The Brexit blogs: working through change


Cindy Vallance explores how the Kubler-Ross curve can be used in the work place.

My last blog encouraged leaders to take an active role in supporting staff to share their feelings in relation to Brexit, particularly given the complex and emotionally charged nature of this particular change. The UK, and the higher education sector as a whole, continue to receive a daily stream of Brexit-related announcements and uncertainty has not decreased, nor is it likely to in the near future.

University leaders are well-used to change. However, the scale of Brexit has had an unprecedented impact that continues to reverberate. Once you and your staff have named and shared your initial feelings, which may be grief or shock, and opened up the door for further discussion – then what? How do leaders use the change model and deal with feelings once they are unwrapped?[1]

Firstly, working through change is not linear and people may move backwards as well as forward through the phases.

During this phase of shock or denial, people need to take time to adjust to a new reality. They will want further information to understand what is happening and will need to know how to get help. Regular communication is the critical element here – web-based written communications, links and FAQs (ideally that have been tailored for the context of each institution) [2] can be helpful but it is also important to retain the human element. Some questions can be answered in writing, but there will also be those individuals who want to have direct face-to-face conversations, particularly if they feel they are being very personally affected. Even if universities do not have the answers yet, people will want to know that someone is listening.

When working through any kind of change, feelings of anger, concern and depression often follow shock and denial. This phase is often experienced as resistance and this is often the most challenging element of change since, if it is not managed well, the organisation can quickly lose the goodwill of its people and may begin to descend into a sense of chaos. There is little value in denying people’s feelings. It can be difficult to predict where the pressure points will be and the unexpected will undoubtedly occur. However, this is where leaders can use the diversity of their experience to determine what questions people may have. Understanding the thematic sector and organisational issues as well as the specificity of individual concerns will enable leaders to begin to plan and prepare clear responses.

Eventually, some certainty on the full extent of Brexit changes will begin to emerge and it will be possible for people to explore and reach a level of acceptance of the new reality. It is at this point that people will start to consider ways to make this new reality a success. This is a phase of testing possibilities, experimenting with and discovering new options with regard to what the change will mean. Learning can take place at this stage but working through the options presented by the changes requires time and support by organisational leaders. Building in time for adjustment should be incorporated into any plans.

The final stage of integration and commitment occurs when people begin to embrace new ways and find positive opportunities that will enable universities and the sector as a whole to continue to succeed – a sector to be proud of – one that changes individual lives and makes a global difference to society. It may be difficult for some to see this as a possible future but it is this stage that is most worth working towards.

Cindy, is the Leadership Foundation’s Assistant Director, Membership. She liaises with higher education institutions in London and across the South and East of England developing relationships with our members, coordinating events and leadership development initiatives that support and complement individual institutions’ strategies and the higher education agenda.

[1] Healing the wounds, Martin Milton, Regent’s University London, THE Letter, 7 July 2016.
[2] Brexit FAQs for universities and students, UUK, and Brexit: What will it mean for universities, students and academics? Dame Julia Goodfellow, UUK President, Telegraph, 1 July 2016.


Arab countries in transition

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by David Lock

Under the UK’s Presidency of the G8 for 2013 the Deauville Partnership with Arab Countries in Transition conference was hosted in London on 16 September. The purpose of the conference was to highlight opportunities and the steps being taken to enable Egypt, Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia and Yemen, (countries in transition, either in response to uprisings or to avoid them) to develop strong economies and start to meet the expectations of their people. I attended and now share some of the issues and what the Leadership Foundation will be doing to enable UK HEIs to play a part in addressing the challenges.

Foreign Office Minister for the Middle East and North Africa, Alistair Burt, opening the conference said: ’The changes that we have seen in the Middle East and North Africa since 2011 have been momentous and,… when taken together, they constitute the most significant international development so far of the 21st century.’
He said that the underlying motivation for the uprisings that swept the region had been ‘the demand for legitimate rights and respect for individual dignity; including the prospect of finding a job and of citizens being able to ply their trade without state interference. Meeting the high expectations of the people is a complicated and challenging task, and it is one that a fragile security environment makes even more difficult.’

From his remarks and the inputs and discussion which followed it is clear that an economic response is paramount. It is estimated that up to 100 million jobs will need to be created across the Middle East and North Africa during the next decade. The private sector will be critical in fuelling the growth needed to create those jobs by providing the investment. However, issues that are vital for achieving a sustainable long term future, such as furthering women’s economic empowerment, the development of entrepreneurism, the development of renewable energy, agribusiness, tourism, banking and finance and the creation of transparent legislative structures will require a response from all sectors of society, including higher education.

In March the Leadership Foundation signed an agreement with the Association of Arab Universities (AArU) to provide leadership development programmes for its members, which included universities in the transition countries. Together with Cardiff Metropolitan University the LF has undertaken scoping exercises in 4 of the transition countries and run pilot leadership programmes. Under the new agreement these will be extended to the 18 other countries with universities in membership of AArU and the range of themes will be extended.

As well as strategic leadership, investment in enabling more women to become effective leaders, developing capacity for producing graduates that are more entrepreneurial, embracing employers as more significant stakeholders and, taking a longer term view, encouraging more young researchers to develop leadership skills, will be an important contribution to achieving the aims of the countries concerned.
Universities in the UK are good at all these things. The partnerships that can grow from participating in the leadership development activities at an early stage could place UK universities in a strong position as the fruits of the Deauville initiative ripen.

The details of the LF’s activities with AArU in 2013-14 will be determined in Jordan in October. The LF is strongest when it works in partnership with its member UK universities. I would welcome the views of LF member universities on ways in which they would like to partner in this work.

David Lock is the Leadership Foundation’s director of international. Contact him at david.lock [at]