“Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.” (Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple)
Being in business can sometimes feel a little like running a race. There is a fear that if you aren’t moving forward, you are somehow falling behind. This sense leads to business leaders constantly sniffing out new opportunities, and trying to develop, create and grow new avenues of income for their company in the hopes that being diversified may help make them immune to imagined economic crises of the future. Leaders may therefore be surprised to discover that while finding new areas for growth can ultimately help a company it is not always the best solution.
Beware of unnecessarily innovating, branching out and pushing boundaries which in turn can mean the obvious choices or otherwise smart decisions may be missed. Here are the reasons that keeping things simple, can be the best solution for your business.
It is easy in business culture to start believing that more is more. Entrepreneurs often fall into the trap that more meetings, more employees, more products and more leads is equal to more success. Many large companies have failed because they branched out too much, lost focus and, as a result, lost their market.
Quite often the idea that bigger is better and more is more can lead to poor decision making that guides a business away from its competitive advantages, confuses the market and leads to a lack of focus internally. The flip side of this is the ability to strip back unnecessary complexity and instead focus on simplicity.
Simplicity is defined as “the quality or condition of being easy to understand or to do” and it comes with some genuine advantages.
The advantages of simplicity
- Being understood: The major advantage of simplicity is that it makes it easy for everyone in your organisation to be on the same page. Having everyone understand the goals and ambitions of an organisation is easier when you are a small company, but as things develop it becomes increasingly difficult to get everyone pulling in the same direction. Removing jargon and chaff from company communications, and simplifying product offerings, your vision, team structures and communication will ensure that not only do your team know what they are doing day-to-day to achieve success, but also that they know how to do it. Once your whole company is singing from the same hymn book it’s far easier to get the world at large to understand what you are doing too, which makes defining your brand and selling your products a simpler proposition at the same time.
- It’s easier to operate: The more things that have to happen right for your business to succeed, the greater the risk. Keeping your business practices simple; from the number of suppliers to the levels of training needed by your staff will help you avoid the problems that complexity can bring. If you have thirty suppliers, it takes only one of them to fail to start impacting your business. On the other side, if you have one supplier of a common product that can be sourced somewhere else, it’s much easier to keep a handle on your production line and ensure that you always have the products you need. (Of course, you do not want to be reliant on a sole supplier without the option of other sources for your essential resources). Obviously, this is an extreme example, but it will never hurt to go through your supplier lists, staffing or any other factor of your business and look at where the number of cogs can be reduced. Also, with a select group of suppliers, it will be easier to keep informed of their health and sustainability and ability to continue supplying your business regularly and on time.
- It’s adaptable: A simple business model is much easier to adapt should the need arise. A simple business with easy-to-understand communication lines and supply chains is easier to pivot because staff can all be contacted at once and updated, while supply adjustments can be adapted as needs be on the spot.
- Results are easier to measure: Overly difficult strategies are harder to implement, and they also make it harder to gauge results. It is far harder to work out which staff and departments are delivering the most value in a company when you have two dozen departments with different KPIs and a hundred staff each than it is in a small company with just a handful of staff. The most successful companies have a straightforward direction, along with clear and simple measuring parameters that keep them on track. If, however, your operation has grown into a business with a number of divisions, apply these tips for simplification to each division to encourage their efficient and effective performance.
Tips for simplifying your business
Ironically, making a company easy to understand and operate is not necessarily an easy thing to do. Getting to grips with where changes need to be made will take some time and will require bold decision making. Here are our tips for keeping things simple in your business.
- Outline your goals: Whether you want to reduce waste, increase employee happiness, or boost profitability, simplifying your business should always start with defining your goals. This should be a short list that allows you to more clearly understand and communicate just what is being tackled and why. Having a short list makes it much more likely that it will get completed without burdening staff further, and also allows you to easily see if the process has been successful. Having simple, clearly defined objectives and goals, that the whole team understand and commit to, gives the business the best possibility of success.
- Consider the outsider’s perspective: There is no doubt, if you lead a business, that you know what it is you are offering and just how many ways you offer it. Being in this position of full understanding can, however, mean that you have lost track of what the average person, or woman, on the street thinks it is you do. Looking at your company from the perspective of an outsider is therefore important if you want to get a sense of how your company and brand are perceived. The easiest way to do this is simply to ask. Ask customers, ask friends, ask people at business meetings, or, if you are a larger company, hire a company to do a survey or bring in a consultant. Getting other people’s opinions will quickly show you if you have lost track of your core business. If there is confusion about what you do, or what your primary services are, then it’s a sure sign you may need to go back to basics or change the messaging around your company. At the same time, ask your customers what they really want. The answers may surprise you and reveal areas where you have been putting in a lot of effort that doesn’t necessarily give the customers what they actually need. This is an essential exercise to determine the continuing relevance of and need for your service offering or product. Change is an ever-increasing factor and new products and services are coming to market. Keeping your business focused and simple can enable recognition of the emerging threats and need to change, adapt or even develop new offerings.
- Focus on outcomes: While it may be tempting to watch every move every employee makes, doing so is a hugely time intensive activity that adds layer upon layer to the complexity of a business. Instead of simply hiring someone to do the job, you are now hiring people to supervise and check up on them, and to do that requires more HR functionality to manage all their expectations. Your focus should be on performance outcomes of your key employees. Additionally, not all rules and regulations will assist your company and these need to be looked at carefully if you want to streamline workflows and increase employee job satisfaction and retention. Look, for example, at how many people need to review and sign off on expense reports or small purchases; or how many times slide decks need to be reviewed before they are presented. Reducing menial tasks and making things easier to do gives employees more time to actually do their real jobs properly. The answer to all of this is to focus on outcomes and avoid micromanaging your team. Be sure to maintain an open line of communication with the understanding that the more you listen to your team, the simpler things will be and the better the entire group will work. In addition, being accessible and listening to your people will alert you earlier to emerging risks and potential opportunities in time to take action. This is going to extend to your ability to hear bad news or have employees tell you when they think your decisions may be wrong. You are only going to find out about bad practices and unclear instructions if you are genuinely interested in fixing problems rather than protecting egos.
- Fix your non-functioning processes: Whether it’s because you have been in operation for so long that your processes have become redundant or because you are just starting out and haven’t developed any, having non-functioning processes can hamper your workflow and cause a huge amount of unnecessary and time-consuming work. The first step is identifying your pain points. Start with the areas of the business where you are actively getting complaints. Break down what processes are leading to these complaints and fix them. The time you spend developing good practices will be more than paid back in the decreased amount of time you spend putting out fires and dealing with unhappy customers. Ultimately, you will want to look at all your processes to make sure they are running optimally, and that time isn’t being wasted unnecessarily dealing on a daily basis with inconvenient problems that could be solved outright.
- Organise administration assistance: Administration is a necessary but unfortunate consequence of doing business that can clog up all the otherwise smooth flowing systems. You did not hire those important and highly educated staff to have them sit filling in order forms. You and they should be focused on driving the business, not dealing with payment complaints. Whether you choose to use automated assistance that frees up a researcher’s time in a laboratory, an accountant to organise your finances and save you money on your taxes or someone in HR to deal with errors in pay, getting others to do the finicky work will allow your core team to focus on what they need to do to bring in the profit. Keep management of operating/production teams simple. In the long run, the time saved for everyone will turn into a smoother, and more efficient company.
At the end of the day, simplifying a company is about getting to the core of what it is you need to do, supplying customers with exactly what they need and no more, making sure your staff are well informed and working together and not overburdened with work that isn’t their place to do.
Disclaimer: The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.