Offering advice – both bidden and unbidden – is a trait that’s practised in every country and culture. Advice comes from any source but tends to be conferred more by those who feel themselves to be senior – in terms of age and/or status.


Some of this advice is useless – because it deals with outdated technology or practices. Some of it’s laughable – because it’s given by people who should know better. But some advice is both timeless and valuable.


A straw poll of L&D specialists has produced the following – hopefully useful – advice.


Professional Life


  • Sometimes you’ll feel that you can’t make a mistake, everything goes well and you feel on top of the world. At these times, take maximum advantage.
  • When the opposite happens, hold steady and ‘wait it out’.
  • Being an L&D professional involves ambiguous victories and nebulous defeats. Claim them all as victories.
  • Treat everyone in your organisation with respect and dignity. Never belittle others.
  • Never bring your boss – especially a Board-level boss – a problem without also suggesting a solution. You’re paid to think and to do – not whinge.
  • Acknowledging someone else’s contribution will amply repay you.
  • Results count. Mere time spent doing your job doesn’t.
  • Be comfortable around senior managers – or learn to fake it really well.
  • People who spend all their time at work are neither hard-working nor successful. They’re boring.
  • The most successful people in business are interesting.
  • Reorganisations mean that some people will lose their jobs. Ensure you get on the committee that makes the recommendations about any reorganisation.
  • When stress arises, take a deep breath and ask yourself, “In the course of human events, how important is this?”
  • Never confuse reality with strategy documents and strategic plans – which are, mostly, organisational and political fantasy.
  • Never say, “It’s not my job”.


Personal and Career


  • Career planning is an oxymoron. The most interesting and exciting career opportunities are unplanned.
  • Understand the knowledge, skills and abilities that set you apart. Use them whenever you can.
  • Keep track of what you do. Eventually, someone will ask.
  • Write down your ideas. Otherwise, like really good pens, they’ll get lost.
  • Honesty enables you to live with yourself. Don’t cheat on expenses – or on colleagues.
  • Know how to write appropriate “thank-you” messages via any and every communications technology.
  • Assume that no one can – or will – keep a secret.
  • Help other people network for jobs. Your turn may come.
  • Don’t believe job security exists. It doesn’t.
  • Always have a viable answer for the question, “What would I do if I lost my job tomorrow?”


Work to Learn


The writer, speaker and thought leader, Charles Jennings, a Senior Director with the Internet Time Alliance and co-founder of the 70:20:10 Institute, says, “Traditionally, we learn in order to work but, in today’s rapidly changing workplace, we should work to learn.


“In other words, it’s important to focus on output rather than input.”


“These days we’re seeing new learning and performance models,” he adds.


“L&D specialists shouldn’t be offering learners as much learning as possible. Instead, they should focus on how the organization they work for can become more agile, competitive and, basically, better at doing its job.”




The international business coach and leadership speaker, Hugo Heij, comments, “There’s too much ‘short-termism’ both in business generally and in L&D in particular.


“Maybe current political changes – in personnel, policy and emphasis – around the world are having a disproportionate effect on business strategy. Maybe businesses are less certain than they used to be that they’ll still be operating in even three to six months’ time.


“Nonetheless, while you should plan to meet current skills needs, you should also plan to meet the skills needs that are likely to arise in the next quarter, the next year and the next three to five years – and so on.”


Both Jennings and Heij offer a strong rationale for expending energy and resources on L&D, especially in the field of succession planning.


Succession Planning


Nick Hindley, Global Learning and Development Manager at AVEVA, a global business employing some 1,700 people and providing mission-critical solutions to engineering contractors and owner operators, agrees that succession planning isn’t firmly established in every organisation.


He argues, however, that, where it doesn’t happen, the cost is higher expenditure on last-minute recruitment to find competent people. Of course, this may, or may not, turn out to be the case.


Hindley says, “The results from an effective succession plan produces a list of successors, a flight risk profile, and a profile of those we need to recruit.


“For the successors in the organisation, the development plan must be linked to the specific capabilities being delivered by the incumbent role-holder – with a view to making positive changes and/or developing additional capabilities. The succession plan starts with, and comes from, a more in-depth version of the performance calibration discussions that happen periodically through the year.


“In my experience, the biggest hurdle to this process is making time for calibration – rather than, say, encountering fear of the process from the organisation’s senior leaders,” he advises.


“Often, the process of documenting how wonderful they are, listing all the things they contribute and indicating the potential impact if they left the organisation produces quite the opposite effect in senior staff.


“And, once management teams see the benefits from performance calibration, it’s a short jump to a full succession planning version.”


Advice on Advice


But then, as the playwright Oscar Wilde once wrote, “The only thing to do with good advice is to pass it on. It’s never of any use to oneself.”


The American lyrical poet and playwright, Edna St. Vincent Millay, expresses a similar sentiment when she said, “I’m glad that I paid so little attention to good advice. Had I abided by it, I might have been saved from some of my most valuable mistakes.”