Dick Smith on how to lead & engage people for business success

Dick Smith has relied on a six-step process to successfully build multiple businesses through effective people leadership and employee engagement

Australian businessman and entrepreneur Dick Smith has relied on a six-step process to successfully build multiple businesses through effective people leadership and employee engagement.

The process, which is an acronym for “CASHED”, was adopted by Smith from an early age.

“I read a book about this more than 30 years ago, and it has been pivotal to my success ever since,” he said.

“C is for communicate, so be clear in order to avoid misunderstandings. And A is for ask advice – don’t assume you know everything.

“S is for keep things simple, which is very important. H’ is for honesty. Be honest, that’s also very important.

“E for enthusiasm, you’ve got to be enthusiastic about what you’re doing, and then D is for discipline, which is hard work.”

Smith explained that the application of common sense in this process is vital, as sometimes others will offer the wrong advice.

“You’ll get quite a bit of that. So it’s important to take a step back, consider things carefully, and use your own common sense,” he said.

“Many leaders and so many bosses think they have to look as if they are in charge”

Smith, who founded Dick Smith Electronics, Dick Smith Foods and Australian Geographic, said it is also important for employees to feel a sense of ownership in engaging and motivating them, while contributing to and being part of a broader business strategy.

“You’ve got to enthuse people,” he said.

“Ideally this should be in line with business strategy, so if I wanted to do something particular, I would get my staff in for a quick meeting.

“I would say, ‘Look, we’ve got this problem, what should we do?’

“And, more likely than not, one of the staff members would come up with the idea that I’d already decided on.

“From that point on I’d say to Joe’s idea, for example, ‘I think Joe’s got the best idea. We’ll do that.’

“Now, no-one ever knew it was what I wanted to do anyway, because you’re judged on your success. You don’t have to look as if you’re a leader.

“And can you imagine the enthusiasm from the staff? ‘Wow, Joe’s come up with this idea and we’re doing that!’ And it’s the truth, he didn’t know what I was thinking.

“Many leaders and so many bosses think they have to look as if they are in charge.

“No. A good leader doesn’t look as if they’re in charge. It just all happens and works.”

“One of the greatest lies told to people is that you can do anything you want to do”

Smith said another key to his success in business was surrounding himself with capable people, however, spotting capable talent was not something he always got right.

“So how do you know the people that are capable?” You don’t,” he said.

“Normally the third person I put on in important positions was the successful one – so you have to be quite tough in asking the first two to leave, and that’s always difficult.”

From his experience, Smith said it was “very hard” in an interview to judge whether someone’s going to be successful in a certain position.

“But I found it was worth giving people a go. The ones who perform, you keep and you enthuse.

“I very rarely sacked anyone, but after about six months, people got the hint and left if they weren’t performing.”

Smith said that everyone has different abilities and talents, and it is important to identify these and differentiate them from other interests.

“One of the greatest lies told to people is that you can do anything you want to do,” he said.

“That’s a lie because genetically we’re all different.”

Smith gave an example from his childhood when he wanted to be a saxophonist.

He got hold of one and after eight months his music teacher gave him a brutally honest assessment: “Dick, can I tell you something? You don’t have a musical bone in your body, and you’ll never be a good saxophone player.”

Smith said this was “the best advice I could ever have”.

“If you don’t get a great explanation, go to the police, because that’s what I’m going to do to you if you do something dishonest”

Two things that were particularly important to Smith in shaping the culture of his companies were enthusiasm and honesty.

“Honesty is a success force,” he said.

“If I put someone on I would tell them: ‘If you see me doing something dishonest, come and tell me.

“’And if you don’t get a great explanation, go to the police, because that’s what I’m going to do to you if you do something dishonest.’

“So I was very clear right from the start.

“We never had those types of problems because there was a strong culture of honesty and trust – that was something that was particularly important to me.”

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