The path to success is never straight. Some of the bends will be expected and a joy to navigate, while others will come out of nowhere. Business owners take the driving seat in the knowledge that they’re likely to see both situations, and regularly. They may even have taken the wheel partially because they wanted to be in control when the inevitable hits. It’s certainly the case that control is important to a lot of owners. In fact, a quarter (24 per cent) of business owners name the feeling of being in charge and having control as the most rewarding thing about running a business, according to a recent study by national accountants Haines Watts.
Unfortunately, the obstacles faced are often not solely from external sources. The thing holding business owners back may not be competition or governmental regulation or new technological advancements, but from a breakdown in trust, communication and support between themselves and the very team put in place to aid in moving the business forward.
Business owners appoint a management team to help them navigate, to support them in the day to day running of the company. But management teams are struggling to live up to the responsibility. Our research uncovered that only a third (33 per cent) of business owners feel they have the support of a full formal management team representing the key functions of their business. Further, nearly one in five (18 per cent) say they have a management team on paper but do not feel supported by them.
The solution could be as simple as fixing miscommunication, as the managers themselves report a directly contradictory view. An overwhelming 89 per cent believe that the owner has all the support they need from them.
On the surface this is quite discouraging. Where could the breakdown be taking place that turns navigators into passengers, or worse, saboteurs? When business owners are not confident in the team they have in place it becomes more difficult to hand over tasks to lighten the workload, or to trust them to take ownership of important areas of the business. As time is a diminishing commodity, this can seriously impact the amount of thought that goes into a strategic vision. Ultimately, the routine tasks of running a business takes priority. Resulting in a third (31 per cent) of business owners admitting they are only able to find time to work on their growth and strategic business planning on weekends and evenings.
Perhaps further aggravating the issue is the fact that management teams are not aware of the disconnect, with 83 per cent of senior managers believing they understand the business owner’s goals – despite almost half of owners lacking trust in their management teams. Discouragingly, over a third (35 per cent) of owners view their teams as a direct obstacle, fearing that they will cause the business to hit a growth ceiling.
It may be fortunate that these reservations have not yet impacted the management team’s confidence. Almost nine out of ten (87 per cent) claim that they are trusted to run the business in the owner’s absence and therefore may still be contributing to business decisions. But these contributions may be falling on deaf ears, viewed as little more than suggestions from an un-knowledgeable backseat driver, as almost half of business owners (42 per cent) don’t think the business could survive even a single week if they left it to their management team to run.
This solo driver attitude is certainly not benefitting communications between business owners and their teams. Over half (52 per cent) of business owners state that they believe it is important not to show any vulnerability to their management team and only 9 per cent of owners say they seek support from their business partner for the pressures, including the psychological strains, of running a business. This lack of transparency within a business’ core team very clearly leads to the various contradictory views and mistrust reported by both owners and their management teams. The mismatch is leading businesses down a dangerous road.
The road less travelled
Owners need to adjust their course. Having ownership over a business should not equate to solely holding the responsibility for its success. By building the right team and involving them in planning, business owners have the opportunity to carve out much needed time for strategic planning – to step back from the daily grind and look up, in order to innovate and possibly shift direction.
This strategic planning process can be made even more successful by involving their management teams in the discussion at all stages. Prioritising time to deep dive into the core business vision and goals will clarify misconceptions and align conflicting viewpoints.
While there is no doubt that taking this direction will be a challenge, the road less travelled typically has the best views. When business owners are able to make a clear shift from driving the business to navigating the business, the map to success will become clear.
Darren Holdway is regional managing partner at Haines Watts.
Further reading on business ownership