Perhaps best start with: What is the owner-manager problem?
When passionate people with a vision start their own company, work hard, change with the times, and basically become really good business-people … they find themselves managing a business which is significantly bigger than a one-person band. This is great. It means they succeeded!
It also brings with it specific challenges.
They are no longer a one-person band, relying solely on themselves, answering only to themselves, discussing only with the reflection in the mirror … They now have a board, an operations manager, a chief financial officer, and several staff.
There are two types of challenges:
1. The board or other senior leaders may view things differently than the owner-manager.
■ This sets the scene for tug-of-wars between the two sets of people … The problem is that there can only be one winner in a tug-of-war. And having a party feeling like a shunned loser does not make for passion, engagement, and good business!
2. Letting go …
■ It is hard to let go of one’s dream, the successful business which has been the owner-managers’ life for the past 10, 20, 30 … years. They have a personal and emotional investment in the business. So even though they are no longer responsible for accounts, they have a view on accounts …
■ Because they are the owner, it is hard to simply say “That’s not a good idea, please close the door behind you”.
■ So things become complicated, decisions are not taken, and tempers flare.
So what can you do?
Get someone in! OK, I am an external consultant, so you might have been expecting this!
But seriously, get someone in!
The situation can become a bit like an acrimonious divorce: You never take the bins out … you don’t even notice when I try … You are hung up on the past … You don’t see the future like I do …
An external person is not caught up in the emotions, bickering, and dynamics. Crucially, they are respected by both parties.
The good thing is that, in most cases, something can be worked out. On two levels:
1. One-to-one coaching with the owner-manager, to understand their take on things. To validate their emotional experience. To explore their mourning process – mourning of the old way of doing things. To support them identify the value of letting go. So they can let go in the right way.
2. Consulting with the leadership team. The owner-manager’s letting go does not have to be exiting the business. But letting go of specific responsibilities. So roles need to be clearly defined. There needs to be a shared vision, built on frank communication amongst the whole team, including the owner-manager. Thus a new team is rebuilt, one where the owner-manager has an important role to play … but where there are no tug-of-wars!
Working in owner-manager businesses has its challenges. But it’s also great to work in a business where the owner really cares! So it’s worth trying to fix things!
Dr Sharon Xuereb is an employee engagement specialist, and a psychologist working in the UK and the US.
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