|Photo: Jan Hills|
In case you haven’t come across this or have never really understood it, the theory says success of successful and effective managers are roughly based on this mix:
- 70% from tough jobs
- 20% from people (mostly the boss)
- 10% from courses and reading
The idea was first identified in research by McCall, Lombardo and Eichinger on high-performing managers and has since been verified by other studies.
The trio published their research in 1996 and the idea was later used by learning professionals to align their practice and strategy. The most noted is Charles Jennings who worked at Reuters. Jennings says 70:20:10 is a reference model not a recipe, which is a good warning to those who slavishly strive to implement it.
The model indicates that effective learning and development comes through experiential and social learning in the workplace (the 70% and 20%) rather than through formal workshops or e-learning programmes (the 10%). Structured and directed ‘formal’ learning can be useful but it rarely, if ever, provides the complete answer.
It is true we usually build skills and capabilities through experience and practice supported by encouragement and personal motivation. This is what the concept of 70:20:10 is getting at.
Whilst this can be helpful in moving away from a reliance on classroom-based learning many companies have struggled to put the right support in for the 70:20 parts of the process. And many learning professionals find it hard to know exactly what interventions support this.
I think that is exacerbated in some shared service models which push regular learning programmes into a low-level tier of the service and remove too much of the expertise which is needed to support social learning.
There are other issues to consider which are not often acknowledged. Firstly with the pace of change occurring in organisations and in many professions the skills and the mindset for future success is changing and there is not the expertise available in the work place where the 90% of learning is meant to be happening (70% on job and 20% from others, mainly the manager).
Potentially the way things were historically done is not how they need to be done in the future and for new learners the learning that is available in the workplace may be of poor quality, the skills out-of-date and role models few and far between.
Take for example professions like law which has a very heavy reliance on learning by sitting at the feet of the expert. Historically this has worked well. But as the demands of clients change to a more commercial focus – they want not just the legal issue solved but the issue solved in a way that meets their business strategy and goals – sitting at the feet of the technical legal expert is only part of what new lawyers need to learn.
They also need role models who ask probing questions, understand the client's business context and probably the competitive landscape too. That’s not to say these role models don't exist but they are not as numerous as they need to be nor are they necessarily able to unbundle how they do the 'commercial' part of the role.
Some recent research by DDI supports a view that 70/20/10 needs revision.