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The 4 shortcomings of 70:20:10

Insight

02 June 2017

3.9

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There’s no shortage of blogs talking about the fast-paced, ever changing world that we live in, but some organisations are still grappling with understanding exactly what that might mean for them, and how they are going to keep up. Many organisations believe that the key lies in developing their people and their capabilities. New skill requirements are surfacing all the time; leading in ambiguity, working in remote teams and developing learning agility are all in-demand skills that weren’t quite so vital not that long ago. 

If you can identify what those future skill requirements are, and find a way to effectively equip your people with those skills, you stand a good chance of not only keeping up but establishing a sustainable competitive advantage. But how do you harness the changing nature of delivering training and development in this ever moving world?

That’s where 70:20:10 comes in.

Most of you are probably familiar with the concept of 70:20:10 as a model, it originated in the eighties and is widely used in organisations as a framework to create effective learning and development initiatives that will equip your people with the skills they need. In fact, it has garnered so much popularity over the years, over 60% of organisations report that they are using the 70:20:10 framework in some way.

So why is 70:20:10 so popular?

Maybe it’s the simplicity of those nice round numbers, or perhaps it’s the fact that it provides us with a framework to think about learning beyond the classroom, making something quite abstract just a little more tangible.

Over the years, the framework has been interpreted and applied in a multitude of different ways which may not always result in the intended outcomes. Cracks in the 70:20:10 model start to become apparent and our research into the science of adult learning has highlighted four fundamental shortcomings with using the model as a hard and fast rule:

 

  1. Empirical evidence is thin on the ground

The biggest issue with 70:20:10 is that’s is often stated as fact or laid out as a rule but there’s a real lack of empirical evidence that has actually been conducted. The 70:20:10 framework is most frequently cited in work that’s associated either with Eichinger and Lombardo or with McCall and their work at the Centre for Creative Leadership.

However, when digging into the methodology of these pieces of work, it’s apparent that the research was exclusively related to the training and leadership development of executives. So it’s worth thinking about your organisation and questioning whether this framework is appropriate to apply across an entire organisation from an individual contributor to your Board.

When you start to look for other academic studies on the 70:20:10 framework, you quickly realise that there isn’t much out there. A 2003 study by Enos, Kehrhahn and Bell actually showed completely different ratios – 16% from experience on the job, 44% from learning from others, 30% from formal training and a leftover 10% that they couldn’t quite define.

  1. It suggests there’s no interdependency

If you apply 70:20:10 too rigidly there’s a chance you’ll start treating formal and informal learning as independent of each other. That’s misleading because on the job experiences, learning from other people, and formal programmes, are very interdependent. It’s important to consider how these elements are integrated effectively in any programme you’re designing. 

  1. It can lead to poor decisions on prioritisation

The model suggests that informal on-the-job learning makes up 70% of all learning, so it could be easy for organisations to prioritise informal on-the-job training over other forms of developmental experiences. At worst, that might mean that our leadership development becomes quite haphazard, and at best it simply becomes quite difficult to measure the effectiveness of learning and development.

  1. On-the-job learning is misunderstood

 From using on-the-job training interchangeably with experiential learning, to thinking it is as easy as just cutting people loose on their job, many organisations haven’t truly understood the on-the-job learning part of the equation.

People need the opportunity to directly experience a new set of skills, practice with role plays or project-based learning, and a facilitator or manager who has the capability to ask the key questions for that learning to take place effectively. The on-the-job learning also needs to be purposefully targeted towards the behaviours you’re looking to shift.

 

I’m not suggesting that we throw out the 70:20:10 model altogether, but just that we hold the idea lightly and not treat it as a hard and fast rule. The framework certainly helps provoke thinking around how we can construct effective, and behavioural shifting, learning and development programs. But that’s just it. It’s only a start. In a 100 metre sprint, the framework is only going to get us that first 10 metres and we’re going to have to go much further to complete the remaining 90 metres.

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