How to leverage the 70:20:10 rule to turn development plans into actions

Insight shared by:

Kiddy & Partners

Far too often, leaders’ development reports - glossy, visually impactful and psychologically robust as they are - end up in desk draws or iCloud folders, only to be dusted down again for end of year reviews. The reports are not to blame; it is what we do to support people to translate these insights into action. 

It’s nearly 30 years since Robert Eichinger, Morgan McCall and Mike Lombardo (1) coined the 70-20-10 ‘rule’ to highlight the relative impact of three types of development experiences:

  • 10% of learning comes from formal learning (Workshops, training programmes, MBAs)
  • 20% of learning comes from other people (Coaching, Mentoring, Line Manager support)
  • 70% of learning comes from on the job experiences and challenging assignments

We all seem to know this to be intuitively true and cite it when we build interventions to support talent development. Although debate rages about the accuracy of the rule, a more pressing question is are we putting the right support behind these and are they embedded seamlessly into the business strategy?

Today we’re seeing more and more attention being paid to the 70% percent and my colleague Dr Zara Whysall will explain how organisations can do more to maximise leaders’ on-the-job learning in an upcoming article. It is exciting to be involved with clients and teams that are making this aspect more meaningful and appropriate. We are currently running a Senior Leader Development Programme with a global engineering company, which involves assessment, coaching and putting people into real experiential role changes to accelerate learning. We also know that these ‘experiences’ alone are not enough and can fall into the sink or swim approach to development. We believe they are massively underpinned by the work of the 20 and 10 elements.

How do the 20% elements work?

The 20% is about the social interaction aspect of learning; learning through relationships and sharing knowledge. It’s sometimes self-directed, spontaneous and less structured than the 10% of formal learning. It is social though and so is about growing together by observing, asking questions and getting answers and ideas from others (not just google or an app). Great coaches, mentors, peers and line managers play a key role in enabling that social learning.

How do the 10% elements work?

The 10% is the formal learning. Although it only makes up the smallest part of our learning, formal training is an essential part of any learning strategy. It forms the backbone of successful learning. In a world of evidence-based practice, it is the theory that supports your growing practical skills, which we get to test and apply through social and experiential learning. Well-designed coursework, content and training (face-to-face or virtual) have an amplifier effect — clarifying, supporting, and boosting the other 90% of your learning.  

There have been huge advancements in online portals and e-support applications. While they are of great benefit to participants, and an efficient way of keeping people engaged, they alone are not the answer. Still rather static and generic, they reflect the tip of the iceberg in terms of the potential the benefits of behavioural economics and nudge theory. 

We also know more than ever that one size never fits all – no-one fits the average. So we should allow employees to personalise their work and their development and help them learn how to know what works for them, just like the science is saying in relation to dieting (2).

“In almost all areas of our lives we find ourselves moving from the era of standardisation to the era of personalisation” (Syed 2019). “Diversity is part and parcel of humanity. It is time to take it seriously” (Segal 2017) (3)

Which approach can bring together the benefits of tech and high-touched personalisation?

The approach that can best bring together the benefits of tech and high-touch personalisation is likely to be your Coach. Coaching is a process that helps employees to learn better. It works because it is tailored to the individual receiving it. Effective coaching is grounded by this shared destination and a collective focus on all the milestones that need to be accomplished along the way.

How much have we progressed?

Finally, I turn to the modern philosopher Alain de Botton, who recently provoked a debate about how much we have progressed from an external point of view as a race compared to how much internal progress we have made(4). I would say that is the handbrake we place on our own developmental progress; we focus on making transactional behavioural exterior changes – i.e. how we manage our diary, how we make decisions or organise and run meetings. All of which are incredibly important, but as a psychologist, I know that for these benefits to be lasting and transformational they need to be done alongside the internal developmental mindset work; mindset shifts that come from understanding the ‘why’ of how we’ve been working or operating. 

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(1)    Lombardo, Michael M; Eichinger, Robert W (1996). The Career Architect Development Planner (1st ed.). Minneapolis: Lominger. p. iv
(2)    Todd Rose, The end of Average, quoted in Syed, Matthew (2019). Rebel Ideas, John Murray Publishers
(3)    Segal, E; Elinav E, The Personalized Diet: The Revolutionary Plan to Help You Lose Weight, Prevent Disease and Feel Incredible (Vermillion, 2017).
(4)    Alain De Botton (2020) Interviewed on Doing it Right with Pandora Sykes (Podcast)

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