Keep It Simple
It’s episode seven of Leader Talk! The entire Brainiact team are grateful that Kaushal Kapadia, the CEO of Schréder Australia, made some time to share his invaluable advice about leadership and running a business.
Throughout our chat, Kaushal draws upon his 25 years of managerial experience in the electrical industry to discuss tangible ways of growing and improving your small or medium-sized business. Underpinning all of Kaushal’s advice is his belief in the importance of simplicity in business and how it drives performance. Kaushal talked to us about how simplicity is one of the leadership skills that people and businesses forget to master. In the absence of simplicity, businesses cannot be agile so we need to understand how to embrace simplicity in business and how to successfully execute this.
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Authored by Kaushal Kapadia, CEO of Schréder Australia.
As a small or medium-sized business owner, I’m sure that you often have your hands full, that you feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day to complete all the tasks on your to-do list. This makes sense. Just think of all the elements you need to juggle each day: meetings, a raft of calendar invites, metrics and measurements, endless forms and approvals, an overflowing email inbox, constant technology updates, and much more.
For decades, companies have been introducing new tools and technologies that should streamline work and save time. But why do the tools rarely seem to do this? Is it because we often create unnecessary complexity in our businesses? So often, we feel like we need to over-engineer solutions or turn what should be a ten-page document into a fifty-page one. So many companies are bogged down by layers of organisational complexity, needless forms, and unnecessary meetings. The answer to these problems lies in how we approach simplicity.
As the CEO of Schréder Australia, people are often surprised when I say that simplicity is one of the most underrated and overlooked leadership skills in business. We overlook simplicity because we are taught to equate complexity with sophistication, density with profoundness, and difficulty with intelligence. Small and medium-sized business owners often assume that large, successful companies involve a mountain of additional complexities. But the truth is that every successful business, whether a local store or a multinational conglomerate, has managed to harness the power of simplicity.
I have been working in the electrical industry for the past 25 years, and my time as CEO has only further cemented my commitment to simplicity. I have seen how companies achieve more and accelerate their performance when they strive for simplicity. In today’s fast-paced business climate, business owners must understand how to embrace simplicity, and how to successfully execute this leadership philosophy.
What is simplicity?
When I say something is simple, I’m not saying it’s easy. Often, people confuse these two terms. In fact, to a great extent, making your business simple is the difficult part, everything else can then become easier. Or, put another way, running a business is not easy, but it can be less difficult if you make it simple.
To some, simplicity may sound like something to avoid rather than strive for. After all, don't businesses have to grow to become more profitable? But to see what simplicity can deliver, we must challenge how we think about growth. Growing your small or medium-sized business can also occur if you cut out unnecessary processes and avoid expending any time or energy on unnecessary tasks.
You might also be asking why complexity is bad? Why should business owners shy away from complexity if they feel like they can manage it? Here, I’d like you to consider this example for a second. Imagine you are at a company and a high-level manager has been tasked with devising a plan, a strategy, to help the business achieve a set of objectives. The plan sounds smart and sophisticated. However, the complexity makes it nearly impossible for anyone to effectively execute. People grow fatigued, confused, and frustrated by a lack of results. Then, someone else at your company decides to devise a more achievable version of the same plan. This plan can be clearly expressed and communicated. Its simplicity means that no one is confused by it. Everyone knows how they should execute it, what their role is, and there are tangible results that show the plan will help the company grow.
Why does simplicity matter?
Now, I know the above example might sound like it’s good in theory, but you’re probably also wondering if there is any evidence to back up what I just said. There is (and a lot of it too!). A Forbes Magazine article cites research that a firm, Heidrick & Struggles, conducted on a list of Fortune 500 “super accelerators”, a set of elite companies that consistently outperform their competitors. In this study, Heidrick & Struggles found that a large aspect of these companies’ success came down to their commitment to simplicity. These companies placed strategic importance on simplicity and addressed simplicity in their strategies, operating models, and cultures.
There is also an influential annual report, known as the Global Brand Simplicity Index, that is compiled by Siegel & Gale, a brand and corporate identity consultancy that styles itself as “the simplicity company.” This report shows that a commitment to simplicity in companies results in more engaged employees and better business results. Here are some of the truly amazing statistics they highlighted:
- only one out of five employees find their workplace truly simple, but the vast majority find that the environment within which they work is too complicated
- fifty-four percent of employees find it easier to innovate in a simpler organisation
- simpler workplaces are associated with easier recruiting – in a company that prioritises simplicity, 65 percent of employees are more likely to recommend that somebody apply for a job
- simpler workplaces foster employee loyalty – 84 percent of employees plan to stay longer in their job and 95 percent trust their company’s leadership.
I think these statistics speak for themselves – and there are plenty more of them! Let’s take a closer look at two ways that simplicity will help improve your leadership skills and grow your business.
Simplicity starts at the top
Simplicity is important because it touches every aspect of the business – not just its leadership team. But it is up to the leader to establish and prioritise simplicity in businesses. It’s the leader’s responsibility to set up simplicity as a goal within the business. If the processes are not simple, people will not understand what they’re supposed to do or what they’re expected to do. Small or medium-sized business owners will then find themselves spending too much time helping their employees or guiding them through processes, rather than leading the business to where it needs to go. If the process is simple on day one, people will understand it, grasp it, and they’ll be able to implement it.
I have also found that today, in our fast-paced economy, business leaders are often far too eager to start new projects rather than stop and assess the worth of existing ones. Many companies don’t even have a consistent process for eliminating or discontinuing products when they have run their course! When you stop assessing the worth of your company’s projects, you are also diverting time away from the most valuable work each person should be doing. For simplicity to take shape, business owners must strive to alter the way their employees think and behave, changing their underlying culture so that it focuses on minimising unnecessary work. Trust me, your employees will thank you for this!
Clear, effective communication
Walt Whitman expressed it poetically when he wrote “Simplicity is the glory of expression”, but there is a blunter saying that many of us are also familiar with: “Keep it simple, stupid”. For me, when I think about the power of simple communication, I think of Bunnings Warehouse: “The lowest prices are just the beginning”. Admittedly, this tagline might not seem as eloquent as what Whitman wrote, but Bunnings is one of the most successful businesses in Australia, and this tagline says so much about its success. Why? It’s because we know that their philosophy of always offering the lowest prices translates down to every employee and customer.
You do not need to own a large business, such as Bunnings, to harness the power of simple, effective communication. Simple, effective communication does not even need to come in the form of a tagline, it can be as simple as prioritising customer relationships. Say, for example, instead of Bunnings you own a small tool shop. How would your tool shop compete with larger companies? One way is by ensuring that you, as the owner, recognise a customer who was there before, and ask the customer how they found the tool they bought at your shop. That one question, that personalisation, will make your tool shop unique.
To wrap up this piece, I will end with two simple questions that I often ask when developing business processes or policies. Does this process bring in an extra customer? Then, does this process add any extra value to existing customers? If the answer to these two questions is no, then change your plan or go back to the drawing board. This time, remember to always keep customer growth and retention at the forefront of your ideas.
These questions are key to navigating our fast-paced market and economy. Today, customers want to have more communication with businesses, globalisation continues to change the playing field, and new technology is always transforming the ways we work and interact. Complexity can block progress and hinder businesses when they need to be nimble. As a business owner, you will find that embedding simplicity into your company’s way of working will help you identify problems and reallocate resources when needed. If you want your business to thrive, you must realise that what you don’t do is just as important as what you choose to do.