Use the 70-20-10 Model For Your Learning and Development Program

Malcolm O’Neal, VP of HR at Ascend Materials, introduced to me the concept of 70-20-10, a learning approach used by many established companies such as SAP, Microsoft and Nike. While learning more in-depth about the model, I have found that you can use it for your own personal development and for your organization as a whole. Companies invest substantially in their learning and development programs in order to help their employees improve their existing competencies and acquire new ones. With new technologies, training courses are now accessible online. Employees go through a series of lectures or webinars and at the end of the courses, take an exam to test their knowledge. However, are exams a good indicator that they would be able to put into practice what they have learned virtually or in classrooms?

According to Hermann Ebbinghaus, a psychologist famous for his works on memory retention, we tend to halve our memory of newly learned materials in a matter of days and weeks unless we continuously review the materials. Therefore, unless you provide refresher courses to your employees, they are not likely going to remember what they have learnt sitting through seminars and classroom courses. The cost of training will be increased significantly if you add follow-up courses every few months in order for your employees to remember the materials. An alternative to additional courses is to add hands-on activities along with the learning of the materials.

Applying the 70/20/10 to increase your learning and development

The 70/20/10 model takes Ebbignhaus’s theory into consideration by focusing the bulk of learning on hands-on experiences. The learning approach of 70/20/10 goes as follows:

  • 70% of learning comes from on-the-job experiences

  • 20% comes from people such as mentors, managers and peers

  • 10% comes from formal courses and reading.

On-the-job experiences allow employees to put into practice what they already know and to experience the impact of their decision making. The ‘70’ portion needs to be supported by feedback on performance so that learners have the opportunities to improve. Bad habits are hard to break; therefore do not wait to give the appropriate feedback on learners’ performance. It is also self-directed i.e. the learner decides what are the challenges they want to take on.

The ‘20’ is all about social learning. Learners can ask for their managers’ feedback, look for a mentor, and participate actively in social networks to learn from peers. They learn from others’ experiences. The ‘20’ learning does not have to be 100% related to their current positions. You may have cross-functional teams in your organization. Encourage the learners to talk to other stakeholders about their jobs and duties. Pairing employees is a great way to learn as well since the learners are actively involved in learning from the other partner.

The remaining 10% is taking courses or reading books. Although being able to practice what you learn is more efficient for learners to retain the information, it is beneficial for them to understand, in specific situations, the theories or history behind what they practice.

Applying 70/20/10 to elevate innovation in an organization

For an organization, you can use the 70/20/10 model as part of your business resource management plan. To encourage innovation, employees are encouraged to bucket their time in the following way:

  • 70% of time should be focused on core business tasks

  • 20% of time should be dedicated to projects related to the core business

  • 10% of time should be concentrated on projects unrelated to the core business

For example, if your core business task is to hire the best talents for your pipeline, you will spend 70% of your time going through job applications and resumes, conduct interviews, or set up career booths in colleges and universities. 20% of the time can be focused on creating a networking event to connect with soon-to-be graduates or revamping your career page to make job applications easier for candidates. The remaining 10% encourages your team members to think outside of the box encouraging them to work on their own personal projects that can further develop their core competencies.

How to manage 70-20-10 model

You may wonder what metrics to use in order to measure your employees’ learning and development. How do you manage your employees when 70% of their learning is done while performing their day-to-day tasks? The answer is that you simply do not. Your role as a manager is to support their learning by encouraging them to set challenging objectives, providing them with the appropriate resources to achieve their goals, and provide real-time feedback for improvement.

From a personal perspective, the 70-20-10 model has worked quite well when I transitioned to become 7Geese’s Director of Customer Success and Operations. My area of expertise is in Human Resources, and I have learned the rope of my current position by actually doing it. My 20% of learning came from me supporting the development team by creating training articles, supporting clients with the new changes, and writing blogs about the features.  And lastly, my 10% learning is done during the learning hours that 7Geese encourages each employee to take per week.

Have you tried the 70-20-10 model? Share your experience with us!

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