Are we dumbing down?

Don’t ‘dumb down’ during recession!

Don’t Dumb-Down  – “dumbing down” is not an inevitable consequence of recession.

As yet another year fades into the distance and the Olympics looming heavily on the horizon the ever cautious economists are telling us that we are heading into ‘a double dip recession’; bringing with it a sense of doom. With this in mind I started to observe businesses more closely. I can still recall the words of my University lecturer who proclaimed that one should “never, ever, ever dumb down in a recession”.

As a trainer who knows only too well that whenever budgets are tight, or a recession hits training can sometimes be the first thing to be axed. I wanted to challenge this out dated business practice, as I believe that reducing people and business development activities is actually false economy. I tested my theory as 2011 drew to a close by visiting five different garden centers and found that they all had “dumbed down” their Christmas sections, which were cold empty places lacking seasonal atmosphere. What wasted business opportunities these were. Due to their obvious decision to “dumb down”, instead of their tills jingling these customers, like me, went elsewhere.

I told myself we would make up the loss to the economy as the great British sun seeking public got into their stride as 2012 arrived. Or would we?  Would the airlines allow us to? It is not just the budget airlines affecting the economy; it is virtually ever airline, which appears to be falling into the same business inefficiency trap. More and more travellers are opting to take on board ‘hand luggage’ in order to avoid increasing charges for luggage check-in. The era of the airline wheelie trolley has arrived! Many airlines when confronted with 90%+ of their passengers at the boarding gate clinging desperately to their beloved wheelie bags have now realized that the capacity of today’s cabin stowage cannot cope.

When this happens, airlines have taken to offering free luggage check-in at the gate. Such precious revenue is surely too good to be given away. The real message here is that these airlines have forgotten of the old adage of 10% of something is better than 10% of nothing. In other words if airlines had not decided to “dumb down” their luggage check-in service and instead set their luggage check-in fees at a reasonable level then they would actually make more money!

My lecturer was right that one should “never, ever, ever dumb down in a recession”. Whatever your belief there can be no doubt that some businesses are starting to “dumb-down”, which should not be a natural consequence of recession. Let us learn the lessons in that:

  • Cutting services or 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 training or talent development support will dumb down businesses automatically, and equally as bad the competition are more likely to steal your ground and market share.

In summary the sooner businesses that adopt this thinking recognise that “dumbing down” is not an inevitable consequence of recession and reverse the process, the more likely they are to survive this recession and the years ahead.

Trisha Proud – Partners in Solutions Ltd

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