Brexit Through the Values Economy Lens


We are living in extraordinary times: volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous. The pace of change will never be this slow again. In business, many traditional approaches are no longer relevant because the landscape of brand identity, employee engagement and customer experience is changing—all at the same time, all the time.

Three factors are combining to create a fundamental shift in business. The first factor is that the way people make decisions is changing. Previously, decisions were made on a rational, often financial, basis. Increasingly, people (especially younger ones) are making decisions at a more emotional level, based on what is important to them and to express their opinion and identity.

Second, in our super-connected world, social media facilitates transparency and amplifies all stakeholder opinions in what some are calling the age of the naked organization. Authenticity has become the new Holy Grail for organizations. Previously, organizations could invest in marketing and PR to “tell a story.” Now, and increasingly in the future, the publicly shared views of stakeholders hold greater sway.

This shift in power means that organizations are no longer what they say they are but are, instead, what others say they are, leading to the third influencing factor. Organizations no longer “own” their brands. The role of customers and employees (past, existing and potential) as ambassadors for their organization has, in some ways, replaced the traditional marketing function. The successful organizations of tomorrow will be those that establish a sense of shared values with their different stakeholder groups.

These factors are all leading to a fundamental shift in balance from traditional, fixed, singular organizational ownership and push marketing to a less rigid, more complex concept of brand co-ownership and pull marketing.

This perfect storm of values-driven choices, the shift of power to stakeholder opinion and the concept of shared brand ownership has created a new paradigm that I refer to as the values economy.

How the values economy shaped Brexit

So what does the values economy have to do with politics? Let’s look at what has happened in U.K. over the past three years with Brexit and the 2019 general election.

The classic left-right division of the political spectrum is based on ideas about economic distribution. For many commentators, the vote in favor of Brexit is explained by cyclical causes: mismanagement of immigration and resulting discontentment, the economic crisis and austerity leading to an increase in already glaring social inequalities, and the violence of Islamist terrorists fueling fear of the “outside world.”

But, instead of this more rational approach, what if the causes of the Brexit divide are deeper, based on powerful emotional drivers: our values? Pat Dade, founding director of Cultural Dynamics has more than 30 years of experience in research into consumer values and market psychology, international values shifts, behavioral economics, political science and corporate culture change. His research methodology has been applied around the world by hundreds of companies and organizations. He refers to Brexit as a “values war” and has produced analysis of the Brexit vote based on three values groups (Settlers, Prospectors and Pioneers) with 108 variables and 12 values modes. His findings of Leave and Remain voters demonstrate and affirm a clear values split with related attitude dimensions (below).

Hard core negative about EU membership, Cultural Dynamics’ British Values Survey 2015

It is also important to consider how these attitudes and values relate to age and education. On one hand, people who are older, with fewer qualifications, living on low incomes and working in manual jobs tend to hold more socially conservative attitudes (pro Brexit). On the other hand, those who are younger, more highly educated and work in secure jobs tend to hold a more liberal outlook (pro Remain). Attitudes also vary across different parts of the country. People living in areas with more low-skilled jobs tend to be more socially conservative, have a stronger English identity and feel more politically disillusioned than similar types of people living in areas with more high-skilled jobs. Arguably, voting intention is therefore driven by both attitudes and demographics.

Political parties and values

How might political parties apply the concept of organizational alignment—which I use in my work with organizations of different sizes and sectors  around the world—in the values economy? From a business perspective, to do so requires aligning everything the organization does with the organization’s purpose and values.

There are three core ways to create this alignment:

  • Clarity about the organization’s brand identity (the unique personality or character, including purpose and values)
  • Creating a team of brand ambassadors. These ambassadors make sure the brand identity is reflected in how anyone who represents the brand is treated (including full-time employees, outsourced service partner employees and contractors).
  • Delivery of a brand-aligned customer experience (irrespective of time, geography or channel).

Over time, behavior and “the way things work around here” become aligned at both an individual and group level. This alignment brings organizational values to life at all levels within the organization—even extending beyond the organization to other stakeholder groups. In turn, this releases untapped potential and synergy, minimizes the risk of duplication and waste, and ultimately displays deep authenticity in all facets of the organization. Different stakeholder groups value the consistency between what the organization states is important and the decisions made and behaviors displayed day in day out. This creates a sense of trust.

Imagine how different and refreshing it would be to have a political party or parties that were clear about their purpose and values, represented by a group of candidates and party members who could explain how their suggested policies for the nation were connected to their reason for being.

Applying this alignment lens to the various political parties begs a whole host of questions starting with these:

  • Which parties have a clear sense of purpose and values? Many politicians across the party spectrum are increasingly using the general topic of values to support their arguments. But which of the parties has clearly articulated what they stand for and their “identity”? Perhaps the Scottish National Party, Brexit Party and Green Party are the best examples.
  • Which parties have created a team of brand ambassadors to represent them? Certainly not the two main parties that were split by the Brexit campaign.
  • Which parties deliver a brand-aligned customer experience irrespective of time, geography or channel? This question relates to how the various policies tie back to what the party has stated it stands for rather than creating policy on a more ad hoc basis, seemingly as a tactic to win votes.

Imagine how different and refreshing it would be to have a political party or parties that were clear about their purpose and values, represented by a group of candidates and party members who could explain how their suggested policies for the nation were connected to their reason for being. Values-driven politics sounds very attractive.

The values disconnect

One of the disturbing aspects of the 2019 U.K. general election was the willingness of some of the parties to use ethically questionable tactics, such as not appearing for customary live television interviews with political correspondents, the use of misinformation on social media and even the creation of false Twitter handles and websites.

The Electoral Commission is responsible for overseeing elections, regulating political finance and registering political parties in the U.K. More broadly, its remit is to promote public confidence and participation in our democratic processes and to ensure their integrity. But the body is not an all-encompassing democracy watchdog. It has no responsibility for investigating or regulating campaign material, such as claims in leaflets or political ads off- and online.

In fact, no body regulates the truthfulness of claims in political ads. The only restriction is that you can’t “knowingly make a false statement about the personal character of another candidate,” a rule enforced by the police. So, is the Electoral Commission fit to fulfill its purpose to promote public confidence and participation in our democratic processes and to ensure their integrity?

If the internet and social media have facilitated transparency and amplified stakeholder opinion, shouldn’t we expect a robust, ethical environment in which people can exercise choices about the leadership of their nation? Or is the prize of country leadership too big for this to be a realistic expectation, even in the values economy?

Alan Williams

Alan Williams is founder and manager director of SERVICEBRAND GLOBAL. Alan coaches service sector organizations, internationally and in the U.K., to deliver values-driven service for sustained performance. He is a published author and international speaker whose projects have delivered measurable business impact across a balanced scorecard and been recognized with industry awards. Alan’s co-authored books The 31 Practices: Release the power of your organization’s values every day and My 31 Practices: Release the power of your values for authentic happiness have received critical acclaim internationally. He is a steering group member of the UK Values Alliance and founder of the Global Values Alliance.

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