The 70:20:10 approach to development is fairly well known by HR professionals and many line managers.  It is commonly recognized that about 70% of what adults learn comes from experience (learning by doing), 20% comes from others (working with a good leader or coach and receiving feedback), and 10% comes from formal learning (taking a classroom or e-Learning course, for example).

Though easy to understand, there is a difference between knowing a concept and applying it effectively. Unfortunately, it seems that many organizations are paying lip service to the concept; especially the 70. Development plans created for leaders are too often weak on the 70% and contain vague recommendations. Proportionally, the concept looks more like this in its application 70:20:10!

Learning while working on real business issues or assignments is very powerful. The “prescription”—the development plan—must be specific about the types of situations to which the leader must be exposed. The challenging or stretch assignment is by far the most common way organizations will grow their leaders by experience. But there are a limited amount of leaders who can be involved in stretch assignments. This view of the 70 is too limited.

There are multiple other ways to grow leaders by leveraging the 70, such as:

  • Being a member of a committee responsible for a new product implementation
  • Attending a strategic negotiation meeting with your leader
  • Leading a cross functional initiative such as Six Sigma aiming at improving organizational effectiveness
  • Collaborating with a university on a research project
  • Training peers and other employees on a new sales management and reporting system
  • Leading a charitable initiative in your community, etc.

Many examples of learning-by-doing do not require the leader to leave their current job. The experience can be short or long, in-depth or light, internal or external to the organization. 

Business presentation on corporate meeting.

In order to support the line managers to truly leverage the 70, an in-house customized repertoire of high added value experience can be created. This allows the leadership to “see” the number of ways leaders can learn by experience. Because in fact, the 70:20:10 can’t be managed and directed like the formal learning; you can only support it, facilitate it and help make it happen.

It is often said that the 70:20:10 allows leaders to learn at the speed of business; the amalgamation of the multiple ways to learn and grow makes it more real and applicable to today’s work environment.

What is critical to retain from the model is not the % allocated to each component of the model, but that leaders will maximize their growth and chances to progress in their career if they leverage multiple ways of learning and learn constantly, no matter how it is being categorized!

Jocelyn Bérard is the author of book  “Accelerating Leadership Development.” He can be reached at jberard@optimumtalent.com