Any business owner will (whether consciously or not) hold certain values and beliefs that allowed them to establish and run their business. How important is it that these core values and the original business “vision” are preserved? These will undoubtedly be fundamental to a business owner but how realistically can an individual’s vision withstand external pressures as the business grows and evolves?

Know your limits: understanding your skillset

It is important for a business owner to understand their own skillset and what they bring to the business in order for it to be successful. Whether the goal is to demonstrate technical brilliance, deliver cutting edge products or services or venture into international markets, a business also needs a great leader who is capable of inspiring others and encouraging them to share in that vision. It is highly unlikely that a business owner will have all of the necessary skills and experience and there will inevitably come a time where external input is needed.

Having a business plan, vision statement or blueprint for the future in place should make it easier for the owner to identify any weaknesses in their own skillset and the business as a whole. Even if the business is currently making profit, there may be untapped potential which could allow the business to diversify and expand.

Looking externally: a management team

Bringing in a management team can introduce valuable expertise to the business and offer fresh insights that may not be immediately obvious to the business owner. Does this mean that the owner will have to relinquish influence?

There is often fear that reliance on external management will result in the original business vision becoming diluted or distorted altogether where opinions are in conflict. This can result in deadlock in decision making and will hinder progress.

As decision making becomes decentralised, an effective way of building in accountability for decision makers is to allow the management team to contribute their own ideas in ways that complement the business owner’s vision. This could be achieved by offering share options to the managers so that they have an actual stake in the business and a vested interest in its success. Staff at all levels should also understand how important their contributions to decision making are and what their overall impact on the organisation is. It may be worthwhile considering an employee ownership model via the use of an employee benefit trust.

A management team must trust one another and they should each have clearly defined roles within the team. There will invariably be differences of opinion on certain issues but they should all be driven by a clearly set organisational direction and purpose which informs their decision making. This should enable the managers to freely contribute their thoughts and inspire creativity.

Preserving values and maintaining the vision

Although the vision statement is something that can be physically reduced to writing, it would be foolish to assume that a vision statement ought to be a treated as a static document from a fixed point in time. Treating a business “mission statement” as gospel may actually be harmful to the business as it grows and becomes more complicated.

The key thing for the business owner to do in this situation is to adhere to a few core business values which should form the basis of all decision making. Managers and employees must therefore clearly understand what the values and vision of the business are. The message should be clear and understandable – avoid using jargon and stick to two or three core tenets. Including too many values can overcomplicate and confuse the message. A clear and focussed approach will be more easily understood by others

To ensure that the owner retains a key role in the business, they should:

• Involve as many employees and regularly communicate clear and concise values. Let the values permeate through all levels of the business and ensure they are readily understood.

• Identify how the values have contributed to the success of the business and why they are important going forward. These values should serve as the reason all business decisions are made

• Adapt and be prepared to make adjustments in response to external pressures. Trust that the management team and the employees are working towards a common goal set by the owner and consider share incentives to maximise potential.

A business owner should understand the raison d'être of their business. If the owner ensures that this is understood at all levels, this will allow the business owner to retain influence whilst benefiting from the added value of a management team and employees with the necessary skills and experience to develop the business.

Alexander Mudie is a solicitor at Wright, Johnston & Mackenzie LLP.