All posts by Cindy McCauley

Cindy McCauley
Cindy McCauley is a Senior Fellow in Research & Innovation at the Center for Creative Leadership. She is co-editor of Experience-Driven Leader Development and Using Experience to Develop Leadership Talent. Her research and applied work has made her an advocate for using on-the-job experience as a central leader development strategy, for seeing leadership as a product of the collective, and for integrating constructive-developmental theories of human behavior into leadership development practice.

Looking Back and Forward

C17 DSC_1185We launched the Experience-Driven Leader Development website a little over a year ago as part of our excitement about the two new books coming out. A large part of that excitement stemmed from connecting with colleagues—old and new—who were working to make experience-driven development more intentional and fruitful in organizations, and bringing their work to a broader audience. The idea was that we could continue to document and share practices and advice through a website.  We’ve had some success in doing just that—particularly through the blog posts. Thousands of folks have visited the site, and we have a good share of repeat visits.

Meanwhile, experience-driven leader development as a concept has had a big year. The topic has been on conference programs. It has been highlighted in numerous leadership development state-of-the-field reports (for example, see DDI’s Global Leadership Forecast 2014-2015). I hear HR and leader development practitioners more regularly reflect on how to make on-the-job development a central part of their development strategy.  Chief Learning Officer continues to feature columns related to the topic (including Make Experience Count, Use Experience to Build Competence, Harness Pro-Bono Experience ). New research has been published in top-tier journals like Academy of Management Journal and Journal of Applied Psychology.

In the coming year, we plan to continue to experiment with ways to make the website a useful resource to those engaged in this growing practice of experience-driven development, including links to related online material, a Linked-In group for easier quick exchanges of ideas, and advice on some of the more vexing problems with making experience-driven development work.

I invite you to participate.  Proud of something that you’ve created?  Learned some lessons that others could benefit from?  Want to raise a concern?   Posting on a website is an easy way to contribute to a community, and writing is itself an experience that prompts further reflection and insights for yourself.  And I am glad to help with framing, writing, editing, etc.  Or perhaps you’ve read something online or heard a presentation that you know others would find useful.  Let me know, and we can see how to get it linked to the site. If you want to contribute in any of these ways, or if you have an idea about how to make the site more useful, contact me at .

Getting this website started has been one of the highlights of my year, and certainly a learning experience. I thank all who have contributed and look forward to the new year.


Getting More Than 10% From Formal Development Programs

classroomLast fall at SIOP’s Leading Edge Consortium, I was intrigued by a presentation by James Cameron, the Global Talent Development VP at Walmart. Alluding to the 70-20-10 framework for leader development, he talked about how to get more than 10% from formal development programs.

I like the idea of challenging the status quo:  Just because education and training programs account for around 10% of the key developmental experiences in executives’ careers as they look back doesn’t mean that these programs can’t (or shouldn’t) have more impact going forward.  James turned his presentation into a short case that you can find in the Best Practice Cases section of the website.

Now I see a number of the practices and programs described in Using Experience to Develop Leadership Talent and in Experience-Driven Leader Development through this “more than 10%” lens.  Among the contributions in these books, two main strategies are described for better integrating formal development programs and on-the-job development—boosting the power of each:

  • Generate more real-time interplay between the content of the program and the participants’ on-the-job leadership challenges. The program becomes a learning laboratory where knowledge and perspectives encountered via coursework can be immediately applied to current challenges and tried out on the job.  Spacing program sessions over time allows participants to share their on-the-job application experiences with one another, get advice and additional insights, and then fine-tune their next round of application. A recent innovation with this approach is the “flipped classroom” in which content is delivered virtually with assignments to make use of the content in one’s current work; face-to-face classroom time is reserved for interactions that test and deepen understanding[1]. Timing programs to coincide with taking on a new leadership challenge is a key design element for this strategy.
  • Make a stretch experience the centerpiece of the development program.  Other learning tactics (e.g., coaching, feedback, reflection, access to content) are employed, but specifically in support of maximizing learning from the experience. Often the experience is a team-based action learning project—a broadening experience outside of one’s current responsibilities. The intensity of the experience can be heightened, for example, by making it a short-term assignment in another part of the world or at corporate headquarters working with senior executives[2].  Or the central stretch experience of the program can be one that the participants already have in common, for example, all of the participants are in the first year of their first supervisory experience[3].

James shares similar strategies used at Walmart, although several have interesting twists.  For example, cohort groups in a program are facilitated by a manager who is currently in the job that the participants will be moving into. The facilitator’s job during cohort discussions is to connect the content of the program with the challenges the participants will likely face in the new job.

However, James also shares an additional strategy for getting more than 10% from formal programs:  Make the program as challenging as a job.  You can get fired from Walmart’s Leadership Academy for not demonstrating that you are open to learning during the program.  Your facilitator could be a senior leader who will later make decisions about who has the right stuff to move up in the organization.  You will be assigned leadership roles in the classroom. High stakes, visibility, and influence without authority are characteristics of developmental assignments. The challenge is to build these same characteristics into formal programs.

It reminds me of an intriguing question I first heard from Mary Plunkett:  How do you make the “10” more like the “70”?  How do you do that?  And are there any downsides to such an approach?


[1] See how Lori Homer did this at Microsoft (chapter 14 in Using Experience to Develop Leadership Talent) and how Lyndon Rego and colleagues apply the concept at CCL (contribution 59 in Experience-Driven Leader Development).

[2] See IBM Corporate Service Corps case by Vicki Flaherty and Mathian Osicki (chapter 10 in Using Experience to Develop Leadership Talent) and the GSK Future Strategy Group case by Kim Lafferty and Steve Chapman (chapter 9 in Using Experience to Develop Leadership Talent).

[3] See how Mary Mannion Plunkett and Dagmar Daubner created such a program at Heineken (chapter 15 in Using Experience to Develop Leadership Talent).

My Love-Hate Relationship with 70-20-10

If you’ve been in the leadership development world awhile, you probably know about 70-20-10. It is a short-hand way of describing the relative distribution of three sources of significant development in a leader’s career-long learning journey: 70% on-the-job challenges, 20% other people, 10% formal coursework. It has been called a model, a formula, and a rule. It is loosely based on a CCL study of the key developmental experiences of successful executives.

I love it and I hate it.

I love it because it is simple. It reduces what we know about the relative power of different modes of learning into a short phrase. Easy to remember. Efficient in conversations with people who know what it means.

I love it because it was drawn from data. 70-20-10 isn’t based on intuition or the need to sell a product. Although I’ve worn different hats in my career, I’m particularly attached to my identity as a researcher.

I love it because it is a call to action. Formal leadership development initiatives are overwhelmingly coursework-centric. 70-20-10 urges us to put on-the-job experience at the center of our efforts to develop leadership talent.

I love it because Bob Eichinger and Mike Lombardo coined it. Perhaps someone wants to debate me on the origin, but without a doubt, Bob and Mike were at the forefront of creating strategies and tools for turning the call to action into real action in organizations. They blazed a trail that I’m using today.

So, what’s not to love?

I hate 70-20-10 because it is silent on really important details. What kinds of job challenges, experiences with other people, and formal coursework are most developmental?  It’s certainly not just any kind of challenge or other person or training course that yields the most learning. The simplicity leaves out critical information.

I hate it because it is an overgeneralization. Not every leader’s learning journey is a 70-20-10 mix. 70-20-10 was derived from a study of men who made it to the executive ranks of corporations. The more a sample deviates from that profile, the less the data supports the proportions.

I hate it because people misuse it. I’ve heard colleagues complain that it is justification to cut formal programs. The reasoning: if they account for only 10% of development, why do we need it? (Back to the critical details—some things are best learned in formal programs.)  Another complaint: Attempts to force everything into the 70-20-10 mold, as if one concept should rule decision making about program designs, learning and development budgets, and individual development plans.

I hate it because it puts learning in silos. 70-20-10 can imply that there are three independent sources of learning, but our own experience tells us that assignments, other people, and courses are all interconnected.  Crafting developmental experiences that integrate all three is a key strategy for accelerating development.

My relationship with 70-20-10 is obviously complicated. But my list of loves and hates should help us clarify – rather than muddle – how we apply 70-20-10.

Let’s use 70-20-10 as an attention-getting call to action. Its simplicity and core idea are powerful starting points.

At the same time, let’s not be too rigid on those percentages. Know it’s a guide, not a prescription. Similarly, let’s not see it as a formula to apply to every learning situation.

Finally, let’s continue to build the deeper expertise needed to embed truly effective learning processes in organizations. That’s an idea I can truly fall in love with.