Brexit: How can we safeguard skills development? pt2

Robin Hoyle concludes his piece about Brexit’s impact on commercial skills.

Reading time: 4m 30s.

People may change

If there is a no-deal Brexit (or some flavour of hard Brexit) what impact will this have on your teams and on your customers? People buy people. One thing which sets a sales cycle back is often an unexpected change in personnel (on either side). 

So, how many of your key contacts within your customers are based in the UK but hail from another EU country? How many of your own sales staff are EU Citizens? Will they stay? Will they go?  Will they have a choice?  

Sellers would be well advised to deepen and broaden their relationships across the businesses they seek to work with. Knowing more people and understanding their requirements is never a bad tactic.  Does your sales training process prepare people to build multiple relationships and extend their network amongst an organisation’s key players? If it doesn’t – it should.

Now, more than ever, your creativity about how you build skills and develop the people in your teams is needed.

From an internal perspective, how will you retain the talent you have already invested in? Even if your current staff are unlikely to leave for a less hostile environment elsewhere in the EU, many others already have. 

We are already experiencing some degree of labour market volatility and – as usual – the ambitious, bright and skilled will be the first to go. Having a talent retention process, based on enhanced skills and career development is not a nice-to-have in times of uncertainty – it is an essential part of the HR and L&D landscape. 

If there are regrettable losses, what role does your L&D team play in ensuring the knowledge, contacts and nous which those individuals have doesn’t leave with them. It’s often a case that when sellers tell you they are leaving, their departure is hastened for fear of commercial information going missing. 

The real fear should be the haemorrhaging of knowledge and wisdom which accompanies any regrettable resignation.

If you ever wondered what VUCA was, you won’t soon!

For a long time, L&D conferences, HR publications and the general management press has been talking about VUCA – volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. Although the challenges are variously illustrated, the detail about what you actually do about these uncertain times has been a little thin on the ground.


We are starting to recognise that what really matters in navigating a VUCA environment is speed and agility. Quicker decision making, faster responses from managers to staff, from sales teams to customers, from colleagues to their peers. We have the technology to facilitate this, but still organisations can be bureaucratic and indecisive. 

Often, perfect is the enemy of the good. Your staff may prefer to defer a decision than be seen to be making the wrong one. 

This is a cultural as well as a skills challenge for L&D. It is about the expectations we have of people and what behaviour is rewarded. If people are ‘punished’ for making honest mistakes, they will be risk averse. If errors are acknowledged and used as a source for learning, risk aversion reduces.

Of course, governance is important and your teams will still need parameters within which to work. But keep those boundaries under review and don’t accept them being used as an excuse for dither, delay or poor service.

Agility is not an alternative to stability. In a recent McKinsey report, the authors identified that agility is only possible if there is real stability within the organisation which creates the freedom to think differently and act quickly.  

Implementation matters

How often have you bought something only to be disappointed by the service received once the ink is dry on the contract? Sales people have been particularly prone to ‘throwing the deal over the wall’ to the customer service team or delivery team and rarely seen until the next time the contract needs renewing. 

One feature of a time of volatility is that contracts are shorter as people are unwilling to commit and customers expect to de-risk their decision by implementing pilot phases or limited roll outs.

Essentially, the final deal and the whole potential of each opportunity is likely to be contingent on getting the initial implementation stage right and sellers should have a role in shepherding the deal they have secured until it can be properly and appropriately handed over.  

Do they have those skills? Do they have those roles in your commercial processes? If they don’t, they probably should and therefore they will need to have access to new models, skills and ways of working to enable them to do this. Guess what? That’s our job too!


In times of uncertainty, learning and development activities are often under pressure – perceived as a luxury item for more stable times. ‘We’re too busy coping with all this to go on courses’, they say.  

Of course, whenever things are tough, whenever change happens, learning matters more than ever. And, yes, people will be under pressure and less prepared to devote time and energy to preparing for an uncertain future when they’ve got targets to meet and quotas to hit in a challenging environment.  

So, one final plea to L&D teams. Now, more than ever, your creativity about how you build those skills and develop the people in your teams is needed. 

One size never did fit all so let’s not even try. If we want everyone else to be flexible, responsive and alive to new opportunities in a fast-moving, unpredictable world, we need to model the value-driven, flexible behaviours based on deep relationships which we so desperately need everyone else to adopt.

Read part one of this piece here.


About the author

Robin Hoyle is head of learning and development at Huthwaite International. 


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