-date on daily happenings and developments in the business and commercial world"
  • "being able to look at situations from a commercial perspective."


Even the most junior member of your team can develop a commercial awareness and be able to see things from a commercial perspective and bring valuable insights to their role.

Why Building Commercial Awareness is Important

Developing commercial awareness will be significantly more important as we enter the periods of weeks, months years and possibly decades of change that Brexit will lead to.

I think of it like this....

Commercial awareness is to the world of business what night-vision goggles are to midnight assaults. With it, you can operate on a professional level, but without it, you won’t know what is going on, and your chances of survival are slim.

As a business leader, you get it. You understand commercial awareness and all (I hope) of your management team get it too. They may not be familiar with every commercial aspect of every department, division or business unit in your organisation, but in their own areas they will understand it and they will have a wider appreciation of the industry you operate in and the impact of political, economic, social and technological changes in your market.

But as you move closer to the frontline, to the hundreds of employees that never get to read management accounts, attend board meetings and strategy workshops, few if any have the commercial awareness that is going to be required post Brexit.

Now I'm NOT suggesting that employees need to read the FT, listen to Radio 4 and subscribe to the Economist.

What I am recommending is that you develop a greater commercial awareness that is relevant to them. I'll give you an example.

A car dealership in the UK will be seen to be very successful when it achieves a net profit return on sales of 5%. Yet ask most employees how much money they think their dealership makes out of every £100 of sales and you'll suddenly see the lack of commercial awareness. Whenever I've asked the question to dealership employees I get answers of anywhere between £20 and £50 (20% - 50%)!

Employees can't relate their actions and behaviours to situations they don't understand. Do dealer employees need to understand accounts and the intricacies of balance sheets? Of course not. But they should be more commercially aware in order for the business that employs them to be:

  • More competitive
  • More agile
  • More responsive
  • More able to spot opportunities
  • More able to respond to opportunities
  • More able to cope with change
  • Financially stronger

When people aren't commercially aware they don't see the impact of their mistakes. They don't see the urgency required to take action sooner rather than later. They don't spot the opportunities for increased sales, new revenue streams or ideas and methods for reducing costs and waste. They don't pay attention because they don't see how to make a commercial difference for the team and the business overall.

What to Do to Build Commercial Awareness in Your Teams

Few businesses are developing commercial awareness in their teams because the urgency has never been there before. Those that do, will reap the rewards continually.

Here are some tips on what to do to build commercial awareness in your teams.

  1. Write down and simplify your business model to its basic principles. It needs to be explained with visuals and on one page. That becomes the key concepts your commercial awareness training hinges around.
  2. Summarise the shifting landscape your business is going to be faced with post Brexit regardless of the deal and how that model will be affected.
  3. Summarise where the opportunities lie.
  4. Develop a company-wide initiative to engage employees around the shifting landscape and the potential risks of not preparing for the changes ahead. Help them to understand their role to the bigger picture connecting their role to the business model.
  5. Consider how you will engage every role in the business to become more commercially aware. Leave no one out!
  6. Use the urgency of Brexit to drive change.
  7. Design activities within your initiative that raises employee commercial awareness.
  8. Ensure your initial training initiative is experiential and engages hearts as well as minds.
  9. Use the initiative to develop and foster wider teamwork and a one-team orientation.
  10. Incentivise and reward for ideas, actions and positive shifts in attitude.
  11. Develop a post-Brexit loop that helps employees know where the business is, how secure their jobs are and what collective initiatives you have all taken to respond to the challenges of Brexit.
  12. Offer a combination of solutions that include experiential workshops, micro-learning and online courses to educate and raise awareness.
  13. Develop a calendar of training that provides ongoing support, not just one hit.
  14. Make commercial awareness training as important as customer service training.
  15. Identify specific commercial skills that need to be developed to complement general commercial awareness.
  16. Make sure that all existing training has an element of commercial awareness content included. Identify those that don't and ensure you add it.


What Specific Skills Should Commercial Skills Include?

To compliment your commercial awareness program it's essential that you also offer commercial skills training. This helps develop staff with improved industry knowledge and encourages a broader interest in the business overall.

Skills training can include areas such as:

  • Negotiation
  • Contract management
  • Managing relationships
  • Problem-solving
  • Creativity
  • Research
  • Supplier management
  • Working at tradeshows
  • Decision making
  • Financial reporting
  • Risk management
  • Etc


Take Action Today

At your next management meeting bring up the subject of commercial awareness and its impact on your preparedness for Brexit and what follows.

If you'd like a free set of slides that you can use in your next meeting as an aide to presenting the topic please subscribe below and we'll gladly send you a set based on the content of this post. Feel free to edit them and use them in your meetings, personalising them for your own business.

If you'd like to discuss how we can help you develop the training solutions you need from engaging experiential events for company-wide application, to micro-learning sessions for team meetings please contact Mark Gregory by email [email protected]


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