5 key solutions for business leaders from #indyref

In less than 48 hours, an expected 90+% of Scotland's population will decide whether 24 hours later, they will be part of the United Kingdom or have independence for the first time in a few centuries.

And, just as with the celebrity culture, there's nothing like a good breakup to get lots of media attention...at least when the fights go public.

Even though the date for the Scottish Referendum was scheduled two years ago, it's only been within the last few months that the powers that be in London (specifically, the United Kingdom government and political leaders) have paid real attention to what could happen. Specifically, they could lose.

What took them so long? It never really occurred to them that that was a possibility.

Worse, once they realized that they should probably pay attention to those folks north of the border (that's England's border), they made an amazing set of mistakes that have created more problems for them, increased the possibility of loss and, frankly, play out in organizations every day.

Ever wonder why things don't quite work the way you expect? Why you're not getting the results you should be getting? Or why key people are leaving?

The answers to all of that and more are what make #indyref an excellent learning opportunity for business owners, executives and managers. Think of it as getting insider information on the cheap and without the risks...except, of course, if you keep making the mistakes.

Here's what you need to know in the order you need to know it:

1. Whatever is happening didn't start when you first saw it.

The situation: The Scots have been moving toward secession for about forty (yes, 40) years. So, while the revolving leaders in Westminster have periodically acknowledged that there's been some discontent, they never took the problem seriously enough. That's why, during the last week before the Referendum, they were caught off-guard by poll numbers that showed that they might lose.

The takeaway: Find out what's really going on in your organization on an ongoing basis. Do surveys. Take soundings. Have all-hands meetings. Use different metrics. Recognize and accept that there is discontent fomenting in your organization that needs to be identified - then be ready to take action (see No. 5).

2. Don't focus on individuals. Focus on the problems.

The situation: As the Referendum got closer, David Cameron and his government targeted Alex Salmond, the First Minister of Scotland. Rather than identifying and addressing the problems that opened the door for Mr. Salmond to make his case to his people, the London-based Government and its representatives focused on making Mr. Salmond seem a buffoon.

The takeaway: It's much easier to think that if you just remove one person from the situation, the situation will go away. It won't. In fact, if you target a person or people, it will simultaneously increase the sympathy for the 'cause' (yes, you've now got a 'cause' to deal with) and it will drive it further underground. Instead, focus on the basis of the discontent, specifically, how it began and what's going on now that helps it perpetuate and grow.

3. Fear has a short shelf-life and works against you. 

The situation: When British officials began a more comprehensive campaign, they started and continued by fear-mongering. First it was the currency. Then it was trade. Then it was membership in the EU. Even worse, they got others to join in and add their voices to how scared the Scots should be if independence occurs. Rather than making the case for why it was in the best interests for the Scottish people to remain part of the United Kingdom, they spent all their ammunition on fear. That worked - until it didn't. That's when the poll numbers shifted.

The takeaway: "A little bit of fear is a good thing" is one of those snide executive expressions that make their way around conference tables and venues far too often. It's wrong. In most cases, fear doesn't last. That's because as soon as the ones who've been frightened learn that there's either far less or even nothing to be frightened of, the tactic loses its power and some of the best people start wondering if they want to stay in the organization. Even if they do, the fear-mongering executives have lost the respect of the people on whom they depend for success - and that kills your productivity and results.

4. Don't tantalize with 'carrots.' Make and keep promises.

The situation: Once the British Government realized that the way they were campaigning wasn't working, they decided to shift the argument to what they would do for the Scots if they stay part of the United Kingdom. Unfortunately, it was too late. The same 'solutions' had been offered up in diluted forms in the past - and, worse, the solutions being promised weren't either timely or promises that any current or future Government could ensure it could keep.

The takeaway: Managers, executives and business owners too often talk a good game about what they want to do, are going to do, may do...you get the drift. That's dangerous - not least because those promises have been made before...either by you or at different organizations where your people previously worked...and weren't kept. Or perceived to be kept. Don't set unrealistic expectations. If you make a promise, keep it. If you're taking something under advisement and it comes up for discussion, tell your people exactly that as well as when you'll be able to tell them the outcome.

5. Be clear and consistent in your actions. 

The situation: To a great extent, the British Government brought their Scottish problems on themselves. Sure there was discontent among some of the Scots who wanted greater self-determination, but that was fixable. Unfortunately, through a combination of benign neglect, bad tactics and a patronizing attitude over the decades, what would have remained a small but manageable problem was allowed to escalate into what is now, literally, a world map changing event.

The takeaway: Be very clear and consistent about what you're trying to do and where you're going with your organization. Your people will help...but first they have to know why and what you need from them. Then, when they know they can trust you (see Nos. 2-4), they'll tell you what will keep you from getting there and how to fix it. Make sure you listen and act accordingly.