Talent Development

Why the 70:20:10 Learning Model Works, And How to Implement It

By Adrienne SmithNovember 29, 2016

Most organizations today face one or more severe talent-related challenges, such as ineffective managers, high potential talent retention and non-diverse leadership teams. 89% of companies surveyed stated leadership development was very important, and more and more organizations are investing in learning and development as a priority.

Fully 84% of corporate leaders view learning as a critical issue and investment in corporate training is at an all time high. However, nearly every CEO and CHRO reports that their companies aren’t developing skills fast enough or leaders deeply enough. So why is traditional soft skill development not working?

Historically, learning and development teams have had to choose between the scalability and effectiveness of the solutions they deployed. Traditional learning management systems were designed to enforce compliance and more modern LMSs deliver daily content on selected topics —but content is just a part of the answer. Formal training, articles and eLearning videos may open eyes to new ideas but don’t drive real behavior change.

Here’s where the 70:20:10 learning model can be a useful resource. The method employs a mix of experiential, social and formal learning to foster employee growth across leaderships levels.

The 70:20:10 Model, Defined

According to the 70:20:10 model, effective professional development stems from learning, not training. This methodology was originally introduced after a study conducted by the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) that examined how executives learn, grow and change over the course of their careers.

The takeaways were surprising. Most executives didn’t credit formal trainings as their primary source for learning leadership traits. This is despite companies spending tens of billions each year to train and teach employees.

Instead, the executives cited on-the-job experiences, challenging projects, and mentors as key elements for developing their leadership qualities.

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CCL then published the ratio they believe to be most effective for learning:

  • 70% of what we learn  comes from job-related experiences
  • 20% from developmental relationships
  • 10% from formal coursework and training  

The biggest challenge? Many companies only focus on the 10%: formal education. Formal training, articles and eLearning videos may open eyes to new ideas but don’t drive real behavior change. By expanding beyond the 10%, you’ll improve employee engagement resulting in increased organizational productivity.

Why 70:20:10 Matters

Engaged employees help your business succeed. Engaged employees are 12% more productive, which translates to large-scale success in turn. Companies that invest in building an engaged workforce see up to 147% higher earnings per share (EPS) than their competitors.

Employee retention also improves amongst engaged workers; engaged workers are 87% less likely to leave their jobs. Considering companies spend $4,000 and 50+ days to hire a new employee, on average, you’ll save your organization money and time by boosting engagement.

The 70:20:10 model engages your team by making learning immediately actionable.

When employees feel empowered to take action in the workplace, they focus on their career goals, are more eager to collaborate with peers, and take initiative to connect with mentors and leaders without waiting for others to push them towards these critical relationships. Lastly, the 70:20:10 model allows organizations to think about scale. By focusing on immersive, supported learning, most employees within the organization can take part in some type of learning program—leveraging specific components based on their needs, and ‘upgrading’ to more intensive experience-based programs when the time is right.

Get Your Organization Started With 70:20:10

When introducing the 70:20:10 model, focus on supporting the complete employee learning experience. How? Set up resources for employees to use as they become more challenged in their role.

For the 70%: Job-Related Experiences

The bulk of learning should come from projects that employees face on the job. Focus on introducing employees to new projects that broaden the scope of their role.

Ideas include:

  • Add new responsibilities
  • Expand decision-making authority
  • Increase the employee’s management of others
  • Include the employee in more senior leadership meetings
  • Include the employee in forecasting and budgeting projects
  • Encourage cross-functional involvement in projects
  • Bring the employee into hiring decisions

For the 20%: Interactions With Others

The key to implementing the ‘20’ is to give employees the support they need to carry out the ‘70.’

Ideas include:

  • Assign mentor/mentee relationships
  • Set up regular coaching sessions
  • Introduce the employee to leaders outside of your organization
  • Conduct 360-degree feedback sessions
  • Encourage peer-to-peer 1:1 meetings focused on reflection, not tasks
  • Prioritize manager 1:1 meetings, also focused on reflection, not tasks

For the 10%: Formal Education Events

The ‘10’ is your opportunity to set up formal professional development education. Don’t be afraid to step beyond the scope of traditional group training sessions.

Ideas include:

  • Videos and webinars
  • Readable content like eBooks or articles written by industry leaders
  • Reimbursement for certifications
  • Reimbursement for career development classes
  • Seminars and panels
  • Group meetings focused on business-related topics

Conclusion

Remember: the 70:20:10 method is flexible based on your company’s leadership needs. However you choose to apply it, make sure to focus on immersive learning rather than simply rolling out yet another day of classroom-style training. You’ll grow employee productivity, increase retention, and improve your business objectives as a result.

Learn more by downloading our eBook, Learning for the Modern Workforce.

Adrienne Smith

Adrienne Smith

About the Author

Adrienne is a writer, editor, and content marketer from New York. She's passionate about creating equal opportunity in the workplace.

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