Tag Archives: 70-20-10

How to Lead Change with Experience-Driven Development

(This post was originally published in September 2016 on LinkedIn.)

time-for-changeA new Center for Creative Leadership white paper Putting Experience at the Center of Talent Management revisits the 70-20-10 framework for development that stems from CCL’s Lessons of Experience longitudinal research initiated over 40 years ago. The authors of this new report make the case for experience driven-development (the 70%) as a requirement for attracting and retaining talent and for accelerating the development of leaders at all levels.

They sum up the current status of talent management as follows: “But most organizations have one thing in common: They are not maximizing on-the-job opportunities that prepare leaders, develop employees and advance business goals. Learning from experience is the number one way development happens. People gain or fine-tune their abilities and perspectives through their day-to-day work. They learn by doing, by trying, by figuring out.” 

According to these experts, “In spite of the importance of experience-driven development, organizations struggle to tap into this powerful source of learning.” They recommend a comprehensive talent management approach with experience at the center and suggest that organizations get started by asking “How can we incorporate experience-driven development practices with small changes or big steps?” 

With many corporations revising their performance management processes and some eliminating the annual performance review altogether, Individual Development Plans (IDP’s) take on even greater importance. An Individual Development Planning process (or pilot) would be a good starting point for an organization that wants to maximize on-the-job development opportunities. Here are four critical success factors for organizations to consider if they wish to accelerate development through experience-driven individual development planning. These recommendations are gleaned from my experience facilitating development planning with over 300 leaders in four global corporations over a 15 year period at sites in the US, England and France.

1.  Link development planning to change management efforts and strategic goals.

In their recent article Change Management and Leadership Development Have to Mesh authors Ryan W. Quinn and Robert E. Quinn state: “One major reason organizations struggle is because they treat both leadership development and change management as separate rather than interrelated challenges. Cultural changes cannot happen without leadership, and efforts to change culture are the crucible in which leadership is developed.” 

Individual development planning processes that support the 70-20-10 model put the correct emphasis on the 70% of development that comes from challenging work experiences as opposed to traditional development plans that emphasize mentors (accountable for 20% of development) or participation in training programs (accountable for only 10% of development). A “stretch” project that supports organizational strategy and change management needs to become the focal point (the 70%) of the individual development plan.

To integrate development into the “real work” of leaders at all levels, have participants collaborate with their managers on the selection of one challenging project or stretch assignment or stretch goal that supports the organizational change or strategy and make that project the centerpiece of their development plan.

For example, in one pharmaceutical R&D organization that was undergoing globalization and simultaneously forging earlier and more collaborative relationships with their drug discovery counterparts, development planning participants selected projects related to new roles on drug discovery teams, the development of new technologies (e.g. in the realm of biomarkers, animal models and informatics) and leadership roles on Global Practice Networks. These stretch projects and new leadership roles, aligned with change management challenges and priorities, accelerated the growth and confidence of these scientific leaders and provided opportunities for the organizational recognition that is an essential element of leadership development.

Integrating individual development planning with change management also creates buy-in from executive leaders who see the alignment of these individual projects with their visions for change. One global pharmaceutical leader commented on the benefits: “It is very much an applied, practical approach that aligns individual development with the “real work” (projects, portfolio) of R&D effectiveness. The program has enabled me to successfully implement my vision (for change)…”  

2.  Design and use a process that involves assessment, development planning, and implementation of a challenging project over a 9-12 month period. 

Provide participants and their managers with a process, development plan template, discussion guides and timeframes and/or a facilitator to keep the process on track. Here is one example below.


3.  Have participants incorporate an action plan for the challenging project as well as a plan for addressing “soft skills” in the context of the project.

Development plans should include an action plan for the challenging project indicating progress goals and benchmarks–“what” needs to be accomplished “by when.”

The focus on the development of soft skills or interpersonal leadership skills in the context of the challenging project is likewise critical to accelerating development.  Lominger’s Leadership Architect sort cards have proven useful in identifying the soft skills that are needed to address strategic challenges. Participants can zero in on two mission critical soft skills to work on as they execute their development plan over the course of 9-12 months.

For Your Improvement: A Guide for Development and Coaching is a useful guidebook in helping participants define their interpersonal needs and goals. With respect to a specific skill, the participant and his or her manager can identify in behavioral terms, where the participant is unskilled or overusing a skill to the point that it represents a barrier to the implementation of their stretch project or new leadership role.

In the world of scientific leaders, some commonly worked on competencies from the Leadership Architect include Conflict Management, Dealing with Ambiguity, Negotiating, Motivating Others and Political Savvy, to name a few. The FYI book (as it is called) is a source of self-directed learning in that it provides ten remedies for each of the 67 competencies and 19 career stallers included in the book. Participants can select two or three remedies for each of the skills they are working on, apply these remedies in the context of their challenging project or stretch assignment and then reflect on their success and the changes they are making in a follow-up discussion with their manager.  One participant who developed a new technology and then executed its transfer to other global sites states:

“During this process I had to utilize both science and project management, forming teams across the organization. I have learned to recognize the complexity of the organization. Since I had the opportunity to work with colleagues from different sites and lines, I exercised my skills of motivating others. The program increases learning via communication and dialogue with managers and mentors.”  

4.  Hold participants and their managers accountable. 

Accountability is critical to the success of an experienced-driven development process. A workshop to launch the process, attended by both participants and their managers and also guest executives, can be useful in stimulating discussions about organizational strategy or culture change and how these translate into individual stretch projects and assignments. Participants and their managers can be introduced to expert tools like the Leadership Architect and FYI guidebook and to their roles in executing a successful experience-driven development process.

Managers can expect to invest a minimum of five hours per direct report in the meetings needed to create, execute and follow-up on an experience-driven development plan. If participants are requested to send their development plans “up the line” to their executive managers, this increases accountability and opens up dialogue on the challenging projects that are aligned with strategy and cultural change. One organization held an annual celebration to recognize participants and their accomplishments on their stretch projects and another selected participants to give formal presentations to executive management on the challenges and outcomes of their projects.

As Morgan McCall stated in his book High Flyers: Most of the (development) cost is sunk.  Challenging assignments, bosses, hardships, mistakes, etc. already exist.  The key is providing a systematic approach to maximize the development from the challenging assignment and from other people.

In conclusion, these comments from participants in experience-driven development processes sum up their value in driving change, both organizational and personal:

“I learned a lot about how the organization works and how to successfully navigate within it, particularly in forming collaborations and negotiating with Discovery colleagues. It has helped me to develop a good understanding of the specific issues pertinent to the drug development process, how to align my work with the goals and initiatives of multiple groups, and how to develop new technologies and approaches to preclinical work. These things were largely motivated by my goal-setting in this program… “

“Program has required me to think about the context in which organizational decisions are made and resourced. This, in turn, has allowed me to begin to understand how to work more efficiently within the system to attain goals and provide deliverables. It has also motivated me to reach beyond my comfort zone in dealing with problems and issues and to try to develop novel solutions to overcome obstacles.”

“Project provided additional vehicle for feedback on leadership behavior.”

“This program greatly enhanced my organizational agility. Dealing first hand with serious issues of ambiguity and taking on the challenge necessary to make a change enabled me to meet critical business needs.”

The Origins and Evolution of 70-20-10

Cross Section of Chambered Nautilus ShellWhat a delight it was to read Bob Eichinger’s account of the origin and purpose of the 70-20-10 model in a blog post by Cal Wick.

I thought back to the time I had cornered Bob 10 years ago at a conference and asked him how he had arrived at the sources-of-learning percentages (70% from challenging assignments, 20% from other people, and 10% from coursework).

I got a shorter version of the story he shares in the post, but enough to go back and apply the same calculations to each replication of the original Lessons of Experience research.  Not every study produced the 70-20-10 results, but most were close. The one consistent finding:  Challenging assignments are always the #1 source of key learning experiences in managerial careers.

You can even find support for the central role of on-the-job learning in research framed as questioning the 70-20-10 model. For example, a major Conference Board – DDI study found that in companies with high-quality leadership development, 52% of leaders’ time spent on learning is on-the-job learning, 27% is learning from others, and 21% is formal learning.  Keep in mind that this study is asking a useful but different question (time spent on learning vs. key learning experiences in your career).  Yet, however you approach the question, on-the-job learning comes out on top.

Most folks have moved on from quibbling over the percentages to focusing on how organizations can best use all three major sources of learning to enhance leader development. The Conference Board-DDI report advocates for better integration of learning on the job, from others, and in the classroom.  Similarly, Bersin by Deloitte  encourages a continuous learning approach that weaves together experience, exposure, and education.

I’m totally on board with these approaches. At CCL, my colleagues and I still use the 70-20-10 meme from time to time, but we’ve also been using a different phrase:  putting experience at the center of talent management. It’s an approach that emphasizes the pivotal role of challenging assignments in attracting, developing, and retaining talent—and at the same time, highlights how the power of on-the-job experience is enhanced when surrounded by developmental relationships and formal learning opportunities.

I agree with what Cal points out in his post:  that the value of 70-20-10 was its ability to “open our eyes to learning that is happening all the time.” It makes me wonder, what am I still blind to when it comes to experience-driven development?

Taking a Page from the LMS Playbook

Cursor and handNot long ago, I was looking for statistics to make the case for an increased focus on experience-driven development.

First, I found these useful citations for the business case:

  1. Professionals increasingly expect to drive their own development. 79% of professionals now expect their development to come from non-L&D sources (Corporate Executive Board, Building a Productive Learning Culture, 2014).
  2. Professionals understand that experience-driven development is critical to their career success. Access to better professional development opportunities is ranked as one of the three most important factors by nearly half of those considering a job change (LinkedIn Global Talent Trends, 2015).
  3. Individuals and their organizations need help doing it more effectively. Approximately 55% of people do not regularly extract lessons from their work. In fact, poorly conceived stretch assignments are one of the biggest sources of waste in the field of learning and development (Corporate Executive Board, Building a Productive Learning Culture, 2014).

With these figures in hand, I was feeling pretty confident about the opportunities for those of us who are practitioners focused on experience-driven development.

Then, I came across this statistic: The $2.5 billion Learning Management Systems (LMS) industry is expected to grow to nearly $8 billion over the next three years (Capterra website, 2015).


People are seeking more experience-driven development, yet there is an increasing focus on the “10” from 70-20-10?

What’s going on? I think it has something to do with this: Structured activity drives out unstructured activity.

The Power of Structure

An increase in LMS investment isn’t, in itself, a bad thing. Recent advances in technology have made e-learning much better than it was in the past. The internet has made it easier to distribute rich content. It’s a great way of doing more with less.

But for the most part, the typical LMS just makes it more efficient to structure, manage, and track formal learning. All of the learning content in an LMS has been neatly mapped so that individuals can quickly access what they need. Want to learn about strategy? Take the strategy modules. Want to develop certain critical competencies? All the learning content has been conveniently packaged and indexed for you by competencies as well. And, now it’s mobile, too!

And, because it’s easier to structure and track formal learning activity, it continues to get more attention than the relatively unstructured activity of learning from experiences.

To develop talent through experience, maybe we need to acknowledge the power of structure and find a way to use it.

“If you can’t beat ’em, join ‘em.”

If we take 70-20-10 at all seriously, it means job experiences contain a lot more of the critical learning people need than all of the great content in even the best LMS.

But learning from experience isn’t structured. It’s uncharted. It’s completely customized. Learning from experience is hard to corral, map, and track for one person – much less an entire organization.

People need to figure out which experiences can teach what they need without a convenient set of learning objectives. Then, once they start on a particular development experience, they have to extract the learning. The lessons may not be obvious, learning won’t be guaranteed and insight will never be packaged.

While learning from experience will always be less structured than formal learning, I think we can make it easier. What if we take a page from the LMS playbook and do a better job of communicating experience needed, lessons to learn, and a path forward?

What if we got to the point where we could provide personalized guidance that helps people see their work challenges as a learning context analogous to courses in an LMS? Our systems would enable a manager to say, “As you work on this performance goal for the coming year, here are some lessons you should seek for your development as a leader.” Of course, different goals would offer different potential contexts for learning, and the lessons leaders could (or should) learn would depend on their past experiences.

Is it useful to apply more structure to experience-based learning in your organization? Does it help to think of each job as a personalized LMS? What would it take to get there?

Experience-Driven Formal Development Programs

SIOP2015Over the years, I’ve picked up a number of tactics for getting the most out of participating in professional conferences. One tactic is to organize conference sessions on topics you want to learn more about and invite people doing interesting work related to that topic to participate. In other words, create a session you can’t wait to attend, which is exactly what I did for the recent SIOP conference in Philadelphia (Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology).

Since I was intrigued with this notion of enhancing the impact of formal development programs by making them a force for experience-driven learning, I invited five colleagues who were designing and delivering such programs to share their work and insights:

  • Vicki Tardino talked about Boeing’s program for executives who have just moved into director-level jobs and how the program puts the transition experience at the center, surrounding it with tools and supporting roles to maximize learning from that experience.
  • Laura Ann Preston-Dayne focused on Kelly Services’ program to develop a community of “solutionaires” (senior consultants who can design creative talent solutions for clients’ complex workforce issues) via formal learning events and hands-on skill building with a sponsor.
  • Vicki Flaherty described IBM’s program to develop top MBA graduates on an accelerated path to general management positions—a program that integrates structured job rotations, coaching and mentoring, and training opportunities.
  • Lyndon Rego shared insights from a program CCL co-designed for middle-level managers in the rapidly changing microfinance environment in India and the learn-apply-teach approach that serves as the foundation of the program.
  • Erica Desrosiers described the key design elements in Walmart’s formal programs to accelerate the readiness of their top talent for new roles, including an emphasis on leaders developing leaders and opportunities to apply knowledge gained in the classroom to real experiences in the field.

Here are some key ideas I took away from the session—ideas about how to make formal development programs more impactful:

  • Build the program around people experiencing the same challenging assignment. We often call a group of people attending the same program a “cohort,” assuming that the shared program experience itself will band them together as a learning community. And it does to some extent. But when you connect people who are dealing with similar on-the-job challenges, like moving to a director-level job at Boeing or working as a microfinance middle manager in the rural part of a developing country, you up the developmental power of the experience. People are not just learning from their own experience, they are learning from each other’s experiences. They are able to bring different perspectives to bear on shared problems. And they find comfort and confidence in knowing that they are not alone, that others struggle with the same challenges, and that they now have access to companions on the same journey.
  • Make use of well-known methods for integrating learning and doing. For example, the sponsors in Kelly’s program employ an apprenticeship approach, building skills in participants by observing and coaching them as they do work side-by-side. Building on the notion that individuals deepen their own learning by teaching others, the program for microfinance managers requires participants to teach program content to their own staff members and together discovering ways to apply it in their own context. And Walmart’s Leadership Academy has intensified what I would label the “educational field trip” by making these experiences both practice fields for trying out new techniques and real work that benefits the organization.
  • Provide participants valuable experiences that are often hard to get. IBM’s program rotates participants through three key assignments to give them breadth of experience and to target each participant’s development needs. Several of the programs provide the opportunity to have real conversations and interactions with senior executives (rather than just see the “public” face of these executives). And it is important to make sure the program provides what formal coursework has often uniquely offered participants: the experience of stepping back, taking a deeper look at oneself, reflecting in the midst of new experiences, and being more aware of what and how one is learning.

Many thanks to the session participants (and audience members who asked great questions). To learn more, you can access their presentation slides here.

I’m still intrigued and would love to hear about your own efforts to design and implement more experience-driven approaches to formal development programs.

Getting the Most Out of 70-20-10

make things happenMany organizations claim to embrace the concept of 70-20-10 as a learning approach. The idea of 70% learning on-the-job, 20% learning through others, and 10% formal learning/training seems logical, thus the framework is pervasive in corporate learning. Unfortunately, many employees, managers, and even learning leaders misunderstand – and fail to leverage – the 70%.

Too often learning and talent professionals think, “OK – so the on-the-job learning happens anyway, let’s focus on the parts we can actually plan like coaching and formal training.” The first problem with just letting the 70% “happen” is the lack of focus on getting the right experiences, particularly those that will stretch people to gain new skills and competencies. The second problem is that the “20” and “10” parts are often disconnected from on-the-job experiences.

To address both problems, development should start from the 70%. On-the-job learning should be a very deliberate exercise in choosing experiences that help a person grow capability by planning job situations beyond his or her comfort zone. An individual development plan discussion should be focused on questions like, “What are two experiences in the next job you want to be in that you could try now?” Once the right experiences are identified, additional ingredients like other people (20%) and formal learning (10%) can be introduced as direct supports to the on-the-job elements. Support from others should be directly positioned to help the person through the experience. Similarly, formal training should be positioned to support specifically-chosen, on-the-job challenges.

DHL2What does this look like in practice? Drawing on my doctoral research at the University of Pennsylvania, my team at DHL created a special accelerator program for technology project managers. The research looked closely at the kinds of experiences that information-technology project managers claimed to help them develop. The findings described a variety of challenging on-the-job events that pushed people outside their own comfort zones, but with strong support from developmental relationships. For a pilot “learning from experience” initiative, the company tapped 13 senior project managers to identify current challenges and work closely with top project leaders, who served as coaches and facilitators. The small groups met every three weeks for six months to review projects, work though challenges, and explore ways to steer the project to success. While all project managers showed positive development, the people who made the biggest gains were the ones who had been facing significant project challenges.

In addition, DHL has built a process to help ensure that on-the-job experiences are part of the DNA of learning. We have development guides outlining a menu of experiences for different job roles. These guides are based on the Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA), a leading IT competency model. Managers and employees can select experiences based on current roles or next-step roles. For example, a junior IT service leader might pick “lead customer service review” as an action that, combined with support from others, might be one of the right stretches to help build capability and confidence.

Do people learn through experiences that just happen anyway? Probably—but organizations that constantly challenge people to plan the right experiences supported by other people and formal learning will build capability much faster and ultimately out-compete firms that miss this golden opportunity.

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).

Hardship: A Different Kind of Challenge

cloudsHardship is an important but often underappreciated aspect of experience-driven leader development.

Hardships are easy to overlook because they fall outside the well-known 70-20-10 framework of developmental experiences (Challenging Assignments – 70%, Other People – 20%, and Coursework – 10%). They are not developmental experiences we ask for or recommend. They can be some of the most difficult periods of our personal and professional lives.

In the landmark The Lessons of Experience, CCL’s researchers distinguished hardships from challenging assignments. Commonly experienced hardships are:

  • Personal Traumas – Threats to the health and well-being of one’s self or family.
  • Career Setbacks – Often missed promotions, demotions, or firings.
  • Changing Jobs – Risking one’s career to get out of a rut.
  • Business Mistakes – Failure resulting from bad judgment and poor decisions.
  • Subordinate Performance Problems – Often resulting in firing the employee.

With challenging assignments, the majority of learning comes from the success of meeting the challenge. With hardships, the learning comes from the lack of success. The lessons learned from challenging assignments are primarily external in nature (“What did I learn about handling my job and working with other people?”) while the lessons of hardship are mostly internal (“What did I learn about myself?”)

Because hardships force individuals to come face-to-face with themselves, they often experience a significant shift in their self-awareness and better appreciate what they can and can’t do successfully. Individuals often get a significant dose of humility that increases their compassion and sensitivity in dealing with others’ mistakes. Finally, surviving the hardship and willing themselves to move forward provides added strength to tackle new challenges and face future failures.

The lessons learned from hardships often have less to do with the events themselves and more with how individuals respond to them. Individuals who learn from hardship:

  • Resist the temptation to put the blame on the situation or other’s shortcomings.
  • Are able to step back from the situation to gain some clear-eyed perspective and recognize where their own mistakes and shortcomings contributed to the outcome.
  • Demonstrate resilience in moving beyond the pain of the hardship experience and committing themselves to do something about the personal limitations they had realized.

If you work closely with someone going through a hardship on or off the job, you can support them and encourage a learning response by:

  • Acknowledging to yourself that they are experiencing a traumatic situation and that coping with it and learning from it will require some time and effort on the individual’s part.
  • Looking for signs that the individual is either engaging in denial or, conversely, putting too much blame on themselves – in either case, seek the appropriate coaching and or counseling resources to help them cope and gain perspective.
  • Encouraging the individual to reflect on their experience and identify what lessons can be learned and how they might be applied – but choose your timing wisely. Wait until they are starting to come to terms with their hardship.
  • Resisting the temptation to tell the person “what they did wrong” and how they might improve – this may actually inhibit their self-awareness and spark defensiveness instead.

We seldom choose a hardship – hardship finds us. It is beyond our control. But we can control how we respond and how we frame it over time.

Hardship can push us to the brink and create a profound sense of loss and aloneness. And, if we let them, these dark moments can yield valuable and lasting lessons for becoming a better leader.

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.