I keep six honest serving men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.
Rudyard Kipling

Apparently the most trusted person in the UK is David Attenborough. I think I’d agree with that. I suspect he’d agree with Rudyard Kipling as well.

Of all the impressive things about David Attenborough, perhaps the most impressive is that he’s still asking questions and learning new things at 95 years of age.


I hope I’m still inquisitive about life at 95.

We all know people who have stopped learning before they reach 30. They never change their mind about anything. Which is a shame. Because there’s not much point in having a mind if you can’t change it from time to time.

One of my heroes was Bobby Robson. And not because I was lucky enough to meet him twice.

As well as being a genuinely nice man, he was always adapting and learning. That’s why he was still manging top European clubs (and Newcastle) into his 70s when his peers were long retired.

Perhaps the two things are connected. Nice people have humility which equates to admitting you don’t know everything. Admitting to not knowing everything results in you seeking out new knowledge. Seeking out new knowledge results in knowing more than the people who don’t admit to not knowing everything. How ironic.

Those of you have followed my emails since the Pandemic began, know that this is a bit of a recurring theme. From Sharpening the saw in April 2020 to Marginal gains and the four tiers of learning in October and many references in between.

In the latest BackleyBlack Mind-Setting video with Steve and Roger, Steve makes the point that you’re either succeeding or learning.

But that’s not how many people approach life. I’m sure you will have had members of your team who spent huge amounts of energy avoiding responsibility and then avoiding blame. And learning nothing in the process.

Or just spending their time on Facebook reading anecdotal stories that support their own prejudices.

Fortunately, few owners of growing businesses fall into that category. If they did, it’s unlikely that their business would be growing.

But of course, people in your team might need a bit of encouragement to keep learning. And the great thing about continuous learning in business is that it should naturally evolve into continuous teaching. Once you’ve learnt something new, you can’t help telling other members of your team.

There’s only so much impact that extra knowledge in your head can have. But find a way to get that knowledge into the heads of your team and you’re really flying. Now you’re really starting to leverage that knowledge.

You probably do this in one-to-one conversations all the time even if sometimes you don’t always get the reaction you’d hoped for. There is sometimes that glazed “what is he going on about now?” look. Then there’s the “I really don’t have time for this” look. Or maybe the “in one ear and out the other” look. Maybe even the “I think I might look for a job less challenging where it’s easier to hide.”

But don’t be downhearted. Some of what you’ve conveyed will land. And if the way that you’ve conveyed it is the problem there are other techniques that will leverage your time much better.

So where do you start?

Hopefully you do some of these things already and everyone has their own style but here are a few things:

  • Get your induction right. In fact, get it as good as it can possibly be. The day a new member of staff joins is the day when they are most open to new knowledge. Build all the things that you’d really like a member of your team to know into your induction process. Someone who gets a job picking up litter at Disney has a four-day induction. How long is the induction at your business?
  • Systems. Regular readers will know about my obsession with systems. All businesses have them, but they are rarely written down. You probably know the best way to do a particular task so write it down. And then train your team on how to do it.
  • Weekly or monthly emails. The majority of your team want to know what’s going on in the business so fill that gap. If you don’t, then you’ll leave a vacuum into which some of the more negative forces will make their opinion known. Regular short emails are a great way to keep educating your team.
  • Lunch and learns. We use these at A4G. These are voluntary training sessions about particular topics that will help people do their job better. The deal is that the staff members give up their lunch hour but in return get lunch paid for by us and learn something. Since the Pandemic started and we couldn’t buy people working from home lunch, we made a little contribution to charity for everyone who attended.
  • Morning assembly. Lots of companies have a start of the week meeting to run through that week’s issues and share knowledge. One of my clients runs weekly “Toolbox talks” first thing on a Monday to help develop the skills of his team.
  • Blackbox meetings. We mentioned these in an earlier article about Blackbox thinking or whitewash actions. The point of them is to create a no blame forum where everybody gets to discuss one case where something didn’t go the way we would have liked it. Our Payroll team has had meetings like this for 18 months now and have come on in leaps and bounds.

But you may have your own way.

And guess what? When you start doing this well, you will get better at it. Your skills will develop. You will learn new things as well. The team you’re teaching will start teaching you. About what’s really going on in your business both good and bad. About new applications of technology. About what customers think. About ideas from other places where they worked which might work here.

This stuff keeps you relevant and even extends lives. You never know, you might still be succeeding or learning when you get to 95 or even beyond.

Have a good weekend.

Contact me today!

Malcolm Palmer


Managing Partner

01474 853856

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