The aphorism “Knowledge is power” (Scientia potential est) has been mostly attributed to author and philosopher Francis Bacon (1561-1626), even though this is not quite what he said. In his “Meditations Sacre” (1597) he does say “Ipsa scientia potestas est” (knowledge itself is power) which is fairly close, though its true meaning is believed to be, for the atheists, “Wisdom is power”, and “Wisdom is His power” for the religious.

Whatever is the accurate version, it is obvious that we have known this for a long time.

I have long believed that knowledge and learning really do give one power, and that these are ever more critical in today’s business environment. On the other hand, I have also long believed that knowledge must be shared, and that the hoarding of knowledge or information is akin to an act of tyranny.

As a result, I have long been an admirer of the correct answer to the question of “What happens if we train our people and they leave ?” as being “What is worse would be that we do not train them, and they stay”.

We tend to all generally agree that having well trained, up-to-date and skilled people in any organisation is a key prerequisite for any chance of business success, and yet I continually find that the minute the business environment gets a bit tough, staff training and development is one of the first things that is slashed in the rush to cut costs. Actually, a recent article in HR Magazine suggested that the financial investment in learning and development has actually fallen in Europe over the last 5 years of corporate financial hardship and restraint, as has also the number of attendees at Business Schools. While I have long been critical of many traditional business schools, this has been more about their content and curricula rather that the value that they could actually create (see “Business leadership isn’t changing quickly enough” posted October 10, 2011).

Author: JimmyGuano; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: JimmyGuano; via Wikimedia Commons

Whilst I can understand that organisations need to do whatever it takes to stay alive during hard times and that training and development spending has to accept its share of the cost cuts that are imposed, I believe that for long term business success, beyond just short term survival, training and development needs to be viewed less as an operational cost and more as an investment for the future.

I have also found that some of the best training and development can be more a question of commitment and imagination, rather than just a question of spending money on formal training. I am therefore a fan of the 10/20/70 rule applied to learning of 10% training, 20% mentoring and coaching and 70% on the job learning.

Author: Tadas1980; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Tadas1980; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Here are just a few initiatives that I believe can be implemented to keep growing and developing your people, that take effort rather than heavy expense, without having to just spend money on course attendances, and that are relevant irrespective of whether times are tough or not.

– Build a learning culture … It is critical that you build an understanding in your people that learning is a journey rather than a destination, and that you encourage everyone to keep learning and growing. This also means that you have to get people to understand that trial and error, and therefore the making of some mistakes along the way, is an acceptable part of the personal growth process, and that they will not be punished for honest mistakes that are made through trying new things and pushing beyond traditional boundaries.

– Make mentoring a way of life … Some of the greatest leaps that I made during my career have been through the helping hand of a senior mentor, either through helping me navigate the minefields in a new organisation or assignment and/or having a wiser and more experienced person to be able to use as a sounding board and test-bed for new ideas and directions. Don’t wait for a formalised HR process to implement a mentoring process, but help and encourage your people to both look for a suitable mentor for themselves, as well as acting as a mentor for someone else, which can be in itself an extremely rich learning experience.

Author: Mamunjoy; CC BY 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Mamunjoy; CC BY 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

– Set up internal Think Tanks … Ask people to work together to address some critical real-world issues and opportunities, rather than trying to do this just in controlled meetings, thereby allowing them the freedom to work out the “how and what” on their own. Some of the best management development that I was involved with during my career involved getting a diverse group of people from different geographies and different divisions of the company to look at how to solve some serious company business issues, and to then present their findings and recommendations to the global board.

Author: Klimaforum Latinoamérica Network; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Klimaforum Latinoamérica Network; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

– Give people challenging assignments … Giving people assignments that will stretch (not break) their skills and experiences, and which will take them out of their comfort zone, is a great way to encourage their learning. It is also a good way to test whether they are ready, and possible timing, to be promoted to a more senior role. This is an area when having a suitable mentor and “carer” assigned to them becomes critical, as you want to ensure that you have created an environment that gives them the greatest chance of succeeding, rather than just throwing them off the deep end and hoping that they don’t drown in the process.

– Encourage networking internally and externally … Learning by mixing with peers costs very little, whether this is through the involvement in internal interest groups, industry organisations or attendance at meetings of the local Chamber of Commerce. This will enable one to gain insights from a broader set of experiences than one tends to find within their own organisation. Some of the best small moments of enlightenment that I have had have come from listening to a speaker from a totally different industry and country describe a relevant business environment, but from a totally new perspective.

In the end, it is important to remember the words of management guru Peter Drucker (1909-2005) who said “If you think training is expensive, consider the cost of ignorance”.



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  2. ezbizinc says:

    Reblogged this on ezbizinc.

  3. Adriana says:

    Dear Les, your methods are impressively simple and keeping within the same simplicity another one came to my mind.

    Sharing. I used to be amazed while I was working and even now when I’m studying how some people think that sharing information would somehow diminish their own power. I’m a strong believer that sharing information is actually enhancing your knowledge while other people are learning as well from your experience.

    I’ve made a habit to share the information I know with people eager to listen or learn as I am, and I’ve come to the conclusion that while learning you think you know, the process of sharing forces you to condense information and make it understandable to other people and only when you can do that you can be sure you know. Actually people to whom you share with are doing you a favor as ‘repetitio est mater studiorum’(practicing is the mother of learning) and sharing is one of the best forms of practice.

    You’re always great at condensing information and this blog is, as I like to recommend it, ‘the best management book I’ve read… and I’ve read some’. Thank you for sharing your knowledge! Adriana

  4. denpobedy says:

    The problem with a learning organisation is that it often tends to just keep on learning way past when its time to stop, unlearn and change tracks. What makes it stop eventually is someone else’s learning that is seen as ‘disruptive innovation’.

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