Brexit – a case study in poor change management

The EU referendum has been fascinating to watch with the “remainers” pulling out all the stops on project fear which they believe worked so well in Scotland.
Every day, we are treated to another set of statistics or another set of experts warning of the dire consequences of leaving the EU. So, we are told that households will be £4300 worse off by 2030 if we leave (though how economists can forecast so accurately over the next 15 years is another debate entirely…), that house prices will fall, that Obama says we will go to the back of the queue on trade deals and leaving the EU would make war more likely.
And yet, the polls are closer than they would like suggesting project fear is not having the effect intended.
On the leave side, despite some speeches attempting to paint a positive picture for a world outside the EU, a similar negative approach is evident. There are dire warnings about being swamped by immigration, by being ruled from Brussels, losing control of our laws and so on.
And yet, the polls are closer than they would like, suggesting project fear is not working on either side.
Change management is a crucial skill for senior managers and politicians alike, and yet so many of them are poor at implementing change.
There are three vital components for implementing change:
Where are we now? – What is the current situation? Why isn’t it sustainable? What are the likely consequences if we do nothing?
Where do we want to be? – A positive vision of the future. A clear idea for how change will help address the problems we face.
How do we get there? – What is the process? What will we need to do and what issues will we need to address?
Behind these three components, the overriding element is engagement.
You must engage those affected in discussion and ideas around where you are and why you need to change. Indeed, a well-managed discussion will enable buy-in to the vision and often elicit the steps needed to make it happen.
What we are seeing from the EU campaign is a focus on the first component “where are we now” without the vision or process to move to a different place.
And we certainly are not seeing the public being engaged in discussion and debate to get their buy-in one way or the other.
This one could go down to the wire.

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To thine own self be true

The Co-operative Group was in the news this week as it launched a major rebranding of its business in a bid to shake off the crisis and scandal that rocked it three years ago.

The group is bringing back the blue and white logo familiar to older shoppers but which was phased out in the 1980s, with a new discount system aimed at helping it compete in the fierce price wars battering supermarkets.

In a move to recover its community image, it will direct some of its profits to community projects to be chosen by members locally.

The discounts and community donations will amount to about £100 million a year.

Co-op Group hit crisis in 2013 when a financial black hole at the Co-op Bank drove the group to a £2.3 billion loss. Exclusive revelations by The Mail on Sunday of drug-taking by then chairman Paul Flowers heaped scandal and humiliation on the group.

Under the new plans, Co-op members will pocket an automatic 5 per cent discount on all own-brand products including food, insurance, legal services and funerals, starting in the autumn.

A further 1 per cent – about £15 million a year – will be allocated to 1,500 community clusters of Co-op businesses.

Staff will draw up a shortlist of projects and members will be able to vote on how the money is spent. Eventually, the Co-op plans to allow members to propose their own projects.

The blue and white logo, which the Co-op said had been updated, will be rolled out across stores, funeral homes and other buildings in an ongoing £1.3 billion investment plan.

The cloverleaf-like design will look familiar to loyal members of the Co-op, because it was first launched back in 1968 and abandoned a decade ago when the group decided a more corporate look was needed.

So, what are we to make of all this?

Is it another example of a company trying to shake off the past with some fancy new brand livery or is there something more fundamental going on?

In a recent statement, Steve Murrells, chief executive of the food business, said (my italics):

“Hindsight and reflection would say that, for a period of years, the society lost its way. When we moved to a more corporate logo it was probably the right thing back then, but it has become abundantly clear that we do need to go back to our roots.”

“We are putting money back into the hands of members and communities. We don’t believe we are considered a profit centre,” Murrells says. “Everything will be put back into the community or given directly to members when we have effectively paid down the costs of running the business. The more customers who shop with us, the more good we can do.”

“Back as far as 2012, it was clear to us that the younger generation was very sceptical of big business and very aligned to the model of co-operatives,” he says. “The signals were there and we knew as a business we had the chance to reach out to younger people.

“So the [new] logo will resonate with members that have stuck by the Co-op and with new, younger members. We have been working towards this day.”

One of the first precepts of a successful brand strategy is “to thine own self be true.”

Branding is more than logos and livery, it is about the values that drive the business.

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As Simon Sinek says, people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

The statements above suggest the Co-op has indeed gone back to its roots, and rediscovered what its purpose was and why people should engage with it.

The return to the 1968 logo is a statement of intent and a huge legacy to live up to.

It will be interesting to see whether they can deliver on their promise and reverse the reputational damage the Co-op has suffered in recent years.

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