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Blog : Stepping up not dumbing down


Stepping up not dumbing down

by Trisha Proud, learnpurple Associate


I can still recall the words of my University lecturer who, thumping his fist with all the passion of a politician,  proclaimed  that one should “never, ever, ever dumb down in a recession”.

I’m therefore dismayed to still find an air of caution in the business world. Although this is, of course, not surprising thanks to the ‘double-dip’ warnings from ever cautious economists. Such scary predictions though cause a reaction; people put a freeze on spending and businesses start to reduce expenditure where possible.

In a recent Government research paper, Engaging for Success, this practice is referred to as ‘dumbing down’. The authors argue:

  • Cutting services or the quality of products in a service industry is suicidal; customers will go elsewhere for good service and quality products.
  • There can be no doubt that ‘recruiting’ on the cheap is false economy.
  • Making do with existing teams that have not received any development or support will dumb down businesses automatically, and equally as bad, the competition are more likely to steal your ground and market share.

There was also an interesting article in The Daily Telegraph at the end of last year which looked at dumbing down in the world of horticulture. I decided  to test the theory by visiting five different garden centres. I noted that they had all ‘dumbed down’ their Christmas decorations and gift sections; leaving only cold empty places which lacked seasonal atmosphere. And what wasted business opportunities these were. I witnessed and felt the frustration first hand from busy shoppers looking to get into the seasonal spirit and part with their money.  Due to the obvious decision to ‘dumb down’ their ranges, these customers, like me, went elsewhere. It may have made sense in the board room to make immediate cuts in what seemed like a frivolous area, however, in the end the lack of investment in the so called ‘fluffy stuff’ drove customers away. 

It’s much the same with learning and development, if a business shows faith in their people by developing them, even in tough times, then they will be more likely to retain those skilled people when things pick up again. In a recession it is the way we manage our business that counts.

Whilst ‘dumbing down’ may feel comforting at the time, the practice does not have a place in the modern commercial world.  Both the research paper and The Telegraph article suggest that businesses should instead be ‘stepping up’ to the challenges ahead. A recession is the perfect time to make the most of your existing resource and most importantly your key asset: your people. The lull in the economy gives those who ‘step up’ the opportunity to develop this resource. It has been proven that reducing people development activities is false economy; thus making an investment in this area is something which absolutely supports businesses in their survival.

And investing in the development and progression of your people is not only motivating; it also ensures the business as a whole is well equipped with the right structure, skills and people to be able to take advantage of the upturn when the economy starts to pick up again.

The sooner businesses adopt this thinking and recognise ‘dumbing down’ is not an inevitable consequence of recession and reverse the process; the more likely they are to survive and succeed in the year ahead. It’s time to step up...


Is your company stepping up to the challenges ahead?  How are you ensuring you don’t dumb down?

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