Last Updated on July 16, 2021 – 9:56 am

Leaders are made, not born- Leadership can be a learned skill. According to the 70- 20- 10 rule, in order to grow as a leader and learn how to be an effective one, 70% of the learning should come from challenging experiences and assignments, 20% should come from developmental relationships, and 10% from coursework and training. As the Center of Creative Leadership says, “A research-based, time-tested, classic guideline for developing managers, the 70-20-10 rule emerged from over 30 years of our Lessons of Experience research, which explores how executives learn, grow, and change over the course of their careers”. But what do these 70, 20, and 10 exactly refer to? Bob Eichinger and Mike Lombardo came up with the 70-20-10 rule to emphasize the relative impact of three types of experiences- challenging assignments, other people, and coursework on leadership development. CCL’s study of key events in executives’ lives also identified hardships and personal life experiences as sources of leader development. 

The ’70:20:10 Towards 100% Performance’ book describes the 70:20:10 methodology as a contribution to enhancing L&D practices in the world of organizational learning by expanding, renewing, and consistently connecting to the core business of organizations. It is at the core of a performance-oriented approach, which will lead to a measurable business impact for L&D.

Now, let’s have a deeper look at each percentage and how to implement them better.

70%- Challenging Experiences and Assignments

CCL’s research on 70, 20, 10 rule shows that challenging assignments are the primary source of key learning experiences in managerial careers, no wonder the biggest part goes to them. Think of it like a pizza of learning and the biggest slice has tastes you remember as bittersweet events of your life, like jalapenos. Although they dominate the taste once you eat them, they make meaning only with everything that surrounds them: “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”.

This approach is also called experience-driven development and challenging assignments—also called stretch assignments— are at the heart of it. “Such assignments put individuals in new or uncertain situations where they have to take action, see the outcomes, and refine their approach to be more successful. Over time, these cycles of action and adjustment build new skill sets and deeper expertise. Challenging assignments typically have one or more of these elements: facing unfamiliar or broader responsibilities, creating change, influencing across organizational boundaries, and working with diverse sets of people.” 

To put it in other terms, we can also say that 70% comes mostly from informal training. Employees can learn new skills through trial and error, through experience, and through the most common type of informal training: on-the-job training or OJT. “On-the-job training simply refers to assigning employees to jobs and encouraging them to learn by observation or direction from supervisors or more experienced incumbents. For example, a new employee is required to wear protective clothing to handle hazardous waste materials. He or she is told to ask a senior employee to demonstrate the proper technique for donning or the clothing”. 

According to the “Putting Experience at the Center of Talent ManagementWhite Paper, written by Joan Gurvis, Cindy McCauley, and Milynn Swofford, organizations that successfully implement experience-driven development do 5 things:

– They identify stretch assignments by developing a shared language for talking about stretch assignments, mapping competencies, creating experience paths for targeted positions or roles-such as a general manager role or those on a high-potential track, and reserving specific key jobs to use for development only. Some experiences have more development potential than others and different experiences teach different things.

–  They staff for development, not just for performance. This includes creating processes to identify the next assignment needed for each high-potential person to continue development, making sure that everyone has a “development-in-place” assignment, something that will challenge and support development, asking “Who could benefit from this experience” and staffing key projects with development in mind, and developing managers’ skills at assignment-based development so that they can identify, implement, and support stretch assignments.

–  They create new experiences. In order to have experience-driven development, employees need an array of experiences, and this means creating them too. It is important to create new experiences that meet the strategic needs of the organization-more cross-functional, cross-country, new market, and new client opportunities, for example. Developmental assignments can also be included in formal development programs in the form of action-learning projects, special assignments, or job-rotation experiences. Creating new experiences also includes supporting the pursuit of leadership experiences beyond the workplace whether it be volunteer work, board membership, or roles with professional organizations which address development needed in the workplace.

–  They enhance learning from experience. Criticism of the 70- 20- 10 rule mostly focuses on this area: Going through an experience doesn’t guarantee a person will learn from it. So, what should organizations do? They need to surround work development experiences with effective learning practices. These include tools for reflecting on experience and feedback (As an example, you can check Journey App’s stretch assignments tool from here), access to relationships for learning, like mentors, peer networks, and communities of practice, coaches who challenge and support explicit learning goals and development. Again, formal coursework that provides just-in-time learning tailored to the challenges of the specific stretch experience can be arranged.

–  They promote an experience-driven development culture. When there is an experience-driven development culture within an organization, the gap between doing the work and developing the people shrinks. But how can organizations do that? By hiring and developing senior leaders who visibly support experience-driven development, communicating and tracking on-the-job development, rewarding employees for their own developments and for developing others, and valuing learning agility as a core competency. 

How to Implement 70-20-10 Model for Learning and Development

20%- Social Learning

20% of the 70- 20- 10 rule is social learning, enabling an employee to learn with and through others by completing tasks and overcoming challenges together. This encourages employees to share their learning experiences with each other and helps to create a more collaborative and engaging working environment.  

Social learning involves interacting with and observing other people. By finishing tasks or overcoming challenges with co-workers and managers, employees learn from their peers while working towards a common goal.

Learning from others can also be accomplished through mentoring and coaching. “For example, if a given role requires strong negotiation skills, the best way for an employee to learn this skill is by being guided through a negotiating scenario by a peer or manager who’s adept at this skill. The employee could first observe a mock negotiating scenario and then be coached through one. It’s trial by fire, without the real-world danger of course! The employee learns through observing and interacting under the guidance of others, an opportunity that may not be possible to achieve through a more formal type of training.” Of course, the effectiveness of social learning is mostly dependent on your organization’s culture.  It’s crucial to look for ways to support and enhance social learning within the workplace environment. A few ideas to enhance social learning within a workplace include launching a mentoring program, setting up leadership coaching sessions, providing regular opportunities to give and receive feedback, and encouraging cross-functional involvement in projects.  If you want to think of some specific social learning tasks, check the list below: 

Social Learning Tasks

  • Ask employees to observe their manager delivering a presentation.
  • Encourage them to take notes on what they think did/didn’t work well.
  • Ask them to share this feedback with the presenter and their peers for discussion.

10% Formal Learning

There is a misconception about the 70:20:10 rule that it is anti-training. Since formal training makes up the 10% at many organizations, it’s important to make sure that it’s indeed “quality training”. “Think of formal learning as the foundation and starting point from which experiential and social learning can develop. If your formal learning foundation is solid, the experiential and social learning that follows will likely also be more active and successful.” According to the Center for Creative Leadership, the 10% Coursework and Training may look like a small percentage but it has an amplifier effect over the other ones: “Although it’s seen as contributing just 10% to a leader’s development, well-designed coursework and training have an amplifier effect — clarifying, supporting, and boosting the other 90% of your learning. A program module that incorporates tools and experiential practice sessions can help managers become more effective learners and leaders.”

The Encyclopedia of Industrial and Organizational Psychology states that formal training methods generally fall into one of three classifications: other-directed, self-directed, and technology-assisted instruction. Instructor-led training is still the most common instructional method used in the industry today and other-directed instruction refers to training methods in which one or more trainers assume responsibility for instructional processes such as lectures, case studies, and role-plays. Self-directed instruction “occurs when learners assume primary responsibility for their learning, principally through the use of readings, workbooks, and correspondence courses” and technology-assisted instruction elements of both other-directed and self-directed instruction. “The defining characteristic of technology-assisted instructions is the use of computer hardware and software to deliver learning. There are a variety of forms of technology-assisted instruction, including computer-based training, electronic support systems, and virtual reality training …. For example, the U.S. Air force uses intelligent tutoring systems to train electronics technicians in procedures for isolating, identifying, and repairing dysfunctional circuits. Users are sometimes resistant to these systems because there are no shortcuts; learners must complete all phases of the training”.

As demonstrated in Andries De Grip’s research on the importance of informal learning at work, formal learning reinforces informal learning. It is important to design formal learning to complement informal learning to connect all learning within the organization. 

If you want to learn more about employee development, check our other blog posts.