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Doomed or dynamic? A choice.

25 July 2016 #Employment

A feature of current times is stress of uncertainty, with justification of course as national and global events seem to be increasingly unpredictable and destabilising. 

One vital lesson for business is to adapt, not adopt a mindset of doom , but actively look for advantages in whatever situation arises. Overseas competitors and predators will take advantage of the current economic situation, with UK companies going cheap. It is foreseeable a good number of UK businesses with global potential will be taken over in the medium term. Whatever the cause, the near certainty is that a lot of business thinking will need to change.

A learning from other countries, including within the Commonwealth, is that while good governance and a stable political situation is always preferable, the reality is that private sector enterprise often succeeds despite and not because of government.

This is equally true of the UK as it seeks a new national identity, but it will be dispiriting to rely on that identity coming from Westminster. In truth the UK's future global role is going to be mainly, though not exclusively, in the world of business and trade. The pace at which businesses can adapt to that new reality will decide if they and the UK prosper.

Hence, the key questions are how to adapt, what skills to add, and what new growth strategies to adopt in the months and years ahead.

What's that to do with Human Resources? Well, for many people not a lot, as numerous enterprises will be slow to see what they need to do and will not be looking for ideas and help. However, those that are proactive can benefit from making their people and talent management more dynamic. 

What will be the needs of business in the coming couple of years?

Improved market understanding and reach, competitiveness in new markets,  improved due diligence and risk assessment, global collaborations, language skills, cultural understanding, advisers equipped for the new markets, and improved learning and development that makes all that happen.

That is about HR and what it ought to add if equal to the opportunities. HR may play a crucial role in facilitating adaptation.

In many countries the UK needs to work with, HR as a profession is virtually non-existent or in its infancy. Thus a lead from experienced UK HR professionals will be a major contribution to people management supply chains and in corporate partners overseas, and in mitigating serious workforce risks.

So forget the gloom of uncertainty and make the new world work for your enterprise by intelligent adaptation, as our species has managed over millions of years. Not all businesses will do well, they never do, but those fit for the future will prosper. It is a fair bet they will be the ones who handle people and talent management best, who develop the management skills and buy in the cultural and practical skillsets they lack.

Many successful global enterprises with deep experience of working across diverse geographic regions and cultures obviously have these challenges well in hand. They have long learned about adapting, often the hard way.

There are many more who lack that experience, who do not yet have capability to address new markets with confidence, and who see much of the world as more of a threat than an opportunity. The complexities and risks of global markets show why structured regional trade blocks like the EU are more attractive to companies who are not yet true multinational enterprises. However, the UK is on its way out so businesses must think harder about how to play the hand it has been dealt to build trade across the world.

There is much talk now about international trade agreements, which have indeed multiplied across the world hugely in recent decades, focused on bilateral and regional trade deals.

The UK is now on a mission to start its own trade talks to fill the yawning trade chasm that could result from Brexit, depending what Brexit ultimately means. Lack of trade negotiation skills in the UK civil service has been remarked on, and regardless of secondments from the private sector and offers of negotiators on loan from other friendly countries, recruitment and training is a huge initial challenge to create a global trade framework for the UK outside the EU. Time will tell how the UK manages that, but no one should imagine it quick and easy.

That problem is not something the private sector can do a lot about. It is for the Government to get it right. But how does this play out at corporate level for the multitude of enterprises whose future will turn on their competitiveness across the world in new markets? The negotiation of trade agreements is not a lot of use unless enterprises with scope to trade globally take the opportunities. It is time to gear up.

There are various levels of capability needed of course, across all of work winning, logistics and delivery, contracting, joint venturing, distributorships, foreign exchange management, risk mitigation, and supply chain management. Not to mention language skills, legal implications including whether there is basic respect for the rule of law, whether contracts can be enforced, migration/visa requirements, local regulatory requirements, bribery risks, and tax issues.

So upskilling businesses to succeed in new markets is at least as important as all the trade negotiations.  If western businesses expect to succeed in wider geographic markets then a great deal of effort will be needed to make that happen.

Forbury is itself adapting HR services and training programmes, building on our strong links with international markets especially the Commonwealth (via the Commonwealth Environmental Investment Platform operated alongside Forbury People), and a key objective for Forbury is to help other enterprises adapt through appropriate fresh thinking and human resource management with a positive growth and globalisation mindset.

The good news for the UK is that it has many friends around the world who wish it well and want more trade with the UK, as well as buying into UK companies at a discount. Most forward thinking businesses will be taking advantage and not just waiting for political negotiations. 

We much value the committed and skilled civil servants now charged with finding new trade frameworks as we exit the EU. However, the success of the UK for future generations now turns more on what enterprise can deliver in whatever landscape it needs to work. Adapt and thrive is the new motto for our time. 

Michael Sippitt

Forbury People Ltd

Clarkslegal, specialist Employment lawyers in London, Reading and throughout the Thames Valley.
For further information about this or any other Employment matter please contact Clarkslegal's employment team by email at by telephone 020 7539 8000 (London office), 0118 958 5321 (Reading office) or by completing the form on this page.
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Michael Sippitt

Michael Sippitt
Senior Consultant

T: 0118 960 4642


Employment team
+44 (0)118 958 5321