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Optimum Talks Blog

Stop Paying Lip Service to the 70:20:10

by Optimum Talent
March 24, 2016

The ‘70:20:10’ approach to development is fairly well known to HR professionals and line managers.  This approach denotes 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.

Some of the most powerful learning can happen while working on real business issues or assignments. The “prescription”, or the development plan, must be specific about the types of situations that the leader should be exposed to. The challenging, or ‘stretch assignment’, is by far the most common experience that organizations will use to grow their leaders.. However, there are a limited number of leaders who can actually be involved in these stretch assignments. This view of the ‘70’ is too limited.

There are multiple other ways to leverage the 70 and grow leaders, such as:

  • Being a member of a committee responsible for a new product implementation
  • Attending a strategic negotiation meeting
  • Leading a cross functional initiative such as Six Sigma aiming to improve 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, and internal or external to the organization.

In order to support the line managers to truly leverage the 70, an in-house customized repertoire of high-value add experiences should be created. This allows you to “see” the number of ways that your leaders can learn through experience. 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 the business. The amalgamation of the multiple ways to learn and grow makes it more relevant 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 are able to leverage multiple ways of learning. What’s important is that they are learning constantly, no matter how it is being categorized!

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

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