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Practical advice on implementing the 70-20-10 model

The 70-20-10 model has been around for a few years already. It reflects the increasing awareness that people learn not just through “traditional” training. Research shows that we actually acquire most of the knowledge, skills and behaviours we need to perform our jobs through actual experience and working alongside others. The 70-20-10 model has its origins in the work of McCall, Eichinger and Lombardo from the Centre for Creative Leadership.

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Their book, “The Career Architect” (1996), is based on empirical research and concluded that successful managers learned in 3 different ways:

  • 70 percent of learning comes from real life on-the-job experiences, performing tasks and problem solving
  • 20 percent of learning comes from feedback, working with and observing role models
  • 10 percent from “traditional” training

Initially focussing on management and leadership development, this conclusion has since been extended to other types of professional learning and development. Today the 70-20-10 model is being used by Learning & Development departments in a wide-range of multinationals operating across a broad range of businesses. (e.g. PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Nike, Dell, Goldman Sachs, Maersk, L’Oréal, and Caterpillar)

Why implement the 70-20-10 model

Whether you are a learning & development specialist, a line manager, a trainer or training provider, or an employee, you should take time to reconsider and refocus your efforts. By doing this you can:

  • shift the focus and expectations towards more efficient and effective types of learning and development
  • ensure that time and money invested in learning and development makes a greater impact
  • support your business by keeping people in the workplace while they are learning

The model has an attractive simplicity, although the exact ratios are contended. As a trainer and manager of a training company I think it’s important to see the model as a philosophy and not a rigid recipe.  The key is understanding and accepting that the majority of learning actually happens outside of the classroom, and that any learning and development program should take this into account and proactively support this.  It doesn’t mean that traditional training is no longer relevant in the 21st century, but rather that this traditional training is just a part of learning and development strategies.

“Almost without exception, in my experience, organisations that have adopted 70-20-10 have achieved greater impact on performance at organisational and individual level at lower cost than was being achieved beforehand.”

Charles Jennings

How to implement the 70-20-10 model

The 70-20-10 model has proven to positively impact organisations in enhancing learning and development programs. Based on what we’ve seen our clients do, and what we’ve tried ourselves, here are some concrete and practical ways to begin implementing the 70-20-10 model in your organization.

Raise awareness and build commitment through conversation 

Everyone involved needs to be brought on board with the idea that learning and development is not just about going on a course.  My own experience as a manager is that it is relatively easy to get people to see 70-20-10 as “common sense”. These conversations are essential as the 70-20-10 model depends on L&D working closely with line managers, and on line managers communicating with their staff. Managers need to be aware of the pivotal hands-on role they play in developing their staff, and employees need to appreciate the context for new decisions.

Implementing the 70-20-10 model is not a cost-cutting exercise – replacing “training” by a loose learning-by-doing approach. It’s actually a quality driven initiative, aiming to make sure that the company is developing to meet future challenges.

Scott Levey

If, like Target Training, you’re a medium sized company, these conversations are reasonably manageable. If, like many of our clients, you’re part of a larger organization then start small. Find a business unit where managers are comfortable and confident wearing the “developing people” hat. Speaking with our clients, many of whom are multinationals, the general consensus has been that introducing the 70-20-10 model step by step has proved to be the most effective approach. By connecting with managers who have a genuine interest in developing their teams and the employees within them, the model organically spreads to other areas.

Enable experiential learning

This is key when we consider that 70% of learning comes from “doing”. Giving employees the opportunity to learn through challenging yet achievable experiences is one the most powerful and practical tools in a manager’s toolbox. Experiential learning can come through new roles and equally occur within existing roles. Three approaches we’ve seen clients benefit from are:

  • extending the scope of responsibility and control
  • enabling and increasing decision-making power
  • expecting staff to build new relationships (e.g. other business units, senior managers, virtual teams , suppliers, partners, clients…)

 

Be prepared to accept a compromise between optimal efficiency and developmental opportunities

You can expect to see specific requests upwards, where an employee is keen to get involved in a challenging project specifically to build their skills. Naturally they won’t be as effective or efficient as somebody who can already perform this role – so look at it as a learning and development initiative rather than just a question of resources.

Engage with internal and external trainers and training providers early on

Discuss how to connect the dots between on-the-job, social and formal learning. The goal is to identify critical skills and behaviours and then look at building and reinforcing these using all options.

Coaching and mentoring

These are great ways of integrating social learning into a traditional program. Although the two terms are often used interchangeably, and both draw on a similar skill set I’d argue there are differences. For me mentoring is deliberately connecting an experienced person (the mentor) with a less experienced one (the mentee). The mentor could be a colleague, a manager, or the line manager. The mentor then tutors, shares experiences, models, counsels and offers feedback.  Coaching does not necessarily imply directly related experience, tends to be less directive, and is aimed at improving performance in specific areas.  Regardless of how you define them, both approaches have a lot to offer.

When it comes to traditional training the key is early and explicit management involvement

The single most powerful step a manager can take is to clearly explain to their staff  why the training is relevant to the business and that there are clear expectations. This simple step drives motivation, participation and transfer. This transfer is crucial and I’d suggest that any traditional formal training has to integrate a transfer plan. In this simple document the employees are challenged to consider how they will actually transfer the learning into their workplace, when they’ll do this, who else needs to be involved and how will they know when they have achieved this.

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