Why Your Organisation Isn't Ready for 70-20-10

Tammy Heermann Article

I’ve heard a resurgence of the 70-20-10 learning methodology lately from many organizations who are seeking to revamp or invest in leadership development programs.

The approach is positioned as best-in-class, but what I see happening is that it’s become the silver bullet to shrinking budgets, compressed time of leaders to spend in formal development, and the introduction of shiny new apps, portals and social communities to keep abreast of the trends. We’ve bastardized what this approach is really meant to achieve. We’re creating shortcuts instead of understanding what it takes to implement it. If you want to realize the benefits, you have to put in the work.

The vast majority of organizations in fact are not ready for 70-20-10. Below are three common myths about the approach that you need to address to truly realize the benefits.

  1. 70-20-10 is about digitizing learning. For many organizations this best practice approach has become synonymous with taking staid face-to-face classroom learning and replacing it with seemingly sexy digitized assets. While this may help reduce the time and pressure associated with longer face-to-face learning, it rarely translates into sustained leadership behavior change. The philosophy behind 70-20-10 was meant to take learning back to the place where it will have the best chance of making traction—in the business, on the job and with real scenarios. This can happen both in the classroom and outside the classroom, but certainly not through an app.
  2. The ratio is the guide. 70-20-10 has become part of the modern leadership development lexicon; however, research has shown that the ratio is, in fact, not true in practice and possibly not even in the right order. Our experience shows that organizations overemphasize group learning based on aggregate needs often linked to competency frameworks. This is important, but not complete. The crux is to focus on strong individual development needs and plans informed by objective assessment, manager conversations and professional coach support (the 20%). This is what helps leaders focus on both formal and on-the-job learning to make the most meaningful, most expedient and most impactful change.
  3. Learning design is the key. Organizations fall into the trap of thinking that 70-20-10 is a learning methodology with great design and content, versus a way of life. They implement experiential activities and action learning projects in an attempt to make the learning 'real'. However, all this is wasted if there isn’t a strong culture of development, coaching and mentorship in place. Do your senior leaders happily oblige to do a kick-off to your program but then disappear when asked to sponsor a HIPO? Do your action learning projects become cynical wastelands because nothing happens with the hard work put in by leaders? Are the development plans of your leaders incomplete, out-of-date or non-existent? Are your managers diligently coaching and providing feedback on a regular basis? The only way you’ll truly help change your model of learning is through the people managers who shape the learning culture in your organization.

So next time you casually throw around the term 70-20-10, be sure you know what you’re asking for. Start with your culture and ask if it will support it, or drive it into the ground. Don’t get hung up on mapping hours against a random ratio, rather ensure your learning and development activities drive behavior change and have the support mechanisms to achieve it. And don’t get distracted by shiny new technology if your leaders aren’t even leveraging what you already have.

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