Does the majority really know what is best for them?
My answer to this question is, apparently no, because decisions made by the majority may not always be right. There are three underlying reasons for this apparent anomaly.
The first is that the man on the street has limited visibility in terms of the consequences of their decisions. The majority tend to decide on the basis of “cause and effect, outputs based thinking” and not “systems, outcome based thinking”. Their decisions are premised on what they believe in and seek to do something that will lead to a better immediate result, with little concern for the long term implications. As they are not privy to information regarding interrelated issues, they do not decide based on how one system can affect another. More specifically, how a governance system outside the ambit of the European Union can affect the socio-economic framework needed for business to flourish. To the voters, they may have been deluded into thinking that the vote is a simple one, voting to leave and being independent. Unfortunately, such a causal link does not exist on its own, when deciding on issues such as Brexit.
Another factor that could have prompted this decision was a huge and relentless barrage of misinformation. The ease of access to opinions nowadays tend to encourage people to inherit opinions of euro sceptics which fuels negative perception on the EU very quickly. They see no need to validate or cross check the opinions posed. As long as the opinions they read seem to lend credibility to what they think the case is, they are accepted as being the truth.
The third reason is that people tend to act based on what they believe in, not on what is communicate to them. Just as people may have believed that the EU will lead to massive influx of immigrants and this will affect their livelihood, all claims suggesting this to be the case is accepted and claims contrary to this is rejected. In this regard, selective acceptance based on their belief system could have contributed to the decision of the majority. A decision that may not have been right, in the long run. This suggests that the democratic principle of majority rule may be flawed.
Do the people who govern really know what the public beliefs are
It appears that this is not the case. David Cameroon probably made the biggest mistake of his political career by assuming he knew what the people really wanted. To be sure, he negotiated a “better” deal which he believed and leaders of the European Union believed is one that the public will accept and that will silence the euro sceptics once and for all. The results have proven him and the leaders of the European Union wrong.
What seems to surprise the European Union is how fragile their hold is in UK, despite pouring billions of Euros into the country. A case in point is the results of the votes from a small town such as Ebbw Vale in Wales, where 62% of the population voted to leave despite the region receiving aid amounting to almost GBP 400 million from the European Union. Although the votes from the main cities, where the impact of losing immigration is most apparent were for remaining in the UK, the votes from the other regions, where immigration issues are relatively minimal, decided to cast their ballots the other way.
The leaders both in the European Union as well as in UK made a definite attempt to communicate the benefits of being in the European Union by making investments that would change lives of people. This was done and yet the message did not seep into the psyche of the people.
What went wrong? Why could we not see this coming? This question is one that will bog the minds of the powers to be and the leaders of both the UK and the European Union for a long time.
What lessons can we draw from this debacle
If we liken the public taking part in the poll as workers and the government and leaders of the European Union as key decision makers in an organization, interesting parallels emerge. The leaders communicated what the benefits are in remaining in the European Union to their best ability. Despite that, the people decided to leave based on what they believed was the right thing to do. This belief was a result of clinging on to inherited opinions and what experiences they encountered on a daily basis, not on what was communicated by those in power.
Similarly, in an organizational setting, workers take action based on what they believe about the organization they work, based on the experiences at work, not on what is necessarily communicated to them. If they believe that they are being shortchanged by management, a belief that may not necessarily be true, but that is being felt through grapevine discussions and interpretations from pronouncements made in the organization, they will not always act in the best interest of the organization. This is despite repeated and concerted efforts made by decision makers to explain the overall mission and vision of the company and provide sufficient resources.
It appears that the key takeaway from this episode is never to underestimate the degree to which direct experience reinforces belief systems that can ultimately affect decisions people make. It is what people experience on a day to day basis that reinforces what they believe in. No amount of communication that does not alter the experience will shift beliefs people hold.
As long as people experience an environment that is contrary to what is communicated to them, this will reinforce their belief that people in power either do not know or do not care for their well being. Hence they retaliate either by voting against what the establishment suggest in the case of a referendum or refuse to commit themselves towards achieving goals set by an organization.
The key learning point from the Brexit vote is that actions are based on beliefs. Beliefs develop over time and are reinforced by experiences. Unless leaders provide experiences that reinforce a belief that is desired, they run the risk of misjudging an outcome of a referendum. The risks of such misjudgment far outweighs the gains intended.
Political leaders therefore hold a crucial responsibility towards ensuring that a right environment that espouses experiences required for a belief system to emerge.
In any organization, if top management want certain results, they need first to understand what actions, taken willingly and routinely are needed to achieve those results. These actions are spearheaded by beliefs that are commonly held by employees in an organization or members of a public in a country. The beliefs in turn are reinforced over time by what they experience. What is required is for top management and decision makers to reassess what kind of experience should the employees be exposed to for a shift in their belief systems to occur.
Beliefs and assumptions are the basis of organisational culture. Leaders should always be aware of what people believe in and the HR should focus on the pulse of these belief systems in order to enable leaders understand what really goes through the minds of workers. Only then can there be a real sense of alignment between what an organization leadership aspires and what the workforce is commits itself to. As long as this is not the case, the results can be devastating to both to the management as well as to the workers in the long run.