The Center for Creative Leadership developed the 70-20-10 concept over 40 years ago. But how well does it actually describe how people learn?
According to this concept, leaders learn in three distinct ways.
What are the 70-20-10 segments?
70 percent of what is learnt is by doing - through “challenging assignments”. Through hands-on experience that encourages them to make decisions, improve their skills, address challenges and broaden their on-the-job abilities. Successful leaders become more productive over time, refining the way that they work day-to-day and continuously improving their processes.
20 percent of learning comes from “developmental relationships". This could be via an executive coaching relationship, mentoring, through networking, collaborative learning, social or informal learning, where feedback is invaluable.
Finally, just 10 percent of skills and knowledge are learnt through formal coursework and training (that's exams, elearning, workshops).
Formal training and coursework, therefore, make up a small part of the overall learning experience. Yet, paradoxically, many companies still fixate on this aspect of training when determining their training budget. Given that the vast majority of learning occurs on-the-job and through peer relationships, companies cannot afford to ignore the 70:20 segments of the learning process if they want to create a culture of learning in their organisation.
The way that businesses deliver training has changed significantly over the last couple of decades. There’s been a move away from formal training and towards e-learning modules, thanks to a host of benefits from online training, including lower cost and greater flexibility. Online training is fast becoming the norm, with some estimates suggesting that traditional, instructor-led training, has fallen below 50 percent in some countries.
Blending the online and offline learning environments has produced some significant benefits for companies looking for more efficient ways to train their employees. But many of these training regimens still fall into the 10 percent “training and coursework” category. Despite their innovative nature, they remain, at root, a sequence of training activities organised by an instructor. This means that the other 90 percent of learning opportunities within a company remain relatively untouched - a missed opportunity! How many of us would feel safe knowing the pilot had only ever trained in a flight simulator?
Using the 70-20-10 concept to create a learning culture
The truth is, we need to focus on all three segments to create the right learning culture. Blended learning, according to the CCL, means combining both formal classroom-based training with “informal” work-related training to address all parts of the 70-20-10 concept.
Companies shouldn’t take this to mean that traditional, formal training somehow isn’t important anymore - it is. Formal training provides all sorts of opportunities for learning, including assessment, experiential activities, skill building and environments well away from the demands of the workplace. In many cases, workers describe training days as “life-changing” experiences which totally revolutionise the way they see the world. Formal training can also give participants a safe space to better prepare for the demands of the job, through tools - such as short videos, virtual classroom events, roleplays and simulations. Who wouldn't prefer a first aider who had perfected her resuscitation techniques on a dummy first?
However, for a training budget to be used effectively, we must also make provision for informal learning. Informal learning is different to traditional training. For starters, it’s often spontaneous, arising as and when production demands dictate. Conversations with peers, managers and coaches can encourage reflection, insight and result in invaluable feedback. Secondly, because the work is contextual - occurring on the job itself rather than in hypothetical training scenarios - workers don’t have to engage in as much transfer training to move their skills out of the classroom and into the real world.
Although this type of collaborative learning is unstructured, it can still be supported in a way that maximises and facilitates learning. Companies can enhance these activities and job assignments by providing assessments, support and challenges along the way, with the whole process being facilitated online.
This type of introspection can be invaluable. When people are challenged to reflect on their learning proactively, they are better able to understand why they made a particular decision and to avoid blind spots in their thinking. Coaching or mentoring also gives them an opportunity to see how their actions are perceived by others with different social norms.
So how does this work in practice?
A. Link development planning to strategic goals
Finding appropriate opportunities to learn new skills on the job while providing adequate support can be a challenge. Particularly if the current workplace culture is falling some way short right now. If current observable behaviours are undesirable, this may actually undermine change. However, integrating development planning to change management and the strategic goals of the company is a potential solution. Here, leaders are assigned a particular task or goal which supports the organisation’s change strategy. They are then encouraged to execute specific tasks which increase their confidence and skills in the company while also boosting their internal recognition.
B. Design an unstructured training process
Unstructured training is often difficult to approach because it has no formal process. It depends on the type of work being done by potential leaders at any given time. However, it is possible to design a general framework, or scaffolding, around which learning can take place. This process should include a development plan template, an assessment before work is carried out to see whether individuals have the soft skills to become leaders, and an implementation plan followed by a follow-up meeting to review progress.
C. Get participants to develop their own action plans
Encourage learners to conduct a self-assessment, to identify desired behaviours and any development required to fill the gap. There are two types of action plans that participants need to address when undergoing workplace training. The first is to create an action plan for how they are going to complete their challenging job assignment and in what time frame. The second action plan should relate to soft, interpersonal skills that they will need to make sure that the project is ultimately a success. Ideally, participants should identify one or two “mission critical” soft skills to develop throughout the process over the course of nine to twelve months.
D. Create accountability
Finally, in any experience-driven learning process, it’s essential to include methods to ensure accountability of participants. Managers should expect to spend at least five hours working with leadership candidates, going through their action plans and making sure that they are passed up the chain of command to supervisors higher up in the company. This ensures that projects are challenging enough and that they are aligned with cultural change.
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