I Believe in the 70:20:10 framework — 5 Comments

  1. Thanks for this article, Tom.

    I’m in total agreement with you when you point out that power of the 70:20:10 model is that it describes the way adults already learn in the workplace. Of course all learning is contextual, and we each learn in different ways depending on personal and job-related factors, so using 70:20:10 as a rule is not what it’s about, or even sensible. I’ve said many times that 70:20:10 is a reference model and not a ‘rule’.

    70:20:10 isn’t akin to the Ten Commandments or some other set of religious or non-religious edicts. It’s better likened to the guidance and advice a parent might provide to a child to help them make the most of their life.

    70:20:10 thinking acknowledges that people in work generally learn in four interrelated ways:
    [a] through the rich and challenging experiences they have within their workflow;
    [b] through the opportunity to practice (sometimes failing, picking themselves up, and practising some more);
    [c] through others – by building and exploiting diverse networks, meaningful conversations, and informal mentoring and coaching;
    [d] through embedding individual and team reflective practices into their daily work.

    Although many L&D departments are reaching out to new media and new approaches to support some of these daily development activities – with social media, MOOCs, gamification, mobile and other communication/delivery channels in the vanguard – many of these are still being implemented within the traditional L&D structured learning framework. That framework and mindset is essentially about command and control – ‘we design and deliver the packages, the ‘learners’ learn, we metricise and report’. This traditional approach lacks flexibility and is based on assumptions that may have been valid in 18th century Prussia when the concept of a curriculum arose, but is not fit-for-purpose in our fast-evolving 21st century world.

    I see 70:20:10 as an opportunity to re-establish the working relationship of L&D departments with their colleagues and stakeholders and to move from ‘control’ mindsets to supporting, facilitating, and enabling mindsets and practices with razor-like focus on organisational and stakeholder needs and priorities. It’s up to L&D professionals as to whether they take that opportunity or not.

    At the core of 70:20:10 thinking is the fact that most of the learning that occurs in the workplace simply can’t be ‘managed’ by anyone other than the person who is learning (and, sometimes, by their supervisor to an extent) so L&D professionals need to re-think their role if they’re to help extend and improve the learning that’s already happening outside their world.

    • Thank you for your thoughts, Charles. I see the new media approaches of many L&D departments much the same as you. They’re rooted in the notion that any department, separate from the actual work of the larger organization, can be a primary provider of content for workers to learn from. I’m exploring concepts for facilitating the many who actually do the work to share what they know in bite-sized, manageable pieces of content. It’s partly a “show your work” initiative, so participation needs to be voluntary but, if successful, could snowball into something quite valuable and further stimulate development of internal networks outside hierarchical boundaries. The prototype activity is barely underway, but looks promising. It’s also worth noting not one of these content pieces has a learning objective, but people can learn from them anyway.

      Your last paragraph above, in particular, is quite profound. Understanding where experiential learning takes place, even if unmanageable, can help to underpin a competent Learning and Development strategy. In my later article about the erosion of hierarchies, I reference that learning happens where the work gets done, and that is increasingly in networks and decreasingly in workgroups. That would be interesting to explore in more depth.

  2. I think the 70:20:10 ratio is proper for a steady state organization. In one in a situation where it is in flux, evolving or being disrupted, the ratios might change.

    Consider when draughtsmen or artists became digital, it was survival that they pick up multimedia skills, tools and platforms. the 70% OJT is irrelevant as it mean learning skills that were becoming obsolete.

    It would be interesting if some research could be done for different organizational states of an organization that is

    (a) innovative
    (b) being disrupted
    (c) start-up – for different roles (possible that formal training might be near zero, as the work is new, or >90% to address urgent skill gaps or shortage)

    • i agree with you. Other than a steady state organizations, in one in which there is change (due to disruption, paradigm shifts, innovations/new initiatives, constructive destruction, new experience/sense-making, etc), mentoring as well as support, wing-man protection by senior management/sponsor, and a culture to allow innovation, risk taking, “fail-fast, learn-fast”, “fire bullets then canon balls” must be evident, and seen (highly visible) to be so.

      In a previous role, i told my staff that my expectation of their performance was 80%. in response to puzzled looks, i mentioned that only in primary school (Grade 1 – 6) can one get 10/10 for Math, Spelling, etc. In the real world, it does not happen! For them, if they get 8/10, it would be considered as being very good. That 2/10 allowed staff to make mistakes, experiment, try new ideas, etc. Any sincere errors or mistakes would not be taken against them. That policy and practice produced a community of happy staff who dared to try new ideas, experiment with new processes and evaluate new products.

      Engagement shot up, and work becoming fun. There was very very few abuses of that 2/10 error band.

      For one initiative that was new and impactful, i told the team leader that for him that year, the expectation was exception at 6/10. He did the work, resulting in outcomes that were pioneering and global in outcomes, impact and standing.

      So, yes to 70-20-10 and 8/10.

  3. I think your 8/10 guidance is a powerful concept that should be adopted everywhere. It frees one of the need to have everything perfect and do everything perfectly.

    Having seen the paralysis caused by staff struggling to make everything perfect I noticed that it led many creatives to down their independent thinking tools and to disengage in training and development where 10/10 was expected.

    Given back the freedom to experiment and create offered in the 2/10 tolerated errors would give their natural curiosity and propensity to find workable shortcuts and solutions a new lease of life.

    Go 8/10.

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