What 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?